In the March 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers’ demands are very inappropriate. She says she’s applying for a job — not a loan. What’s up with consent forms to access personal credit records and other private information?
I had a good phone interview for a job that seems interesting. I’m visiting them next week for an interview. Today, they sent me an e-mail application (a wee bit premature… I’m not sure I want to apply until after the in-person interview) and, more shocking, a consent form to check my credit report. I think this is beyond inappropriate, not to mention the fact that my report is locked because my husband had his identity stolen a few years ago, and we have no idea where it was swiped from.
So, my question, how do I politely tell them I’m not filling out the forms until after the interview, and until I’ve decided to move forward? Do I even need to explain about the credit report? Is this a new thing? Why on earth would they need my credit report in the first place? They’re not loaning me money.
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
Imagine being asked to fill out a marriage license and to take a blood test before you have a first date with someone. Or to hand over your credit report before visiting a car dealer? Or to bend over for an exam before going on a job interview?
The explanation for this is simple. The HR department at this company doesn’t recruit or impress. This company’s HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead. I’m surprised they haven’t asked you to provide a urine sample yet. (Don’t laugh.)
You are right to question the request, and to decline to provide the information until after you have met with the hiring manager. If the company doesn’t have adequate information on which to base an interview, then it should not be talking to you.
Will saying “No” result in the interview getting cancelled? It might. There is always the chance that a company will dump you if you don’t do what it asks. On the other hand, most such requests are routine, and when people ignore them, companies often don’t even notice until it’s “too late.”
Here are your options:
- Politely tell them you’d like to meet with the manager first. “If there’s mutual interest, then I’d be glad to fill out the forms. But a meeting is necessary to help us both decide that.”
- Just ignore the request, show up, and do the interview. If they ask where the paperwork is, don’t pretend you forgot or were too busy. That would make you appear irresponsible. Instead, use the statement above. By then, you’re there, and they can deal with it.
- Give them what they want. I don’t think this is a good option, because as you point out, it not only puts you at risk, it’s inappropriate and it’s a waste of your time.
I would not provide consent for a credit report, or even fill out application forms, until after you decide you’re really interested… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]
If they press you, and you’re still interested in talking to a company that funds a bureaucracy, I I’d be frank: Your credit is locked because your identity has already been stolen:
How to Say It
“Many companies rely on third parties to perform credit and background investigations, and I know some of that checking is done overseas, in countries with no privacy protections. Having been seriously burned, my policy is not to grant consent unless I know exactly who is doing the checking, who will have access to my private information, and what will happen to it afterwards. I don’t permit my private information to be stored in anyone’s database. My lawyer would slap me if I did otherwise — this has already cost my husband and me a lot of money. I’m sure you understand.”
You could also ask the employer to sign a letter accepting liability if your information falls into the wrong hands. Then ask for a list of names of people who will have access to the information.
How to Say It
“I’m sure you realize… [Sorry, you've gotta get the free newsletter for the rest...]
Invasions of privacy by employers who have no vested interest in you, and that have not put their own skin into the game yet, are common. This is not a new thing… But again — taking a strong position could cost you an interview or a job. It’s up to you how far you go…
Sometimes you’ve got to wonder which department you’re walking into when you appear for a job interview. Is this HR, or Proctology? If people keep letting employers, investigators and background checkers poke around where they don’t belong, can the doctor be far behind?
Do companies seriously believe they’re recruiting when they tell you to drop trou and stand for inspection? Even before an interview? That’s not recruiting. It’s a joke. How far will HR go to abuse people before it tries to attract them? How impressed are you with a company that behaves this way?
And HR wonders why there’s a “talent shortage.” The only shortage is of common sense when recruiting and hiring. What do you do when employers want to check your teeth before they make you smile? (In case anyone got offended, I switched metaphors… so please post your comments and share your stories and suggestions.)