Privacy and the Online Job Hunt
In the past few years, web-based career sites have assumed a prominent role in the job hunting process for millions of prospective job seekers. Career sites offer access to thousands of job postings. Many even offer job seekers the chance to apply online for job opportunities.

To use many of these online services, job seekers are asked to provide detailed information about themselves, such as their name, email address, regular mailing address and their resume. Naturally, the question of privacy arises....

Where does all of this information go? Who is allowed to see it? Can it be sold to other companies? Will the job seeker receive unwanted email messages (referred to as "spam")? Can a job seeker's employer find out that a person is looking for a new job?

These are important questions, and prospective job hunters have a right to know how their personal information will be used. There are a number of ways in which job seekers can ensure that their rights to privacy are preserved.

Privacy Policy

The most common way is a privacy policy. Most career sites have a well-defined privacy policy that describes how personal information will be used. A link to a web page that describes this policy is typically included next to the copyright information at the bottom of each web page on the site. It will typically be referred to as a "Privacy Policy" or a "Privacy Statement."

The privacy policy should detail whether personal information will be provided to other companies. Many career sites forward resume information to other career sites. The site's practices for forwarding personal information should be clearly outlined.

The policy should also describe the circumstances under which users will receive email. Most career sites reserve the capability to periodically send email to users, but promise not to annoy the user. This is generally considered to be acceptable because users are likely to be amenable to future mailings from sites in which they were sufficiently interested in to sign up as registered users. However, career sites should not provide email addresses to other companies without the express permission of the user.

Trust Ratings

Just because a career site has a privacy policy is no guarantee that the company that runs the web site will abide by the terms of the policy. However, users should realize that there are pressures acting upon career sites that can penalize sites that violate their own policies. Career sites depend on the trust of both job seekers and employers. Once lost, that trust can be extremely difficult to earn back, and the impact on the financial earnings of a career site can be substantial.

Since there is no intrinsic guarantee that web sites will adhere to the terms of their privacy policies, a number of organizations have been created to evaluate web sites and determine how well they conform to fair market practices, as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission and prominent industry organizations and associations.

The most prominent evaluation organization is TRUSTe. The way a certification service like TRUSTe works is simple. A company pays TRUSTe to evaluate its privacy policy and survey its business practices. If the company passes, they gain the right to display a TRUSTe graphic emblem prominently on their site. TRUSTe refers to their emblem as a "trustmark", and it is shown below:

Truste Seal

The organization hopes that, over time, such trust certifications will come to carry the same importance with consumers as the certifications that UL Labs provides for electric appliances, or the Good Housekeeping "seal of approval."

These types of evaluations are rapidly gaining acceptance in the ecommerce arena, but are not widespread yet. Additionally, smaller ecommerce sites, particularly sparsely funded start-ups, often can't afford the evaluation process. Nevertheless, expect to see a lot more sites wearing trust certifications in the future.

Privacy Features

One of the largest concerns for job seekers involves whether their current employer can discover that they are contemplating a career change. Typically, any company can purchase the services of a career site to gain access to the resumes of job seekers. This means that a job seeker's employer could potentially be a customer of the career site, and thus discover the individual's resume online.

Oddly enough, this has really only become a concern in the last year or so. The first group to readily adopt online job hunting was, logically enough, computer professionals. People in this career area are known for switching jobs often, and thus have little concern as a rule for the security of their information.

However, as other professions began to adopt online job hunting, privacy issues began to loom as a large issue. Some career sites have added features to allow users to decide the level of privacy that is appropriate for their needs.

Privacy features that have been adopted by some career sites are listed below:

Private Resumes: The user enters their resume into the career site's database. However, the user is provided with a way to specify that their resume will not be searchable by employers. Essentially, this allows the user to search the career site's database of jobs, and apply to them online. The only way that an employer gets to see the individual's resume is if the individual applies for a specific opportunity.

Company Exclusion: Some sites allow the user to specify companies that are not allowed to view their resume. This can be a relatively difficult feature for career sites to implement. Additionally, many companies use professional recruiting agencies, so there's no guarantee that an agency in the employ of a user's current company won't discover the resume.

Anonymous Resumes: The user enters their resume into the career site's database, and the resume is available for searching by employers. However, the individual's name and personally identifying information are not provided with the resume. Employers can only contact the job seeker through the facilities provided by the career site.


David Keener By dkeener on Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 12:46 AM EST

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