What If a Would-Be Employer Wanted Access to Your Facebook Wall?

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A potential employer wants to ask your friends a few questions about you before offering you the job of a lifetime. What would you do?

"Don't worry, it'll be fun. Trust us," the website of R/GA says.

The branding company whose clients include Nike, Verizon, L'Oreal Paris and Nokia has a new approach for the job application process: interviewing your friends. The company is merging friends and digital media in the job hunt to make "The Social Interview."

"As a part of the application process for the R/GA internship program, we'll be posting questions on your Facebook wall for your friends to answer," the company's website explains. "First, you'll apply through our Jobvite site. Next, you'll schedule your Social interview. Then, we'll post three questions -- one per day -- starting on the scheduled date."

Not everyone is impressed.

"It's foolish," says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of "Me 2.0."

"What happened to the old job references? A lot of people's friends don't know them on a professional level or know how you would behave in the work place like your coworkers or bosses would know."

Job applicants interested in the paid internship at R/GA can opt-in or opt-out of the round of questions aimed at family, friends, frenemies, associates, childhood school mates and gawkers of the applicants Facebook wall.

"We're looking for innovative and creative thinkers in this medium," says Shannon Moorman, director of recruitment for R/GA.

But some people are leery of the opt-out/opt-in component. "They say the process is 'optional' but is it really," John Millikin, a professor at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business. "If you decline to participate, does that come down as an indicator that you not the 'innovative and creative thinker' that they are seeking?"

R/GA's Moorman said the "decision will primarily be based on a candidate's technical skills and portfolio and in-person interviews, but this is a new way for them to demonstrate sophistication around using social media."

The buzz word is "social media," a common theme among employers. The company is not the first employer to use Facebook as an entree into the lives of job applicants. Facebook, the website that boasts 600 million users, is a popular scouting ground for employers that oft-times search the site for background on a candidate.

"I've been at companies where the person hiring has most definitely checked out the Facebook page of the prospective employee, but I think that asking for access is like asking to rifle through someone's closet," says Caroline Waxler, who works in online media.

No Need for Log-In Info

"However, if both parties are fine with it, have at it."

Facebook has optional settings that can keep employer-gawking to a minimum. Photos, status updates and the casual language displayed on a Facebook wall can be hidden from search.

But things were different for Officer Robert Collins, who was asked during the interview process at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for his Facebook log-in information.

"I felt like if I didn't comply completely with the process, I wouldn't get my job back, that I would no longer be considered for reinstatement to my position," Collins told the Baltimore Sun last month. "I felt I was being treated like a person who had committed a crime, and that my whole life was being scrutinized under a microscope."

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services told Atlantic magazine last month that the practice of seeking login information has been suspended for 45 days.

Unlike R/GA, the government agency used the correction officer's Facebook password to view personal information.

His plight is eerily similar to a 2009 request from the city of Bozeman, Mont., when applicants received a waiver that requested log-in information for all social networking websites.

"Please list any and all, current personal or business Web sites, Web page or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. Youtube.com, MySpace, etc.," read the document that sparked outrage across the country.

The request for login information is what sets the process apart from R/GA. To protect applicants, R/GA will use an application that will communicate with Facebook and post questions. The company will not store sensitive data, such as passwords.

But also at issue is whether the process is necessary or relevant to the job?

"If you're looking to check the facility of the applicant to manage the type of tool, than that might be relevant," professor Millikin said.

The social interview may be seen as creatively relevant to some or a breach of privacy to others.

What is known is that the company is hoping the process will galvanize job applicants to show a more strategic side and not as a means to sift through their underwear drawer.

Social Media Run Amok?

The company's attempt to spread the word about its summer internship program has resulted in more than 100 applications and is gaining traction. The digital media agency is hoping applicants "can demonstrate their creativity by motivating their friends to answer," R/GA's Moorman said.

And, for applicants worried about what their friends will say, there's always delete.

Some people still say it goes overboard.

"Facebook was originally meant to share moments and share information to stay reconnected with people they care about the most," branding expert Schawbel says.

"Now, if you add applications where people can tap into the information they shouldn't judge people by. ... All these things take things a little too far."