Don't Forget Data Security on the Job Search

Last Updated May 20, 2010 11:38 PM EDT

When it comes to sharing information, the job search is fraught with contradictions. To find a job, you need to get your bona fides in front of qualified eyes. At the same time, however, you likely want to share those details with some assurance of confidentiality.

That balance between self-promotion and self-defense has grown even more precarious in this era of information theft; the personal data that you include on your printed or online resume may be compromised by gaps in technology or human error among the HR departments to whom you apply.

TheLadders recently spoke with Ellen B. Vance, an HR consultant and auditor at Titan Group, an HR consultancy in Richmond, Va., who told the story of one nonprofit client that had stored 15 large boxes of paperwork in an unlocked closet after a move.

Vance and the client started opening boxes. As they did, it became clear that (the contents) included photocopies of birth certificates; Social Security cards; driver's licenses; and I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms that listed employees' Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, maiden names, signatures -- everything a criminal needs to perpetrate identity theft. "I was about ready to pass out, seeing all this stuff," said Vance.
On the software side, the HR departments at most large companies use applicant tracking systems to process resumes, and this enterprise software may be vulnerable to hackers.

In June 2009, Aetna was sued after allegedly failing to protect personal information belonging to employees and job applicants. This was direct fallout from an incident in which the company's job-application Web site was breached by cybercriminals, as Aetna disclosed on May 28. And the Gap in 2007 lost personal information, including Social Security numbers, for about 800,000 U.S. and Canadian job seekers.

So how can you protect yourself? Experts recommend that you exercise caution when sharing information with potential employers -- and don't let your eagerness for the job get in the way of good sense.

Lorne Epstein, a recruiter with who created InSide Job, a Facebook community of job seekers, told TheLadders that job candidates who want to protect their confidential data should leave their home address completely off their resumes. "Mostly people are getting communicated with by e-mail and by phone," she said.

What's more, Vance asserted, job seekers should leave blank any fields on forms that ask for sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers. "I think the candidate is perfectly OK to say, 'The reason I ask that is I'm very cautious, based (on) what I see in the media, about identity theft.' " Vance said. "You can do it in a way that's not confrontational."

  • Matthew TheLadders

    Matthew Rothenberg is editor-in-chief for TheLadders, the world's leading online service catering exclusively to the $100K+ job market. In addition to traditional job search services, TheLadders.com also provides a host of specialized career development resources. Previously he worked at Ziff Davis Media, ZDNet, CNET, and Hachette Filipacchi.