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How to Catch a Cheating Candidate in an Interview
(4 Min Read) A list of red flags to help you identify a cheating interview candidate.
Interviewing is not a perfect process. Some candidates try to gain an edge by preparing previously asked questions. Sometimes they get lucky and succeed. While gaining an edge by the candidate is acceptable, cheating in an interview is not.
With most interviews being done remotely due to COVID, the number of candidates trying to cheat through the interview process has become exceptionally high. Hence, this post. I highlight how candidates are “trying” to cheat and what we (hiring managers) can do to identify them during the interview.
In my experience, candidates going for full-time positions rarely cheats. They are majorly looking to get an edge. Candidates that cheat are often coming for the contracting roles. That's likely because full-time employees get a background check and that deters candidates from cheating, but contractors usually don't go through same rigrous checking.
Note: Not all contractors/contracting firms try to cheat. There are some genuine ones. This post will not call out any specific firm but just how they cheat or try to scam the interview process.
Why Catch the Cheater?
Apart from the fact that cheating is unethical, hiring a cheating candidate is costly. Companies will waste money/time on onboarding; the team suffers lost productivity due to lousy hire, lost opportunity to hire a suitable candidate, and worst of all, a cheating candidate can compromise company systems/data. All of this can be averted by a small amount of rigor and diligence during the interview process.
Cheating Red Flags 🚩🚩🚩🤬
A cheating candidate will give a lot of red flags. We need to be on the lookout for such red flags when going through the interview process. The effort of running through this list is low and after one or two iterations it becomes part of the filtering process. But the returns are exceptionally high.
Below is this list of red flags I have experienced interviewing 100+ contractor candidates in the past 10+ years of being in tech. I have interviewed contractors from both US and International contracting companies. Some scams or cheating methods are more common with international companies but I have seen companies in the US trying to pull them as well.
Walking through this red flag list is part of my interview process. If you have experienced a different way of cheating or scam that I am yet to experience and is not on the list below, please leave it in the comments. I and the community will be eternally grateful. That said, I hope this list helps you filter out the cheating candidates:
📄 Exceptional Resume: If the resume seems exception on either of these parameters, it's a red flag:
A high amount of work/projects they have worked on with very few years of experience. Something like ten years' worth of projects, but the total experience is two years.
List all tech-stack under the sun.
More talented resume than current full-time engineers at your company.
Hourly rate is way lower for the number of years of experience a candidate has.
The timeline of projects is off. Sometimes they won’t add up. For example, graduated in 2016 and have 10+ years of experience by 2021 🤦♂️
📸 In 2021, everyone has a LinkedIn account now, especially in the US. Check for candidates' LinkedIn profile links and check their profile pictures. If there is no profile picture, that's a red flag. (explained later why)
📹 Always schedule a video call instead of a voice call. It's far better to have an in-person interview, but a video call is a must when not possible. It's possible that the person you are speaking to in voice chat is the accomplice to the candidate you are interviewing. Sometimes consulting companies make experienced employees conduct the interview pretending to be the candidate. Video calls make it harder for them to cheat. If their video is not working or their internet quality is poor, or they can't do video chat for any reason, red flag.
🤳 Confirm that the candidate's LinkedIn profile picture matches the person on the video. If they don't have a LinkedIn profile picture, ask for permission to take a picture or screenshot of the candidate during the video interview. If they deny, ask them why because it’s a potential red flag. If you end up hiring, this will help to ensure that the same person joins. There have been cases where the person interviewed was not the person who joined the company. It was a completely different person. You need some proof later to validate that.
👄 Watch out for lip sync. Yep, not kidding. Some candidates will have a voice call going on with their accomplice who will be listening and answering the question while the onscreen candidate tries to lip-sync or hide their mouth when talking. Once you notice this, it’s obvious. A bad lip-sync is easy to detect. Huge red flag and immediate cancellation from me.
🖥 When doing the video call that requires coding/designing on an app like CoderPad, Google docs, etc., ask them to share their screen. Someone else may control their screen, solving the coding problem and not the candidate. If they don't or refuse to do or give an excuse, red flag.
👀 When using online coding tools, pay attention to the number of people joining the call. There should NEVER be two people logged in from the candidate side. It’s a huge red flag. If there are, the candidate is cheating. I usually end the interview. If you want to continue, ask them to close one session. My take is that once they are cheating, I can't trust them to be honest at work.
🤯 When the candidate starts typing answers directly without explaining the approach. I've experienced candidates write all the code in one go from first to the last line without pausing or hitting backspace. They likely know the answer, and the question is leaked. An experienced interviewer should be able to handle this scenario easily. Even if you are not an experienced interviewer, ask them to explain the solution/code line by line and ask why they chose that as a solution. Usually, it's enough to get a good signal if they understood the problem and the solution. If they can’t explain, red flag.
While this is not a complete list, it's pretty comprehensive. Some cheating scenarios are extreme and we don’t expect them to happen but they do. Going through the list may slow down the contracting hiring process but will save you from lost productivity and your company from losing some money.
I hope you find this post helpful. If you have experienced a cheating scenario that I did not cover, please share it in the comments. We all can benefit from each other experience 🙏.
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