Report: Why Privacy Matters to Job Seekers

Man looking at his computer

We should all know by now that oversharing on social media comes with risks—and you don’t need to go as far as the guy who posted a video of himself licking taco shells at the restaurant where he worked. Yes, he was fired.

These days people overshare so much that commentators regularly proclaim that privacy is dead. As for me, I’m not convinced. I think it still matters to people—especially when it comes to job search.   

Don’t just take my word for it. Here at Indeed we recently conducted a survey of 10,000 people in nine countries to identify their concerns about job search. What did we find? Almost two thirds (65%) of job seekers worldwide are worried that others will find out they are looking for a new job. The number for Australia is even higher with 73% expressing concern that their job seeking activities would be found out.

Is privacy dead? It doesn’t look like it.

73 per cent of Australian job seekers worry about others finding out that they're looking for a new job

Even personal finances are less sensitive than job search

So just how sensitive is job search for candidates? A quarter of Australian respondents said they feel “secretive” (26%) about job search, while more than a third (39%) went further, stating that they feel as though they are leading “a double life.”

More than a quarter of job seekers (26%) ranked their quest for a job as the subject they would be least likely to share online. This trumped topics such as finances 26%, religion 15%, personal relationships 9%, politics 7% and health 4%.

So, what’s the biggest concern people have about conducting a job search? Well, 48% of respondents were worried that their work colleagues might find out. As for the risk of of not getting a position? Only 38% were apprehensive about that. Being discovered is a far greater issue.

What concerns you most aboutyour job search being made public?

Australians are secretive about their job search activity

So, what’s so taboo about looking for a new job? Clearly many people fear the repercussions if their current employer finds out about it. However, there’s more to it than that: it turns out that many people are even reluctant to discuss job search with their loved ones.

Almost a third of people (29%) said they wouldn’t tell anyone when they were first starting to look for a new job. A whopping 53% would wait until they’d actually submitted an application before letting their partner know about it. It’s a sensitive (and often stressful) subject—one that carries mixed emotions.

We showed our findings to Professor Paul Dolan, Behavioural Economist at London School of Economics. “Admitting that we are looking for a job means exposing others to our potential success or failure. To avoid embarrassing ourselves, we choose to hide our searches,” he said.

Is that the best approach? Perhaps not. Professor Dolan suggests that “it may be far more useful, for ourselves and for others, to highlight failures when they occur.” We learn from our mistakes, after all. Even so, job search is highly private and employers need to be aware of this.

29 per cent of Australians don't tell anyone when they're looking for a new job

What this means for employers

Clearly, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to respect job seeker privacy at all times. We all understand this in principle, but what does it mean in practice?

First: you should have a privacy policy. At Indeed we publish ours online, setting out exactly how we handle the information we receive. Since we handle a lot of personal information, we are very careful how we use it.

Second: put yourself in the shoes of the job seeker. Nowadays some companies can be quite demanding and call candidates back for multiple interviews. That’s understandable since we all want to make a great hire, but it can put the candidate in an awkward position with their current employer, especially if they keep having to take time off for a job they may not get. If possible, do all your interviews on a single day. If you respect a candidate’s time and give them a good experience, you are more likely to get favourable word of mouth—even if you don’t end up hiring them.

Third: train your hiring managers to be discreet about the candidates they meet with. It’s a small world (especially in the age of social media) and you might get candidates who know each other coming in for interviews. Maybe they both work at the same company, and are worried that word of their job hunt could get back to their employers. You should always respect their confidentiality.

Paul Wolfe is SVP of Human Resources at Indeed.

Methodology: Censuswide conducted a survey of 10,000 people in nine countries for Indeed. 1,026 Australians took part.

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