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Special Edition
Resume Trafficking: The job-seeker's nightmare

You already know how I feel about using a resume to "market" yourself. I just don't like resumes. But people use them, so it's important to discuss the risks they pose.

Pam Dixon is the principal investigator on a recent study commissioned by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse about online job search privacy. With Pam's gracious permission, I have excerpted and edited sections of a report she released and parts of a letter she wrote transmitting this study to the Federal Trade Commission (which will hopefully launch an investigation).

Your online resume is likely rented, sold and re-sold. Resume trafficking is big business. Pam has exposed the tip of an iceberg, and she offers sound advice on how you can avoid running headlong into it during your job search.

Nick Corcodilos
Ask The Headhunter®

Resume Trafficking: The job-seeker's nightmare
By Pam Dixon

Job seekers by the tens of millions entrust their resumes to resume writing services, resume databases, and even recruiting services only to have their resumes searched, data-mined, bundled, and sold in bulk for 10 to 33 cents apiece to employers, bogus recruiters, and start-up job sites seeking to make a fast buck from selling access to job seeker data. And job seekers, much to their dismay, all too frequently find their resumes circulating amongst employers and recruiters years after they initially posted them.

In 2002, revealed in an earnings call that 30 percent of the Monster unit's profit came from its resume database. This is a publicly traded company with a market capitalization that hovers around one billion dollars. is not alone in selling access to consumer resume databases to boost the bottom line, nor is it alone in relying upon millions of consumer resumes to do so.

Consumer resumes have become a big business, and this business is not necessarily helpful to job seekers. Privacy concerns are often the last consideration on the list when companies try to profit from compiling and using consumer resumes as profit-making commodities. The entire job search industry is in dire need of regulation and reform. The industry has not set its own standards, and few within it are willing to do the right things for this special and large group of consumers who need the most help: people who are looking for work.

Job seeker beware
Even the most careful, conscientious sites cannot control your resume after an employer or a recruiter has downloaded it. Job sites do not have the ability to track or physically control how a recruiter or employer uses your resume after it is downloaded. Most sites watch for problems -- such as rapid resume downloads -- and enforce terms of use agreements with employers and recruiters. But let the job seeker beware.

The more general the email “job” offer, the less valid it usually is. Vague wording like “We have thousands of jobs” or “We work with major companies” is a red flag. Requests to send in a new copy of your resume can spell trouble, too. Avoid vaguely worded offers, and avoid sending your resume to general email resume solicitations after you have posted your resume online. 

Resume posting options
Job seekers have several options to choose from in circulating a resume.

  • Reply to job ads directly without going through a third party. Look for a company-related email address to send your resume to.
  • Post a resume directly on the Web site of the company you wish to work for.
  • Work with one carefully selected “headhunter” or recruiter.
  • Some resume databases let you mask your contact information or email address when you post a resume. This allows you to control who contacts you or not. If you are going to post a resume online, this should be the only way you post it.

Recommendations to job seekers
Pay particular attention to how long a site says it will keep or store your resume.
Preferably, job and resume sites should state that they promise to keep your resume for a limited, specific amount of time, such as one to six months, after which the site will delete your resume. Without specific, written statements about how long your resume may be kept, your resume can be archived for years, legally.

Before you post a resume, check to make sure you can delete your resume after you have posted it. Look in the job site’s privacy policy for resume deletion instructions. If you don’t find any instructions, write an email to the site and ask how or if you can delete your resume. If you are not satisfied with the reply, do not post your resume.

If you use a resume writing service, get an agreement in writing that the service will not sell or share your resume with any third parties or partners. Ask to see the privacy policy and ask specifically about how the service handles and stores your resume. This applies to traditional and online resume writing services.

Know how to handle unsolicited email about your resume posting. If you post a resume to a resume database and receive unsolicited email other than from legitimate employers or recruiters, be sure to notify the site where you have your resume posted and tell them you have received the email. The more vague the email, the less legitimate it is likely to be.

Keep good records. Be sure to keep a record of where you have posted your resume. Remember to go back and delete your resume from the sites where you have posted it after you have finished your job search.

Post your resume sparingly. It is tempting to go to every job site you can find and post your resume. Focus on quality, not quantity. Hand-pick just a few sites that have good privacy policies and that other people working in your profession have had good luck with, and post only to sites that allow you to mask your contact information.

Use a disposable email address. If you post your resume to a site that does not allow you to mask your identity, then mask it yourself. Use an email address that you can cancel if you start getting spam, and don’t give out your full name, phone number, or home address.

Never put a Social Security Number on your resume. You can provide it when you are invited for an interview or when the employer obtains your permission to conduct a background check. Widespread access to your SSN puts you at risk for identity theft.

Omit references. When you post a resume online with your references’ names and phone numbers on it, you are giving their information away without their consent in what can be a very public forum.

Your resume belongs to you. According to current copyright law, you own your resume and the copyright on it. If you don’t like how your resume is being handled, you have the right to complain and take action.

Help for job seekers
If you believe your resume or personal job search data, including your email address or your name, has been shared or used in a way inconsistent with a job site’s posted privacy policy, you have recourse through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) You may file a consumer complaint with the FTC by calling (1-877-FTC-HELP) or by using the FTC’s online filing system, located at Click on “File a Complaint Online.”

If you have identity theft problems resulting from your resume posting, visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Identity Theft Resource Center

Copyright © 2003 by The Dixon Report and Pam Dixon.

I encourage you to read the entire text of Pam's Online Job Search Privacy Study, which is funded by the Rose Foundation Consumer Privacy Rights Fund, and her letter to the FTC. Pam is also the author of the Privacy Foundation's 2001 report on the privacy practices of, and several books including Job Searching Online for Dummies. Many thanks to Pam for sharing her work with us.

-- Nick


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