How to Apply for Jobs Safely

Avoid Internet job applications that ask for too much personal info.

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Miriam Salpeter
Miriam Salpeter
The majority of job seekers are turning to the Internet to apply for positions, but have you thought about the security risks of entering your personal information—including your full name, Social Security number, address, and work details—online or on paper, and placing it in the hands of a stranger? What can you do to protect your identity?

The first thing you can do to protect yourself is avoid applying for bogus jobs. How? Don't apply to blind ads and unnamed companies or recruiters. If there is no company listed and you cannot confirm there is a real job, consider moving on to another position description.

Be sure you only use reputable job boards. Job-Hunt.org offers a list of criteria to help you evaluate boards. Top tips include making sure you know who owns the job site, Googling the site's name, and identifying who has access to the information you include. There should be a comprehensive privacy policy detailed on the site. If there isn't a policy, assume your information might not be in good hands.

Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of Experian's ProtectMyID, has the following suggestions to keep in mind when you file your online applications:

1. Never provide a Social Security number, or personal information such as date of birth, gender, or race when you apply for a position. Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum, suggests you don't include any personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or your mother's maiden name when filling out an online application. (A company that asks for birth date, gender, race, and credit card numbers is probably not legitimate, as reputable employers would not ask for those details.)

If you decide to apply anyway, politely indicate that you'll be happy to provide your Social Security number upon being offered the job. This information is required for payroll and tax purposes, but doesn't need to be in the hands of dozens of potential employers.

One caveat: It's possible an employer may request a Social Security number to conduct credit and background checks before hiring you. Only provide this information once you know the company is legitimate, you have interviewed, and only if you're genuinely interested in working there.

2. If you drop your application off in person, don't just hand your information over to the first employee you see. Make sure you're giving your material to the manager or someone in human resources. It is easy to have your information and resume get lost in the shuffle or fall into the wrong hands.

3. When completing an application online, make sure the Internet site is secure. Look for the URL in your browser to start with https, or you should see a small lock icon in the browser.

4. When you create and save an online profile, ensure that you're using a strong password unique to that company's website and application. Do not use a password that you use for your personal email or any other source. This way, it can't be repeated or copied if someone is able to hack into your other accounts. Some experts suggest it might also be a good idea to set up an email account specifically for the purpose of job hunting and keep it separate from all your other email information. It's a safety step and it might also help cut down on any related spam you might get during your job search. "When people are looking for a job, they often don't think about all of their valuable personal information they give away as part of the online application process," says Chaplin. "It's important to remain vigilant about protecting your identity when applying for jobs. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.