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“Don’t Expect Candidates to Have Everything Memorized”, the Dos and Don’ts of Cheating Prevention With Nathan Sutter

Hiring Developers , Interviewing

Sure, you want to prevent cheating. But you also want to feel good about your hiring process.

I recently chatted with Nathan Sutter, VP of Engineering, about cheating, interviewing, and candidate experience. 

We put together a list of dos and don’ts to help you hire developers and prevent cheating in the “best possible way” (i.e in a way that won’t send developers running for the hills OR make you feel like an unfair, out-of-touch paranoiac). 

🔖 Related read: If you want to read more about how to prevent, mitigate and detect cheating within your tech hiring process, check this out.

The dos of cheating prevention

Do: be transparent with candidates

It can be tempting to keep candidates in the dark. 

Indeed, some recruiters worry that any information candidates receive will be used to better prepare a cheating offense. 

We disagree. 

The more a candidate knows about the hiring process, the better.

Aim to clearly communicate what you’re looking to assess and why. We also strongly recommend that you communicate, ahead of time, what tools candidates can or can’t use and why.  

“Be as clear and as transparent as possible. Candidates should know what they’re walking into.”

For example, if you consider that using ChatGPT during a live coding interview is fair game—say so! Then, go on to explain that you encourage the use of ChatGPT because you want to provide a realistic interview experience (for example). Candidates will respect you all the more for your transparency.

A well-prepared, well-informed candidate is less likely to cheat because: 

  1. You’ve shown candor and started to build trust and engagement.
  2. They’re confident that you’re not trying to “catch them out” or spring any surprises on them. They’re less likely to panic. 
  3. They’re “onboard” with your evaluation process. They haven’t been made to feel that they’re simply “jumping through hoops”. You’ve shown that you respect their time and value skills above other, less objective, criteria. 

Do: create a realistic interview setting

Always strive to simulate your working environment during the interview process.

“Create an environment that is as close to working with this person as possible. Give candidates the tools that you would give them on the job.”

Whether it’s tools (as mentioned above), the IDE, or the space to ask questions, it’s important to provide developers with a familiar and realistic interview setting.

The more comfortable and confident they feel, the less likely they are to look for external, unauthorized support (asking someone to take the interview in their place, for example). 

Do: align and engage your hiring team

Recruitment is not a one-(wo)man show. It takes a team. 

“It’s really important that your hiring manager specifically is working very, very closely with talent acquisition, and that you’re on the same page with what cheating is.”

It’s important to define what cheating means to your organization. Clearly list expectations and decide what’s allowed and what’s not. All stakeholders should commit to this shared position. 

For example, here at CoderPad, we don’t consider that using ChatGPT as a supporting tool during a test or interview is cheating. We do, however, consider that asking a friend to take a pre-employment assessment in your place, is cheating. 

It’s just as important to make sure that anyone involved in the hiring process is fully engaged and, better still, trained in inclusivity, hiring bias and structured interviewing. Why? Because the better the interview experience, the less likely candidates are to want to cheat.  

🔖 Related read: How Talent Acquisition Can Empower Engineering Hiring Managers to Be Better Interviewers

The don’ts of cheating prevention

Don’t: over-rely on proctoring

“Adding proctoring for all assessments is not something I would recommend. In some geographies, proctoring is a norm, it’s expected; in other geographies, it’s absolutely not.”

Proctoring can be both a powerful anti-cheat tool, and a real obstacle for candidates. 

When deciding whether or not you activate proctoring for your online assessments, take into account elements such as: 

  • Seniority of the role you’re hiring for
  • The market and culture you’re hiring in
  • Expected number of applicants for the role
  • Your available internal resources

As a general rule, we recommend that you avoid using proctoring excessively. However, if you do decide to enable proctoring, you should do so for every candidate applying for a given position (per-test, not per-candidate).

🎬 Related watch: How to Prevent and Detect Cheating in Your Tech Recruitment Process

Don’t: expect memorization

Do not expect candidates to memorize everything; focus on problem-solving skills instead.

“For as long as I’ve been writing code, we’ve had tools to help us remember things. Our toolsets are becoming more complex over time, so don’t expect candidates to have everything memorized. Memorization isn’t a good indicator of how well a potential engineer will solve problems.”

Don’t: present overly complex problems

The harder the questions, the harder it is to cheat. Right?

No. Asking candidates to work on overly difficult development tasks will not get you better hiring results.

“If it’s a 45-minute interview, give them a problem they can realistically solve in 45 minutes, not something that would take two or three hours on their own.” 

Provide clear instructions, and have candidates work on something as close as possible to an on-the-job problem, that can realistically be completed in the allotted time. 

Expecting candidates to over perform in an interview setting does not set you, or your candidate, up for success.

Don’t: create an adversarial environment or an overcomplicated process

No good will come from throwing an endless amount of steps and obstacles at candidates. You may well drive the cheaters away, but you’ll drive everyone else away too. Instead, focus on enabling candidates to succeed rather than tripping them up.

“Ask yourself, how do I enable somebody to succeed, not catch somebody out.”

We absolutely recommend that candidate experience remain your north star. 

Make it as easy as possible for candidates to navigate your hiring process and, above all, demonstrate their skills.

Don’t: make rash decisions or accusations

Lastly, don’t jump to any conclusions. 

Any one indicator of unusual or suspicious behavior is not necessarily enough to label a candidate as a cheater. 

“For example, some engineers, being introverted, might not feel comfortable being on camera for the first interview. I wouldn’t take this as a red flag indicating cheating. Instead, focus on being engaged and ensuring the candidate can walk you through their solution in real time.”

Lead with curiosity, ask questions. There may well be a perfectly reasonable explanation.