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Last week Maryland passed a law prohibiting companies from asking employees or job candidates their social media login information, becoming the first state in the US to do so. Other states are assumed to follow suit, but it seems to be one of those issues people can’t stop talking about after the initial article was posted on AP about a case in Seattle. Everyone has an opinion they want to share, so I figured it was my time to add my 2 cents  into the jackpot.

So, employers requiring employees/candidates to hand over their passwords, okay or not? For personal and legal reasons, I say not.

When I first learned about the instance in Seattle, I was surprised that an interviewer would request that information during an interview. Then I was even more surprised when I learned this practice has gone on in a sheriff’s department in my own state for several years.

The reason why I say I personally disagree is mainly due to the obvious abuse of power in the situation. Especially during a job interview, the interviewee is clearly at a disadvantage, some even more so than others depending on how badly they need the job. Sure, people have said if you want the job badly enough, you’ll do it, but is it ethical to put someone in that sort of uncomfortable position? Invading another person’s social media site is a major invasion of privacy and personally, I’m not sure an organization that works that way is the kind I want to be affiliated with. If the working environment is uncomfortable, I think it would be fair to say that the top talent at the organization will be looking to move on.

Some, however, claim this practice is working in their favor. The sheriff’s office that requires their applicants to sign into their social media sites explained they’re looking for “inappropriate pictures and illegal behavior.” While I understand the illegal behavior part, something bothers me about the inappropriate pictures. While many people could agree on what would constitute as “inappropriate,” some may have a completely different idea. It’s for this reason defining “obscene” is so difficult. This is where I begin to disagree on a legal basis. My point is, there needs to be laws in place to protect not only the employee in the situation, but the employer as well, in the case a discrimination lawsuit arises.

There are a number of topics that cannot be touched on during a job interview according to federal, state, and local laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that employers cannot require pre-employment medical exams nor can they inquire about disabilities except in very rare cases. Other laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and pregnancy. Hairstyle, tattoos, and body piercings have also been an issue in discrimination lawsuits.

Now, with all those protection laws in place, checking an applicant’s Facebook page would open up a number of legality issues. For example, many of those qualities in applicants, such as race, color, sex, etc., can be easily found out during an interview. However, others can not. If it’s illegal to ask whether someone is married, why is it okay to check it on their Facebook? What if your applicant is 100% professional at work, but an interviewer views a picture of him/her displaying tattoos and piercings and deems it to be “inappropriate”? Others may want to keep their personal life, e.g. religion, sexual preference, private from their co-workers due to possible judgement or prejudice. Should we force them to share information that has no effect on their professional ability?

As I mentioned before, I understand why some employers might feel asking employees to log on to their sites is a way to ensure the person will positively represent their organization. I just feel that by requiring that information, they’re actually doing the opposite and as a result, turn off a lot of top performing employees. If you also add in the risk of possible discrimination lawsuits, I’m not convinced this is a beneficial practice for employers to follow.

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In this post, I talked about the beginning of my job search and some of the mistakes I realized I was making, particularly sending most of my resumes into a big black hole never to be seen or heard of again. Since I didn’t feel like delaying my HR career any longer, I decided to change my strategy. I went back to the basics.

In order to find and obtain your dream job, you have to learn as much as possible about it. I began by simply googling “What is Human Resources?” and went from there. It may seem simple, but sometimes even if you think you know the answer to a question, you might not. Besides, a little review never hurt anyone.

Other possible searches can be more specific. Search about different departments, concentrations, job titles, salaries, companies, etc. This will tell you what you should expect when applying or interviewing for a job, give you a clearer idea of what position is right for you, and it will prepare you when dealing with tough questions during an interview. If your search goes anything like mine, you’ll end up overwhelmed with information and sites needing to be bookmarked.  And it doesn’t stop there.

I recommend searching for ways to get involved with the professional community as much as you can. My researching and reviewing stage began leading me towards searching about HR volunteering opportunities, local HR businesses, and HR social communities and meetings, such as SHRM. Don’t be afraid to email people with your questions. Inquire about volunteering at their company, local meetings they attend, etc. I have found many professionals to be extremely open and helpful. Just remember not to be pushy about it and try to make it as mutually favorable as possible. You’re asking a favor of them; they don’t have to help you.

In addition, start to get super involved on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Connect with professionals in your field of interest and ask them if it would be okay to email them with a couple of your questions. Follow companies you want to work for, read and comment on blogs, and stay on top of the latest and greatest news in the industry. This is a full-time job in itself, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. It gets easier over time and you’ll develop your own strategies for dealing with the constant flow in information.

For me, the most helpful job search strategy has been networking through close family and friends. The people who know you on a more personal level are more likely to advocate for you and set you up with some great opportunities. If you are lucky enough to be closely connected to a professional in your field of interest, try to set up a phone call, meeting, or informational interview. Again, these people are busy and making time for you, so make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their help.

After revising my job search strategies, I am spending a large portion of my time researching and getting connected to the HR community. As a result, I don’t always have time to apply to many positions. But I don’t feel too bad about that. When I do search for positions now, I am pickier about what kind of job I am looking for and my search has become a lot more focused. If I apply for a job now, I know it’s something I want and am qualified to do — not just another shot in the dark.

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