When candidates cheat in virtual interviews

Last Updated : 11 April 2023, 10:25 IST
Last Updated : 11 April 2023, 10:25 IST

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While remote work offers umpteen benefits for employees, one of the big pluses for recruiters is an unprecedented expansion of their talent pool. No longer hemmed in by geography, employers can hire people from different cities and even countries. Though many companies are moving to hybrid work, remote working, in some form, is here to stay. And that goes for recruitment as well.

Many firms rely on online assessments and interviews, especially for entry-level positions. However, a report by HirePro, a recruitment automation and assessment solutions provider, serves as a wake-up call regarding the propensity of candidates to cheat on these tests.

According to this report, the proportion of candidates who engage in some form of cheating for entry-level positions ranges from 30% to 50%. Alarmingly, when there is no ‘proctoring’ on online assessment, this figure jumps to over 80%. For lateral entry positions, the fraction decreases from 10% to 25%.

Thus, the propensity of workers to cheat tends to abate as they garner work experience, though it still doesn’t dissipate completely. What factors drive people to cheat in the first place and what steps can companies take to minimise the risks of cheating on online assessments?

The figures published by HirePro suggest that cheating is fairly widespread for entry-level positions. Asma Jalan (name changed), a talent acquisition manager at a SAS-based technology start-up, avers that cheating is quite rampant. The report claims that the most common method of cheating involves another person sitting next to and aiding the candidate. Jalan observes that help is given either by writing answers and showing the candidate or even whispering in the background. So, insecurity in one’s abilities, poor test-taking skills and test anxiety possibly contribute to first-timers’ propensity to cheat.

The motive

Jalan has also encountered instances of outright fraud wherein another person takes the online interview for the candidate. And, when candidates look alike, for example, siblings, it can be hard to tell them apart. Recently, when the company hired a recruit, they found that, on the job, the person lacked the skills and competencies he displayed during the virtual assessment and interview. As their interviews are recorded, the company could sniff out a case of impersonation.

Before we assume the moral high ground, claiming that we would never cheat, let us look at some research behind this phenomenon. Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, writes in his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, that humans are driven by two conflicting impulses. On the one hand, we want to appear as “honest, honourable people” to ourselves, while on the flip side, we want to maximise our opportunities, even if that includes cheating. However, as these two motivations are antagonistic, how do we reconcile them?

According to Ariely, if we can gain a little by cutting corners here and there while still maintaining an intact self-image of being good people, then we manage to perform “a balancing act.” If candidates convince themselves that they aren’t necessarily cheating but only getting a bit of help, they might diffuse the tension between these opposing impulses.

Catching the fraud

So, one measure that companies can deploy is to ask candidates, right before the online interview or assessment, to sign a declaration that they are the bona fide candidate and are going to perform the tasks independently, without taking help from anybody. Though this may sound like a naïve measure, it will create cognitive dissonance in candidates who do not wish to appear dishonest to themselves.

Additionally, candidates may believe that they won’t get caught out on screen possibly because they’re not being watched. So, companies may invest in proctoring solutions that may include audio and video components. Further, explicitly reminding candidates that they are being monitored may also reduce the incidence of fraudulent practices.

In his book, Ariely describes research that suggests that the “mere feeling of being watched can inhibit bad behaviour.” In one study, conducted By Melissa Bateson and colleagues, in the common kitchen of the psychology department, beverages were available for faculty and staff. A sign was also hung over the counter saying that users “should contribute cash to the honesty box” every time they helped themselves to tea or coffee.

Additionally, the sign was accompanied by images that “alternated every week.” On some weeks, the sign sported flowers, and on others, a pair of eyes were drawn on it. Interestingly, when only flowers adorned the sign, participants left some money in the box. However, when a pair of eyes were staring down at them (mind you, this was just an image), the participants left “three times more money.”

Thus, it may not hurt companies if they add a pair of eyes in the corner of a virtual background to minimise the risks of online cheating.

Published 11 April 2023, 10:14 IST

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