The Jolly Librarian Considers Facebook and the Job Applicant

Like many people, I was surprised when I saw on the news that some prospective employers are now asking applicants to provide their Facebook log-in information as part of the interview process. And people who know me will not be surprised to discover that I think this is a bad idea.

Of course, I think there are many good reasons to keep your Facebook information out of employers’ hands:

  • Everyone needs to have a private life separate from their work.
  • Privacy should not be given up for a job.
  • There are also just basic effectiveness: Applicants will just have two separate accounts.

But there’s another issue as well, one that would really concern me as a potential employer, and that’s the issue of my own bias.

I’ve read enough to know that bias is a most insidious foe. We’re all willing to throw the term at other people, but ridiculously slow to recognize it in ourselves. Also, because we think we’re unbiased, we unconsciously invent ‘rational’ reasons to dislike someone.

I think of my own Facebook friends, most of whom are old enough not to find it amusing to post pictures of themselves drunk or in compromising situations online. But still there are days when even my own friends can be a little off-putting:

  • The more conservative ones seem a little hard-hearted.
  • The more liberal ones seem a little sanctimonious.
  • Some are kind of whiny about their jobs, their families, or about the world in general.
  • Some, even when they’re not talking about religious issues, can get a little preachy.

But I know these people (well, most of them). I know them to be good and compassionate. But if I didn’t know them, and I was trying to make some sort of employment decision based on Facebook postings, would my bias take over and make me overlook someone who seemed to whine a little too much about work or who felt totally different about healthcare than I do? I’d like to think not, but I’m not certain.

My current staff includes people from all over the religious, moral, and political continuum. Several of them have invited me to be their Facebook friends. Today I tried to look at their pages as a potential employer. But I couldn’t. I now know them; I know that despite their eccentricities, political beliefs, or possibly annoying habits that they are good, hard-working people who are fun colleagues and make the library a pleasant place for students to visit.

And if their Facebook pages had turned me away from them, then I would have been the  real loser.



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