Don’t cheat on phone interviews; and if you are going to cheat, don’t be an idiot.
As of a few days ago, I didn’t know that cheating on phone interviews was a thing. It is so unthinkable and rather stupid that I just didn’t expect anyone to try to pull it off; especially not on a technical interview. My interviewee tried to pull a fast one on me, I got the drift and lead him straight to giving me the proof I needed that he was a cheat.
My first hint that something was wrong came when I found that the candidate was taking too long to answer the questions. There was just too much dead silence on the phone. I initially attributed this to the candidate not really knowing the answers. However, within a few seconds he responded correctly.
Ok. Maybe it is just me. Let’s move on…
Again, silence, I am forced to check if he is still on the line.
Then the answer comes.
Ok. Maybe he is just nervous, or just awkward… Thats fine!
More silence, more correct answers. I increase the difficulty, and the answers keep coming. But some of the terms he is using are un-natural, somewhat textbookish…
I am getting suspicious!
I shift from testing his skills to testing his honesty. He said he wasn’t experience in Web UI development; So I kept asking him questions in this area; and he kept giving me textbook answers.
I wanted proof. I knew that with his 20 second pauses, he had enough time to paraphrase any technical explanation so I started asking him to write examples code or snippets for some of those topics.
What he didn’t realize is that I can google/bing just as fast as him!
It only took two written questions for me to catch him in the act! He writes an example with very peculiar and un-natural variable names; the kind of names that feel like they have more context to them…
5 seconds later I have his exact peculiar example, verbatim, on a question and answer site!
For the first time I found myself absolutely fuming in a middle of an interview! This guy was wasting my time. There was no way that he would ever get away with it!
There was something absolutely irrational about this individual’s behavior. He was obviously skilled enough as a coder, he had no reason to try to cheat his way into this specific job! How did he think he was going to get through the in-person interview? There was just no win out of this situation for him and yet he still tried to cheat his way through.
With some of the questions I gave him I would have gladly accepted an “I don’t know”. I gave him increasingly hard questions based on his readiness to answer the previous ones. Instead of focusing on his strength he pushed me to focus on his weakness.
The first lesson in cheating is: don’t go overboard! If you have the answer sheet to a final, you don’t ace the exam, you need to purposely make a few mistakes!
Don’t eagerly proclaim ‘I know this answer’ and then spend the next 20 seconds in silence!
He claimed to not be strong in Web UI and yet answered all the questions perfectly, with a textbook answer. I would never have been suspicious if it wasn’t for his idiocy!
In the end, I didn’t confront him. I was sufficiently frustrated that I deemed it more prudent to end that interview than to call him out on his dishonesty.
Please don’t cheat on phone interviews! If the job is out of your technical reach, work hard on elevating yourself! Cheating might get you through a phone screen; but there is no way it will get you through an in person interview!