Since the news broke that some employers now ask job applicants for their social media passwords, most coverage has focused on the perceived invasion of applicants’ privacy. But this practice isn’t just creepy and illegal in some states, such as Maryland and Illinois; it’s also a bad business move. Here are four ways asking for passwords can harm your company in the long run and what to do instead.
1. You’ll lose top talent.
The reaction to this phenomenon has been clear enough: applicants do notwant to give up their privacy. “It would be a total non-starter for me,” saysMichael Aleo, 26, creative director for a California start-up. “I don’t have any content on Facebook that I wouldn’t show to a prospective employer, but asking for personal login information is crossing the line.”
And the company that requests access will not only lose applicants’ respect but also miss out on talent. According to the Cisco “Connected World Technology Report,” a global survey of nearly 3,000 college students and young professionals, 40% would accept a lower-paying job that offered flexibility regarding the choice of devices to use at work, access to external social media and ability to work remotely, over a higher-paying job with less flexibility.
Giving smart employees the opportunity to work as they wish seems like a small price to pay for obtaining top talent.
2. It’s a PR disaster waiting to happen.
All it takes is a glance at Glassdoor.com or Vault.com to see just how much employees and job-hunters share about the job interview process these days – and that’s just on a couple of many virtual platforms. Word spreads quickly among the outraged, and an unpopular interview policy will turn off prospective future hires, as well as current candidates.
3. It shows a lack of understanding of what is important to Millennials.
Seventy percent of college students and young professionals are already in the habit of “friending” their colleagues, superiors or both on Facebook, according to Cisco’s report. So a human resources department that asks for passwords during the interview process not only appears out of touch, it sacrifices a permanent spot in employees’ “friend” zones in favor of becoming Big Brother.
Enlightened recruiters at companies know that building personal and professional networks is a sign of a high-performing professional, not an infantile practice that puts the company at risk. Recruiters don’t need to peek behind the curtain of password-protected profiles.
4. It’s a losing battle.
New generations of job seekers will always come up with new ways to hide aspects of their out-of-work personas. As we speak, Millennials are planning ways to dodge these invasive interview tactics.
“My idea is to completely scrub and sterilize my Facebook account with my real name,” says Tom B. Taker, a web programmer who uses this pseudonym on Facebook. “On the real-name account, I’d periodically post positive motivational messages about employment,” he says, “and then set up a second account with a pseudonym for the ‘real’ me.”
What Employers Should Be Doing About Social Media Usage
Clearly, a company can never truly know its applicants. So instead of scaring off prospective hires, companies should invest in training employees to use social media responsibly.
Forward-looking companies all over the country are already doing so. Social media training is becoming part of the corporate training curriculum for both new hires and current employees at leading companies such as Dell, Intel,Unisys Gap and PepsiCo.
Last year, PepsiCo created Social Media and Responsibility Training University (SMART U), which covers the PepsiCo social media policy and teaches best practices in using social media inside the company. But PepsiCo doesn’t stop there. Based on research done with PepsiCo employees, the average Facebook user has 130 friends. So with approximately 300,000 employees in their force, PepsiCo sees a huge potential audience for responsibly sharing news about PepsiCo, its products and offers. According to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 88% of marketers find training in usage of social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs, an effective vehicle to gain business exposure. Clearly, a forward-looking company like PepsiCo is not viewing Facebook as a suspicious underworld of potentially embarrassing behavior. Rather, PepsiCo views employee use of Facebook and other forms of social media as training and marketing opportunities. So the next time you read about a company asking for Facebook passwords, think of the missed opportunity this represents to see these employees as potential evangelists of the company brand.
Adapted from Jeanne Meister, author and Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.