Protecting Privacy in a Job Search
By ROB WALKER JAN. 24, 2015
As a job seeker at the vice president or director level, I have noticed that almost every application process includes at least some online component. But in my most recent search, I am starting to wonder about privacy protection.
In addition to asking for your address, gender, race, etc., the questions have been more specific. For example, I’ve been asked for my last two residential addresses from the past 10 years. Some require reference contact information before any conversation or interview.
I have also seen forms asking whether the applicant has been found to have depression, anxiety or behavioral or medical “disabilities.” Generally, you cannot submit the application without providing all the requested data.
I am uncomfortable supplying so much information. What can I do? A.M., CHICAGO
The good news, according to John Sullivan, a professor of management at the College of Business at San Francisco State University, is that most companies are moving away from systems that require applicants to fill out lengthy online forms. The more mixed news, perhaps, is that this is partly because more companies simply rely on what candidates put online themselves. “They’re asking for less,” he says, “but there’s more out there.”
Mr. Sullivan, who also advises Fortune 500 companies on human resources and recruiting, noted that on big employment-search boards such as Indeed.com, job hunters generally simply submit a résumé or a LinkedIn profile — either of which will most likely include references or knowledgeable connections that an employer might consult. Moreover, it’s not unusual for companies to scope out your social media or web presence in general.
Some of the questions you seem to have encountered certainly sound like red flags. The Americans With Disabilities Act effectively prohibits questions about medical conditions before a job offer is made. There are exceptions for small businesses, and details vary by state, but as an example, the website of the New York Labor Department bluntly states: “An employer cannot ask a potential or current employee if they have a disability. That is illegal.”
Enemy on the Job
One of my co-workers (I’ll call him Frank) despises me. He averts his gaze when I’m in view, rolls his eyes and shudders when I speak. If he can, he leaves the room when I enter. I’ve worked here almost two years, and he has spoken to me only once, when we were working on a common project.
There are only seven people in our group, and I get along well with everyone else. But as you might imagine, this is all quite noticeable. Our manager has had several sessions with Frank to discuss his behavior, but he says there is nothing he can do — he just doesn’t like me. So the manager is stumped, and none of my other co-workers are willing to venture into the mess.
I haven’t seen Frank behave this way with anyone else, and he seems to be a very nice guy. I’ve worked in many teams over the years, and there is usually conflict to some degree, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I’d like to build some kind of working relationship with Frank. But how? SEATTLE
The details here seem extreme, but the workplace nemesis is a sadly common figure. And because being the focus of another’s dislike can seem inexplicable, irrational or unfair, Frank and his ilk can be emotionally draining. But this is exactly why getting a little distance from the situation is crucial.
Zero in on specific actions by Frank that have concrete repercussions for your ability to do your job. A manager ought to be able to do something about those, and should.
But no manager can make the Franks of the world actually like you. So while you’re at it, test your own perspective: In the context of other happy relationships with colleagues and satisfaction with the work itself, does your job depend upon Frank’s attitude changing? Or can you simply treat him with polite professionalism, and treat his demeanor as his problem, not yours?
If the situation remains intolerable, maintain that detached perspective and go back to your manager and co-workers. Don’t ask them to solve the problem for you; ask them what they think Frank’s issue with you might be. Encourage them to be honest, and listen carefully to whatever clues they may drop if they give evasive responses. Because it sounds as if there’s some missing information here.
The best case is you learn something that you can act on — maybe a misunderstanding that can be cleared up. But the answer may be something beyond your control, or something you didn’t want to hear. If in the end it’s really true that Frank just can’t stand you for no reason whatsoever, it’s hard to see how that will change. So it may be better to focus on how to treat the symptoms of his dislike, rather than searching for a way to miraculously cure it.
Send your workplace conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld for publication). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.
A version of this article appears in print on January 25, 2015, on page BU7 of the New York edition with the headline: Applications That Ask Too Much. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
This is article and associated debate is related to Taleo, but not in protecting your privacy as much as getting a fair opportunity in your search for a job without discrimination.
Age discrimination is rampant in hiring and promotion today. That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands.
After a heated dinner conversation about age discrimination in the workplace, I concluded that I should remove my undergrad college graduation from my résumé. The reason? Hiring and promotion managers often make decisions about our abilities based on our age, rather than our skills and experience. In some cases, you may be considered too old for the organization’s culture even if you have the right experience — especially at more millennial-dominated companies like tech startups. In other cases, you might be refused for being too young or deemed inexperienced, even if you had the right skills for the job at hand.
To be consistent, I also removed my graduation dates from my LinkedIn profile.
I was surprised to learn how many of my peers disagreed with my decision. Many countered with the warning that I may be viewed as untrustworthy for having something to hide. While I can see the concern with being perceived as disingenuous, I’ve now studied bias for a number of years. Even when we believe we’re immune from it, science has shown time and again that we all fall prey to preferences on gender, race, appearance and indeed, age. I’d rather hedge my bets.
Another friend responded: “Wouldn’t you rather work for someone whose view of your competence isn’t influenced by your age?” Absolutely, but I’d also like to work for an employer who has 50/50 gender parity in senior leadership…but then, there’s bias.
So instead, if I was asked about the missing dates during an interview, my strategy is to have a candid conversation about how that person may view my age as a factor when making hiring decisions. When we make people aware about biases during point-in-time situations, they’re more likely to identify and correct them, going forward.
As a millennial, I can imagine that I get passed over for more senior opportunities due to being considered too young. But a more insidious trend has emerged where older workers, especially women over 40, are being denied entry into high-tech companies. The average age of a Facebook employee is 29; it’s 30 for an Amazon employee. Considering companies like these offer highly lucrative pay packages, it’s concerning to know that an entire demographic of American workers aren’t able to get jobs at them.
According to Bloomberg, Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies have faced 226 age discrimination complaints between 2008 and 2016, a fair share more than complaints relating to racial and gender bias. HP may be facing a class action lawsuit from workers 40 and older who allege they were targeted for layoffs due to their age. Google may also reportedly have a suit on its hands regarding age discrimination in hiring.
I’ve also been reading increased reports of employees over 40 going to great lengths to look younger — including making significant changes in their dressing, social-media photos and even investing in cosmetic procedures. On the other hand, I’ve heard of multiple millennial friends actively try to look older in job interviews and at work — wearing glasses seems to be a common technique.
A few steps could solve this problem. Managers must have open, honest discussions on how ageism factors into employment decisions and commit to making a change — hire for skill and potential rather than age. Train managers to recognize and actively counter age bias is another step. Combine this with creating and promoting an inclusive office culture that isn’t built around activities like drinking and sports, which also often include women and people with young families.
But there is something you can do immediately while waiting for companies to see the light. Remove all age identifiers from your résumé (and social media).