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.


  1. I expect companies that want to run a credit check on you will insist on that SS#.

  2. @Bill: Yah, they will. Do you want to grant permission for a credit check to a company that hasn’t even met you yet? What if the company uses outsourced HR services to do the check? Then the results (and the permission) go into a data base that may be available to other companies… for who knows what purpose? (Read the permission statement carefully.) It’s like giving up your e-mail address to get a free report online… the product isn’t the report. It’s your address. I’m straying off the topic here, but you get the point. You may decide to provide private info, but at least do it after the employer has made some kind of commitment to you, not before. Done politely, “sorry, no” often works. (SS#+name+address+former employer is often enuf to get a credit card)

  3. Nick,

    I’m so glad you posted this. It is amazing how many employers ask for this information up front…and how many job seekers are willing to disclose it for fear of being knocked out of the running if they don’t.

  4. This is true in most cases. However, if you want to apply for a Federal Job in most cases a Social Security number is needed. If you do not provide this information you will not be considered. Some agencies are starting to get the message about the Social Security number problem and are now only asking for the last 4 digits of your number.

  5. I never provide SS until we are at the point where things are serious and we both want to move forward.

    The oddest one I had was a long time ago when I finished undergrad, a company wanted my bank account number, they were not in a finance or banking industry. I of course said no and didn’t get the job. Which was fine by me. You can learn a lot about the attitude of a company by how they handle such situations.

  6. A friend of mine gave his SS# to a company as part of their “background check” and then he was not hired. It turns out the background check company is located in India. So now his SS#, name and DOB are on someone’s computer in Bangalore while he got a handshake and shown the door.
    My advice is not to provide a SS# until after BOTH parties have agreed to the offer (in writing). And as a counter-measure, get a credit report freeze (now available in most states). Just make sure you do it for all three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). Then even a thief gets your SS#, they won’t be able to open a line of credit in your name and fly off to the Bahamas!

  7. Great (and funny) advice TJ, and Nick (of course)!!!

    Just filled out applications for an agency and put all X’s. take that!!!!!!!! (*I love having the upper hand, at least in this respect. I may be interviewing with you, but that does not entitle you to my personal info, which these days is everything short of a fingerprint–OH NO, THEY PROBABLY COULD GET THAT, TOO!)