Few of us love looking for a new job. In addition to the stress of worrying about making a good impression, and the financial pressure of negotiating a fair salary, there’s the fact that interviewing can leave you feeling pretty exposed.
The hiring manager learns an awful lot about you during the process – and not all of it is stuff you necessarily want them to know. Depending on where you live and what the employer’s individual policies are, that might include:
Your credit history.
In most states in the U.S., hiring managers can ask you to authorize them to pull your credit report, but the version they see is not the same as the one lenders view. They can’t see your three-digit credit score, for example, or your birth date. Still, if you have a history of delinquent payments or other blemishes on your financial record, prospective employers might be able to see that – and pull an offer based on that information and your perceived irresponsibility.
Here’s where it’s important to know your rights. If you live in one of the 11 states that prohibit employers from asking to see credit reports – for example, California, Illinois, or Vermont – their request might be illegal.
If your state currently allows credit screening during the job search process, you still have rights. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to get your written consent before pulling your credit report and notify you in the event that they decide to rescind an offer based on what they find. In fact, they have to notify you twice: once before taking action, and once after. The “pre-adverse action disclosure” is intended to give you the opportunity to check for errors on your report before a prospective employer sees them. In one FTC study, 5% of consumers were found to have inaccurate information on their credit reports, so it’s worth checking yours for errors.
Whether you’ve committed a crime.
Twenty-four states and over 150 cities have enacted “ban-the-box” legislation, which makes it illegal for employers to ask applicants about previous convictions. However, that means that there are still plenty of places in the U.S. that allow companies to screen applicants based on a criminal record.
If you live and work in one of these states, don’t despair: A 2012 CareerBuilder survey found that over half of employers have hired applicants with a criminal record. The hiring managers they surveyed recommended being honest about the conviction and the reasons behind it, staying positive, and being willing to work your way up.
And then there’s this: A more recent CareerBuilder survey found that one in four employers didn’t conduct background checks, so there’s always the chance it’ll never come up.
Your salary history.
Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to announce that it will ban the salary history question during the interview process, but other cities and states are following suit. For now, however, it’s still legal for most employers to ask you how much you were paid at previous jobs. Some even back up their request by asking for W-2s or pay stubs to verify your statements, making it impossible to stretch the truth. (Not that you would.)
If the question is optional, your best bet is still to defer, and try to get the hiring manager to specify a budget for the role. Failing that, it’s a good idea to try to base negotiations around the market rate for the role, not your prior earnings. After all, there’s no guarantee that you were being paid fairly at your last job, especially if you’re female, not a confident negotiator, or working in a low-paying industry.
Whether you know how to use social media responsibly.
Let’s be real: If hiring managers restricted their searches to candidates who had never enjoyed an adult beverage or attended a party, their pool of applicants would be vanishingly small. That’s not why many will object to seeing your beach body draped on someone’s fishing boat while you practice drinking out of one of those hilarious beer-holding hats.
No, the real objection is that you don’t know to safeguard those photos better – and that’s why being too open on your accounts might keep you from getting a job. Think about it from their perspective: If you can’t manage your own personal brand, why should they let you gamble with the company’s?
Clean up those feeds and profiles, or lock them down so that a casual viewer can’t see how much fun you’re having on your own time. It’s only your business, and no one else’s, after all.