A reader asks:
How should I respond when an employer asks for my social security number on an application form or in an interview, before I have agreed to the job?
The advice I offer about this makes some people shiver… You want me to mess with a form???
Yah, it’s a piece of paper. The company hasn’t yet invested any time in you. We’re talking about a dumb piece of paper.
Use all zeroes or nines or any number. On online forms (you have to put something in there or it won’t let you continue with the rest of the form), this makes it clear that you are not trying to “forge” a number. On paper forms, just write a note: “Sorry, I don’t divulge SS# prior to meeting with an employer and establishing mutual interest.” Online forms usually have a “comments” section; add that statement when you’re done. Again, you don’t want it to look like you’re playing games.
In person, I’d say the same thing. Until a company is ready to make an offer, you prefer to keep information that might subject you to identity theft confidential. You’d be glad to share it, of course, if you are hired.
Companies simply have no business with your SS# before they hire you, no matter what they claim. Of course, they may like to have it, but you are not obligated to give it to them. But be positive when you explain this: “I’d be glad to share private, confidential information with you once we have established a serious mutual interest in working together. I’d be glad to invest as much time as you need to meet, talk and decide whether we are a match. Would you like to schedule an interview?”
Some personnel jockeys will get really incensed, but the irony and hypocrisy becomes clear when you consider the problem from another perspective: Go Pound Salt.
Others will respect your privacy and let it slide. This tells you who is flexible and who isn’t — an important thing to know before you join a company.
You must decide what kind of risk to take — getting rejected because you didn’t fill out the form “properly” or risking your identity.