Screening Job Applicants Through Facebook for Jobs Has Been a Dirty Little Secret for Years!

03/30/2012 12:06 pm ET Updated May 30, 2012

Recent news stories have announced as part of your ability to gain employment with some companies, perspective employers are demanding your Facebook password -- and now everyone thinks it's a big deal. Already employers tell me that as a routine part of every interview or pre-interview they secretly look at applicants' Facebooks to determine what they look like, their race, sexual orientation, and relationship status.

As a head hunter, and a host of the television show, The Job Whisperer, as well as the author of the book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), I have seen this form of background checking for years. Asking for someone's Facebook password is something newer, but not that new.

Before you are even judged on your resume, sometimes you're judged on that silly Halloween costume you may have been wearing, that "too tight" bathing suit you shouldn't have been wearing, and your relationship status as well as your sexual orientation; is this "unduly coercive"? Some lawmakers seem to think so. The issue makes for good politics, but even without the password it's been happening all the time. My understanding is the majority of Facebook account holders allow do not limited or unrestricted access to their Facebook page. (That is, they do not have a "totally private setting").

Think about it for a minute... is your Facebook or social media account completely private?
Very few Facebook accounts are totally private, anyway; isn't that the point of Facebook? And then, say you don't give up your password to an employer -- to what lengths do you think they will go to or stop at to get their hands on your online identity?

It took a young job applicant named Justin Bassett coming forward, refusing to give his password and withdrawing his application to Merrill Lynch, to bring this to everyone's attention. Here is the important point for everyone: Most companies do not ask for the password, but virtually all of them will look you up on Facebook. Unless your Facebook is completely private, I am told by employers that they often weigh your Facebook as much as your resume. According to the AP, "asking for a candidate's password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially law enforcement positions."

Opinions are mixed. The Washington Post with Bloomberg Business reports that back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to work as a correctional officer in Maryland; he was stunned by the request to turn over his Facebook password but he "needed a job and wanted to feed his family," so he complied. Can't so many of us relate to that, or know somebody who can?

Here is the lesson for all of us to learn: turning over one's password is an individual decision based on how desperate you are for wanting a job. It is more important to recognize that the majority of you do not have a completely private Facebook account and therefore people are reading your Facebook anyway! The story of Justin Bassett is news because the company was asking for his password, but the lesson is the same. Maybe you've been unemployed for three years or more and are willing to "give it up" to get the job. Who am I to judge you? Does the end justify the means? Maybe you will land that job that you haven't had for so long. On the other hand, there are those of you who may not get the job because you were judged on the way you look, on your sexual orientation, your relationship status, or some silly costume you wore to a party that you would never want a prospective boss to see, that the prospective employer learned only through your Facebook page. Let me know what you think and let me know how many of you have been really asked for your Facebook password?

I suggest that the real problem here is not to recognize that people are really looking at your Facebook, password or not, the password "craze" will pass. Employers will soon stop asking...just remember they still won't stop looking.

*About the author: Stephen Viscusi is CEO of the Executive recruiting group, The Viscusi Group. He is the author of "Bulletproof Your Job" (HarperCollins). You can follow him on Twitter: WorkplaceGuru, email him at:, or check out his website: for more tips on how to land a job.