Job Hunters: Protect Your Online Identity

Most everyone can relate to hiding a job search from a current employer. But how can job seekers protect their identities from public abuse when the majority of online career and social networking websites require job seekers' personal information to sign up and for potential employers to find them?

Identity thieves are increasingly exploiting job search and social networking websites because those sites can be treasure troves of registered users' personal information. In some cases, job search sites such as Monster.com, ZoomInfo, TechnologyLadder and ExecUNet, require two or more forms of personal identification data (such as a mailing address or credit card number) so that they can verify job seekers' identities at account setup. While I applaud their desire to protect the use of my identity, the news (Monster Attacked Again – 1.6 M Records Stolen, USAJOBS Fed Jobsite Hacked – Account Info Lost, and Trojan Trawls Job Search Sites Harvesting IDs) testifies to even these major job sites’ inability to protect that data consistently, and that makes me very leery of providing detailed identification data, especially my credit card numbers, to any job search website.

While these job search sites take measures to validate the identities of job seekers, they don't seem to do the same for employers. The result is that nearly all of these job sites allow someone to identify him or herself as an employer without verification. Then, as long as the "employer" pays its fees, it can access, download and save resumes at its convenience.

This means, for a relatively small price, scammers can have near limitless access to all your career and personal information.

The link between identity theft and job search sites hit home for me recently when someone tried to steal my identity to give themselves a very merry Christmas on my dime last month!

While my credit card company investigates the fraud, I've been thinking about ways job seekers can prevent their identities from being stolen or abused on the web. Here's what I've found:

1) Use secured job sites. Some job sites allow you to create a “safe” or “secure” resume, which replaces your standard contact information with an internal code name. Recruiters have to specifically request your information in order to gain access to you. This extra security step builds a barrier against automated hack attempts and screen scrapers trolling for IDs to steal.

2) Remove your standard contact information from your online resume. If a website does not provide an automated means of protecting your identity, your option is to manually remove your home address, your home phone number, business contact data, and the e-mail addresses that can tie you to detailed personal profile information (such as AOL accounts). (54 percent of recruiters noted in a recent survey that they will not hold your decision to withhold this information against you.) Instead, only provide your city and state, an unlisted phone number (most cell phone numbers are unlisted) and an e-mail address that you use strictly for your job search.

Some privacy experts, like Pam Dixon, are even recommending using what they call “disposable contact information”) in order to protect yourself in today’s world of global information access. (Some job seekers are going so far as to create e-mail accounts that differentiate them and exemplify their personal branding statement, like, ITLeader@abc,com or SEOatLarge@abc,com.)

3) Modify your career history. If you are still employed, replace your current employer's name with something more industry generic, such as “top international software provider” or “leading regional bank." Many websites allow you to simply put “Confidential” for the name of any company, as well.

On a related note, many recruiters have told me that the exact position title is less important than the role performed. Also, titles that are too specific can sometimes eliminate your resume from consideration. Therefore, consider replacing highly specific titles with more industry standard position descriptors. For example, “Midwest Regional Manager” might replace "US Centerline Services Delivery and Third-Shift Production Support Leader” and “Division Head of Applications Development" might provide more insight than “Sector Division New Technology Innovation and IP Assets Delivery Team Assistant.”

Finally, to further protect identifying information about yourself, do not include your hobbies nor your references into your online resume. Such bits of information can get you eliminated by reviewers based on their personal assumptions. Recruiters I’ve spoken to note that including references into your resume can be seen as either presumptuous or as out-right name dropping.

4) Log your accounts and change your passwords frequently. If the latest Conikker virus, which now owns something like 1 in 16 of all PCs globally, doesn’t make you want to change your passwords more frequently, I don’t know what will! Keep a log of all the job boards and web sites where you have created an account. This log will help you quickly monitor and update your accounts, and it will give you a means to track your results in order to focus your efforts on those sites that are providing you with the best leads.

These are some tips that I have used. If you are a hiring manager or executive recruiter, I would sincerely appreciate your comments and experience on these tips, as well as any other tips that you may have to share!

As always, thank you for reading and for your comments.

(By the way, I have created a new Twitter account, as TriumphCIO, where I am noting smaller progress points in my job search, as well. If you find my posts and articles helpful or interesting, then I will be following web strategist, Jeremiah Owyang's recommendation, and will include a Twitter "tweet this" link to make it easier for readers to forward information they like.)

Tweet this (http://tinyurl.com/db7sfe).

Mark

Mark Cummuta

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