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I applied for a technical job at a small satellite office in Canada for a very large US company. The overall interview process went great, I felt, but I did not get the job, leaving my frustated, since this involved 3 rounds of in-person interviews, and a take-home technical exam, plus lots of phone calls, leaving me pretty upset. I left a sharp review of the company on GlassDoor.com (a site for leaving reviews about working at a company or interviewing with a company), which I felt was fair and accurate.

A couple days later, I posted the technical interview on an interview-questions-database site, similar to CareerCup.com (a StackOverflow-like site for answering interview questions), including a link to a modified copy of a PDF they originally sent me for the take-home technical interview. This was so I could better understand the technical questions in case I wanted to interview there again in the future, and not out of vengeance.

A day after uploading the exam, I received an e-mail from the HR division of the company that noted I was in violation of the NDA I agreed to when I took part in the take-home exam. I don't know how they identified me, since I used PDF toolkit to extract the pages with a unique candidate ID and my name, etc, but they did. They also basically told me:

  • I would not be considered as a potential candidate at all for the next 5 years if I were to re-apply.
  • The company is not going to sue me at this time, but they apparently "reserve the right" to, at their discretion, for NDA and copyright violation.
  • The company will be uploading records of this offense to a database used by all their subsidiary and partner companies for background checks, due to the "egregious and vindictive" nature of "unauthorized sharing of company assets".

This leaves me a few related questions:

  • Do tech companies actually share interview data or background check info with each other? Is this legal? Does it only apply to companies that are part of the same parent company, or could totally separate companies actually be allowed to do this? I've heard of casinos and bars sharing such databases.
  • Could they really find out it was me, even if I scrubbed the PDF for the exam, or are they trying to trick me into admitting the review I left on GlassDoor?
  • Have I blacklisted myself from work in my industry?
  • Should I contact the company and apologize, and tell them my posting of the questions wasn't out of malice?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Dukeling, scaaahu, Masked Man, Rory Alsop, gnat Oct 29 '17 at 16:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Would the answers (or at least speculation about the answers) to the first 3 questions help you in any way? For the last question, you violated your NDA, the company is unlikely to care about an apology or any reason you could just as well have made up for why. – Dukeling Oct 29 '17 at 8:37
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    Depends on country and industry the UK had several blacklists of union activists / trouble makers the "The Consulting Association" was one and I would bet there are similar ones in other countries – Neuromancer Oct 29 '17 at 16:01
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    They didn't claim to have uploaded to an industry-wide blacklist, only to one covering their own subsidiaries and partners. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 29 '17 at 16:44
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    “I don't know how they identified me” - They obviously identified the questions, and narrowed down their list of possible candidates that might have done it, not hard to do if it was a very short list – Ramhound Oct 30 '17 at 0:48
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    Could they really find out it was me? Yes, you can be easily tracked. I knew a guy that before giving a test to candidate, he will alter some question, like replacing 1 + 3 by 5 - 1, reversing the question with a not or simply changing the bad answers of a multiple answers question. Under a few minutes of his works before the interview, all his test contained at least one unique question that can be linked to a candidate. – Sebastien DErrico Oct 30 '17 at 18:48
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I left a sharp review of the company on GlassDoor.com (a site for leaving reviews about working at a company or interviewing with a company), which I felt was fair and accurate.

So you say. It sounds like you badmouthed a company after failing to get a job with them. It's usually not hard to figure out which person left the bad review, since most large companies have HR staff that monitor sites like GlassDoor and Facebook on a daily basis.

I posted the technical interview on an interview-questions-database site

Very silly indeed. Even if there wasn't an NDA included on the exam (which is usually the case), it should be implied that you were not meant to share the exam. It takes time to write those, and if a copy goes viral, the questions have to be scrapped so that all future candidates have a fair chance to pass it, not just those that cheat with interview exam banks. To your questions:

Do tech companies actually share interview data or background check info
with each other? Is this legal? Does it only apply to companies that are part of the same parent company, or could totally separate companies actually be allowed to do this? I've heard of casinos and bars sharing such databases.

They likely share it with other sub-companies or business units that fall under the same corporation. That much is easily legal. Sharing with other companies that have no common ownership though, is unlikely, as it could border on illegal/unethical collusion, like the Apple wage collusion case years back. The case with bars/pubs at least, is a matter of public safety. Not so sure about the legality of casinos sharing data about cheaters.

Could they really find out it was me, even if I scrubbed the PDF for the exam, or are they trying to trick me into admitting the review I left on GlassDoor?

Hmm, maybe, but again unlikely. HR people on GlassDoor usually address the question directly, as there's too much of a chance they could guess the wrong candidate posted the nasty review, and risk legal action for accusing the wrong person with (at best) poor evidence.

As for the PDF, how did you "scrub" it? Even if you converted it from a normal PDF to a bunch of bitmap images, there could still be hard-to-detect graphical artifacts in the document. If you just extracted pages, it's easy to embed hard-to-see text, such as:

  • White/non-printing headers/footers/background text that will show up with CTRL+a while viewing the document.
  • Pseudo-randomized constants in the document, that are uniquely tied to your particular application.
  • Hashes/checksums embedded in the document.

Have I blacklisted myself from work in my industry?

Unlikely your industry, but quite possibly that locale/town/area, depending on the size of the company, and most definitely with that company forever.

Should I contact the company and apologize, and tell them my posting of the questions wasn't out of malice?

No.

  • Take your licks (i.e. just accept you screwed up).
  • Learn from it.
  • Don't rage-post nastigrams on GlassDoor.
  • Stop using cheating websites. For any reason.
  • Don't reply like that. You're now outright admitting guilt. At least if you bite your tongue and it goes to court, you can hire a lawyer to help you out.
  • IMO sites like CareerCup have become well-known enough that they wouldn't be considered "cheating websites" (but of course one shouldn't violate an NDA, nor try to get help prior to submitting a solution). If a company sticks to the same set of questions, they should expect those questions to end up on one of those sites at some point and some candidates to master / memorise answers to those specific questions without being good at the thing the question is supposed to be testing. – Dukeling Oct 29 '17 at 9:08
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Fact: You really managed to annoy this company. There are three things they claimed: One, they won't even consider hiring you for a long time. You can take that at face value. Two, they don't sue you for your NDA violation, but they can do so whenever they feel like it. As a consequence, do NOT do anything to annoy them any further, or you might get sued.

Third, they said they blacklisted you. Doing so may be illegal. If you try to do something about it, see point 2. They may only do it to a degree that is legal. Or they might just say it to annoy you, because you annoyed them. We don't know. What we do know is that challenging them about it may lead to you being sued for NDA violation.

You should have thought that it is absolutely normal that you don't get the job, even when you are the perfect candidate - because you may not be the only perfect candidate. They might have liked you a lot, and liked someone else just a tiny little better. Or they might have someone else exactly as much as you, and threw a coin to decide because they couldn't hire both. So your post on Glassdoor was totally unjustified and annoyed them. Posting your interview questions annoyed them a lot, apparently. I'd say that in retrospective you demonstrated that they made the right decision not hiring you.

Do they have evidence that it was you who posted the interview questions? They may, they may not. Does it make a difference? Do you want to challenge them? To quote Clint Eastwood: Do you feel lucky?

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The company will be uploading records of this offense to a database used by all their subsidiary and partner companies for background checks, due to the "egregious and vindictive" nature of "unauthorized sharing of company assets".

Do tech companies actually share interview data or background check info with each other? Is this legal?

Large companies often have a central database of applicants. This database may indeed be accessed by subsidiaries and partner companies for background checks. In the US, this is perfectly legal and pretty much standard practice.

Does it only apply to companies that are part of the same parent company, or could totally separate companies actually be allowed to do this? I've heard of casinos and bars sharing such databases.

That is less clear.

I know for a fact that HR reps talk informally among themselves. I know that recruiters share information. I know that word of a bad candidate can spread across several companies.

But I doubt that every company refers to some cross-company central database of blacklisted applicants every time they consider hiring someone. It's possible, but I don't know that it exists.

Could they really find out it was me, even if I scrubbed the PDF for the exam, or are they trying to trick me into admitting the review I left on GlassDoor?

Companies that hand out assignments and require that an NDA be signed usually don't hand out the exact same list of questions in the exact same order to any two candidates. Your posting likely gave you away, even without your name on it.

You should assume they do indeed know it was you.

Have I blacklisted myself from work in my industry?

Probably not. You can find out by applying for and landing a job offer within your industry. Don't bother trying to apply to this company, any of it's subsidiaries or affiliated companies.

Depending on your industry, that may or may not leave plenty of other potential employers. Some folks who have difficulties with large companies choose to apply to small companies.

Should I contact the company and apologize, and tell them my posting of the questions wasn't out of malice?

You should have already done this when you first learned that they found out about your NDA violation. Do it now.

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    I am not sure an apology is a good idea. Whether the posting was out of malice or out of careless disregard for the confidentiality of the material makes little difference. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 29 '17 at 13:20
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    An apology is an admission of guilt. I think that is bad advice. – paparazzo Oct 29 '17 at 14:29
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The overall interview process went great.

If the overall interview process went great then you have no basis for posting a sharp review of the company on GlassDoor.com. You are only mad because you did not get the job. That is just petty.

This was so I could better understand the technical questions in case I wanted to interview there again in the future, and not out of vengeance.

Not buying you did not do this out of vengeance. If they did let you reapply for sure they are not going to give you the same question. What you did was wrong and you should have known it.

Yes they can black ball you from any affiliates.

Sharing a database outside the company could get them in legal trouble and of no benefit to them. They probably don't care if you work for a competitor.

It is a small world and word gets around. If you make the first two rounds and then get dropped like a hot potato then most likely word got around.

Don't admit to the posts. It can only be used against you and this company is not taking you back even if you apologize.

  • @JoeStrazzere Conclude what you want from the word likely. 2 is not 3. At 2 is when a name typically get circulated. – paparazzo Oct 29 '17 at 15:36
  • @JoeStrazzere Not going to argue with you. You seem to want to take exception. This is not constructive. – paparazzo Oct 29 '17 at 15:55

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