As much as I hate bowing to peer pressure, in this case I suppose I’d be remiss, as a career blogger, if I didn’t at least touch on the latest “big story” about employment that’s sweeping the country — which is the recent article from the Associated Press that suggests a growing number of employers today are asking interview applicants to share their social media passwords.

You’ll find the article here if you haven’t seen it.  As just one example of the anecdotes cited, the article tells the tale of Justin Bassett, a statistician in New York City who went on an interview and was asked by the hiring manager to provide the password to his Facebook account — so that the information that came up could be reviewed as part of the selection process.

Not surprisingly, this little story has sparked quite a furor.  It’s been reprinted on hundreds of news sites, ranging from MSNBC to the Washington Post, and as a result, I’ve had at least a half-dozen clients contact me to ask about my thoughts on this article. Most people, of course, expressed tremendous anger and exasperation at the thought that employers would ever dare to invade a candidate’s privacy in this way.  And I totally agree.

But, as always, I have a caveat…

While I can understand why this story would get under the skin of somebody who has been searching for work for a while, especially if they’ve been the recipient of cold-shoulder treatment from a number of organizations, I urge job hunters not to overreact to it.  This “article heard round the world” is citing an extremely rare hiring practice that I suspect is used by less than 1% of all the employers in the world today — and that will probably be used even less, in the future, given the uproar this high-profile piece has created.

So while I understand the moral outrage, I implore job hunters not to let this kind of sideshow issue distract or dissuade them from their real mission: staying focused and getting a job.

And even if you should be unlucky enough to ever get a question along these lines, I think your response choices are pretty obvious.  You either give the employer what they want, if you really need a job and (hopefully) have nothing to hide on our Facebook page, or you politely decline to share the information — stating that you use Facebook for personal purposes and don’t really see its relevance to your professional capabilities.  If the employer doesn’t appreciate your perspective on the matter, move on.  You’d probably hate working there.  Or if you’re REALLY offended by the request and want to take a stand, contact an attorney and see if there are any grounds for legal action.  As of right now, the area is pretty gray.  As the article cites:

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

Gotta love these laws that are passed, but not intended to be enforced, don’t you?  Who knows, though.  Perhaps the courts will take a firmer stance on these matters as social media continues to become an indelible part of our lives and careers.

I also wonder if perhaps some of the time, at least, the employers who DO have audacity to ask these questions might have different motives in mind than are assumed by the AP article.  Maybe some of the hiring managers asking these questions aren’t actually expecting you to comply, but merely testing your ability to keep a secret or see how well you respond under pressure.  Or maybe they simply want to see if you’re an active user of social media, assuming such skills relate to the job in some way.  Who knows?  Luckily, again, I think your odds of being asked such a question are right up there with getting hit on the head by a falling meteorite.  It’s just not something a serious job hunter should worry much about, in the big scheme of things.

As always, though, tell me if you think I’m wrong.  Have any readers of this blog been asked a question similar to the ones cited by the article?  And if so, HOW was it asked, exactly?  Love to hear your thoughts…