A reader writes:
I work in software development. As a part of our interview process, I ask a series of technical questions. In the past 5 years of interviewing, I’ve managed to catch two applicants bold-face lying/cheating (by looking up the answers online) during a phone interview. The first time, I didn’t say anything to the applicant and finished the interview like normal. The second time, during a short coding test we conduct with a little internet application, the applicant looked up the answer online and copy/pasted someone else’s code. It was pretty obvious he didn’t produce it and, before I could call him out on it, his phone died. I discussed it with some colleagues and they suggested sending him the link to the site he copied the code from to keep him from trying to bother to reschedule an interview.
I guess my question is, what do you or others do when you catch someone lying during an interview? Do you call them out on it? Or do you let it, and the candidate, pass?
There are two schools of thought on this, and both are legitimate:
1. Don’t call the person out, but just remove them from the running. The thinking here is, why bother? You’re not going to hire the person, and it’s not your job to explain why or teach them a lesson.
2. Raise it. Not in an “aha, gotcha!” tone, but simply be direct about why you’re questioning their answer. For instance, in the situation you described, you could say in a neutral tone, “Hmmm, it looks like that came from XYZ.com…?” When I’ve caught people plagiarizing on the written exercises I give when hiring, I’ve generally pointed it out by saying something like, “This answer appears to be taken word-for-word from XYZ online. As a result, I won’t be able to consider your candidacy further.”
I generally do #2 rather than #1 because I like to err on the side of being transparent, but either approach is fine. (Although if you’re going with #2, you’ve got to keep it matter-of-fact and not punitive, since punitive veers too close to unprofessional.)
By the way, I’m assuming here that you know for sure that the person cheated. If you only suspect it but aren’t sure, then I think the right thing to do is to ask about it before simply taking the person out of the running, in case you’re wrong. In that case, I’d say something like, “This is awkward, but your answer seems to be based on XYZ. Can you tell me more about how you reached that answer?” Or, for a different type of possible lie, “This is awkward, but no one at ABC is able to confirm you worked there.” Or so forth. Occasionally something looks like it’s a lie but there’s an innocent explanation, so if the picture is hazy, I’d ask about it if you can.