April 27, 2009

How to Avoid Hiring a Cheat

by Peg Bogema

Here’s a cautionary tale I thought might be interesting since there is a higher level of competition for jobs right now.

Stout Systems recently landed a project doing substantial ASP.NET development. Given the complex nature of the project, we knew we needed to add a very skilled developer to our team.

We interviewed a number of people and put them through our standard screening process. As part of our routine procedure, we asked candidates for a code sample.

And this is where the story gets interesting…

We asked one promising developer for a code sample. After two days the code sample hit our inbox right on schedule. That afternoon, our technical architect for the project phoned me, “Uh...I don't know how to say this, but this developer plagiarized the code sample.”

WHAT!?!

How we caught the cheat:

  1. The first clue the sample was plagiarized was that the developer told us he didn't have permission to share any of his commercial work and would have to custom-code something for us. Fair enough. So he sent us a massive and complex Web site (that no mere mortal would be able to write that quickly) and claimed to have prepared the entire thing over the weekend. Hmm...
  2. With that clue, our technical architect got suspicious, pasted a code snippet into Google and ran a search. He got a direct and immediate hit. So he downloaded the code and compared it with the developer’s submission. It was a 100% match except where the author's name was changed.  Even then, the original author's name was left intact in a few places in the plagiarized version.

Unbelievable.

Needless to say, the embarrassed developer did not get the job.

I could tell more stories like this where people blew it by lying or faking. It is tempting, especially when you are competing for work in a tight job market. But in our experience, you're better off laying your cards on the table and dealing with whatever the prospective employer throws at you.

Just a few weeks ago, a developer we know told us that he was certain he'd scared off a prospective employer by giving them his real salary history (which was much higher than the salary they were offering). After a delay of several weeks, the employer came back saying they had the green light to hire and presented him the offer. Now there is a great example of an honest success.

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