Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Protecting Your Privacy When Job Hunting


Q: I have a good job with great benefits and pretty good working relationships. The department is challenged right now, as we do not have the ability to add people to do the work more efficiently or get funding for projects that are important to the business. I would like to start looking around for new opportunities, but in this digital age, I'm worried that a job search is no longer a private affair. Do you have any suggestions?

A: You are correct to be concerned that a job search might no longer be a private affair, especially when executed on the Internet. In the early days of digital job hunting, many job seekers' biggest concern was whether their current employers would get wind of what they were doing. But that has changed in recent years, according to Pam Dixon, executive director of the California-based World Privacy Forum. "Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud are alive and well," she says.

Ms. Dixon and her staff are constantly receiving calls from individuals whose identities have been compromised in some way because they gave away too much information during an Internet-based job search. Because of this, Ms. Dixon's first piece of advice to job seekers is to avoid openly posting their resumes online. "If it's open on the Web, then it's kind of like big game hunting," she says. "It's hunting season, and you are the game."

Whenever possible, contact the person doing the hiring and submit your resume directly to him or her, recommends Ms. Dixon. In recent years, this has gotten easier; one of the biggest shifts she has seen is that more and more employers are allowing prospective candidates to contact them directly.

What's more, most large and midsize companies now have fairly sophisticated Web sites where you can apply for specific positions. That's important, because when you submit your resume to a specific person or employer, there is an expectation of confidentiality, says Ms. Dixon. But when it is simply posted on the Web, any hint of privacy goes out the window.

These days, with the ease of identity theft, it's also a bad idea to include your home address on your resume. Consider renting a post office box for the duration of your search. You can also get a temporary cell phone number and email address dedicated to your job search. "Resumes go far and wide," says Ms. Dixon. "So, if you have the funds to make your information temporary, do it. You don't want to give up information that you'll want to take back later." That includes your social security number, which should never be shared unless required. Government applications, for example, are an exception.

On the flip side, by making your job search too private, you could inadvertently limit your exposure to legitimate sources for potential jobs, says Monster.com's Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Patrick W. Manzo. "There is always a trade-off between exposure and confidentiality," he says. "The most effective job search strategies typically involve maximum resume exposure."

One approach is to take advantage of the privacy features that many job sites – Monster included – offer. "Specifically, job seekers have the ability to control the degree of exposure their resume receives," says Mr. Manzo. "They may make the resume fully public and searchable in Monster's resume database – or they may choose a more limited exposure option."

Alternatives include hiding certain identifying information on a resume, such as your name, contact information and current employer. When this feature is activated on Monster.com, for example, interested employers can only contact the job seeker through a confidential Monster email address. The job seeker can then review the job posting and respond if interested.

Make sure you also consider other Web sites – not just job boards. With the explosion of social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter comes a whole new host of challenges to the digital job search. You need to ask yourself: "What persona am I sharing with the world – and specifically to potential employers?" Having an online presence is important to the job search, according to Mr. Manzo. Just make certain that anything you post on a social networking site isn't going to offend or alienate a potential employer.

Write to Career Q&A at cjeditor@dowjones.com.


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