You might have seen this bananas reader submission on Alison Green’s Ask A Manager blog last month. If not, here’s a quick summary: The reader’s husband, who works in IT at a “midsized private company,” realizes that new hire “John” is not the same candidate he interviewed. He has different hair and glasses, different life details and can’t answer basic questions related to the job. “John” ends up quitting before HR can fully interrogate him. After that, he’s unreachable. End scene.
John’s motivations are unclear. It’s possible he just wanted a higher-paying job. A more sinister explanation is that he wanted access to company information. Regardless, it raises the question: Are job candidates really using stand-ins to ace job interviews?
I’d certainly never heard of this before. Neither had Ariel Lopez, CEO of hiring platform Knac and a former recruiter. “I’ve seen some crazy things, but I’ve never seen anyone pretend to be someone else in an interview,” she said.
But Nick Shah, president of IT staffing company Peterson Technology Partners, said this has been happening in the IT industry for quite some time. Swapping physical places for an interview is rare (it’s kind of a dead giveaway if you show up to work and look like a different person). But having someone feed you answers in a video interview? That’s pretty common.
- “I call it the dark side of recruiting,” Shah told me. “There’s a terminology in the industry that people call ‘proxy.’ It’s your face on the camera, but somebody else is speaking on your behalf.”
- Instances of fake candidates have ramped up during the pandemic, prompting Shah to write this LinkedIn post in November 2020. He says it’s easy to find someone who will help you ace an interview. “There are actually companies out there that advertise that they will help you with your interviews, and charge you $500 to $700 per interview,” Shah said.
- Companies need to be vigilant when it comes to fake candidates, Shah said. They’re costly, especially for tech companies with tight project deadlines. And it sucks for the real, talented candidates who are in need of jobs.
The tech labor market is nuts. That may be behind some of today’s outlandish hiring mishaps. Brian Kropp, chief of HR Research at Gartner, said he’s heard all kinds of crazy job stories: employees working remotely for two companies simultaneously, blatant resume lies, people taking technical assessment tests for each other.
- “I can totally see how [John’s story] could happen, because companies are trying to hire people so fast and there's such a demand to hire people that they're not doing the same due diligence that they would have done before,” Kropp said.
- Especially in a largely remote world where we’ve never met some of our co-workers, Kropp can see how a fake candidate might slip through the cracks.
Here are some ways companies can ward off fake candidates.
- A simple solution is emphasizing that you have zero tolerance for lying upfront. That might be all it takes to scare away some dishonest applicants. "[S]tart your recruitment process by saying, 'We’re a company that has high integrity,'” Kropp said. “'We don't tolerate people lying or being dishonest or disrespecting each other. When that happens, we fire people.'”
- Shah has several techniques to see if an interview candidate is using outside help. His company mandates video interviews in a well-lit room, on a computer and without headphones. He pays close attention to a candidate’s mouth and audio to make sure they sync up. He also looks at eye movement to see if they’re glancing at anyone else in the room. Asking a candidate to share their screen also helps weed the fakes out.
The internet is full of scams. Fake candidates, fake jobs, you name it. Still, this Ask A Manager reader submission threw me for a loop. I’d almost admire John’s audacity, if it didn’t waste real people’s time and money. It seems so much easier to either spend time learning the job’s skills or to inquire about a company’s education benefits. Lopez has a bit of advice for anyone trying to fake their way into a job: “It’s incredibly important to show up authentically. The best way to do that is to not lie about your identity. I didn’t think that was something that needed to be said in 2022, but clearly, I’m wrong.”