Jag Venugopal's Blog

March 13, 2010

Interview Shenanigans

Filed under: Information Technology,Management,Project Management — Jag @ 12:00 am
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I recently encountered two instances of resume and interview fraud. What surprised me was the sheer obviousness of the deception; at the very least, the interviewees could have been more sophisticated.

In the first instance, I interviewed a candidate with an impressive resume of eight pages for a .NET developer’s contract. The responses of the candidate in the phone interview were very choppy. Someone who did not have to exaggerate or make up the resume would speak clearly and without hesitation about what they had done. Intrigued, I looked to see if they were on LinkedIn, and sure enough they were. This is where the fun began.

This candidate claimed that they were a senior software developer at a company. In their profile on LinkedIn, the same job was noted as that of a junior programming intern. Secondly, the candidate claimed to work for various companies on their resume that was not borne out by their LinkedIn profile. I can understand that some people do not completely flesh out their LinkedIn profile, but in this instance the candidate claimed to be working for one employer on their resume, and another on LinkedIn during the same time period. And before anyone emails me that the two putative employers might have had a prime/sub relationship, I need to state that they appeared to be from completely separate industries!

A second form of fraud relates to a technique borrowed from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”: phone a friend. A recent individual I spoke with tended to pause for 20-30 seconds before answering any complex question. The answer would then roll out in an instant (its a different matter that the answer was still incorrect). This led me to believe that the person was interviewing with a helper either available by email or in the same room with them. The 30 second gap was the time it took for the helper to understand the question, and scribble an answer which the candidate could then read out aloud.

There was another curious situation in our hiring process. We asked an interview question of candidates from one agency; let’s call it “When would you use if-then-else statements?”. The actual question was different and more sophisticated, but this captures the point. Subsequent resumes from the agency started showing up with phrases of the form “over four years’ experience in if-then-else statements”. I kid you not! Clearly, said agency was debriefing its interviewees, and adjusting resumes still in the pipeline to reflect what was being asked, but this effort was way too obvious, and appeared disingenous.

In discussing these issues with a colleague, he recounted to me another episode. This colleague was the manager on a project that wound down some time ago (the “Amazing Widgets” project).  A while ago, he received a call from another project manager. This individual was considering hiring “Fred”, who had stated in his resume that he worked on the Amazing Widgets project. Apparently, the description was fairly detailed. The hiring PM wanted to find out how well Fred did on Amazing Widgets. As it turns out, Fred never worked on Amazing Widgets. We never knew how Fred was able to pack Amazing Widgets experience on to his resume. Our best guess is that he copied and pasted an entire chunk of on-the-job experience from a friend or colleague that actually worked on the project.

Unfortunately, such instances of falsehood and exaggeration set up an adversarial relationship between a potential employer and a candidate even before the courtship dance has begun. Rather than view a candidate as a potential partner in a shared cause, the interviewer now considers their mission to be one of unmasking a duplicitous adversary. The candidate is guilty of fraud and deception until proven innocent.

My recommendations to interviewers hiring candidates for either temp or perm positions are:

  • Always do a web search (Facebook and LinkedIn are places to start; also look in programming forums to see what kinds of questions are being asked by the candidate). A strong individual has participated in some forum or the other that’s in Google’s cache
  • Look for fluency in answers… a person who answers in a  very “choppy” style should immediately raise a red flag
  • Discuss projects in a random sequence, and keep repeating past questions. A practised interviewee will have trouble responding. A truthful interviewee will sail through
  • Don’t allow time for pauses between questions and answers in an initial phone screen, to prevent sight-unseen googling or “phone-a-friend”
  • Always conduct a face-to-face interview, even for temporary positions

And to potential candidates, my message is:  It might take you longer to land a gig when you don’t falsify or exaggerate, but the benefits are priceless; apart from the obvious question of morality, it is trivially easy to keep your story straight, if you’re telling the truth.

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2 Comments »

  1. This is a great experience; i once interviewed someone in India. This was during the internet boom times, and the interview went very very well, all across 4 interviewers. When the guy arrived here he just couldn’t perform. Turned out there were “professional” interviewees who did this, but a different guy shows up, who has paid the “professional” interviewees. Who would have thought!!!

    Anyway here’s a funny clip talking about interviews.

    Comment by Ankur — March 4, 2010 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  2. I had heard about the resume fabrication, but experienced it first hand today. I was requested to interview a person for QA Contract position. I got hold of the applicant’s resume 15 mins before the interview and was quickly glancing through the 5 pages of resume. A mention of AFM caught my eye and pointed it out to the hiring mgr who happened to have managed the same project. The hiring mgr had no recall of such person working for him, nor was the work out sourced. Even the time line was way off. This created a scenario of doubting the applicant’s entire resume. The entire episode reminded me of your blog, so thought of commenting. Anyway, Jagadeesh, keep up the good work.

    Comment by Swarna — May 20, 2010 @ 11:30 am | Reply


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