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We put out a hiring ads and lots of applications came in, there is one applicant that is the daughter to one of our senior engineers.

When we were interviewing her, she managed to nail every question with laser-precision. Although there is no hard proof, I personally think she had received coaching from her dad before showing up to this interview.

This is definitely an unfair advantage, how to deal with this kind of situation?

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    Do you have any freedom in terms of follow-up questions during the interview? Once you start digging a little deeper, you might find that either she has no idea what she's talking about, or that she's actually just really good at what she does. – Dukeling Dec 8 '17 at 9:31
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    Looks like you just found out why having a predetermined set of interview questions is a bad idea. You might make a list beforehand so as not to forget to ask anything, but the interviewer needs to be free to poke, prod and probe in order to get a good feel for the candidate. – Cronax Dec 8 '17 at 10:18
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    Was she coached or did she get the actual questions/answers? Your title and post don't match. – Lilienthal Dec 8 '17 at 11:49
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    I'm not sure I see why preparing for an interview is a bad thing. If I'm going to a job interview and I know someone who works for the company, I'm sure as hell going to ask what kind of questions to expect, I'm looking on glassdoor, etc for posted interview questions, I try everything I can to prepare. That's just common sense. – bluegreen Dec 8 '17 at 18:19
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    If someone nailed every question with laser-precision, you're describing an oral quiz, not an interview. In an interview, each question should be the beginning of a conversation, with back and forth. the interviewer is learning about the candidate (skills, personality, aptitude, etc.), the candidate is learning about the company (culture, philosophy, etc.). – John Oglesby Dec 8 '17 at 19:56
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See if you can organize a second interview with her where you can ask different but equivalent questions and ensure that her father doesn't know the content of the interview questions beforehand, that's your best way of seeing if she actually has the necessary skills/knowledge to perform the role and not just parrot answers she's been spoon-fed.

EDIT: As per some of the comments below if you are concerned about "fairness" to the other candidates you may want to give all of those invited back for a second round the same or similar questions.

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    When you invite her back, make sure to just say "You did really well and we'd like to invite you back for another round" and not "We suspect you cheated and want you to redo the interview" :) – Erik Dec 8 '17 at 10:15
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    @Erik definitely - it's not the sort of accusation that should be thrown around lightly – motosubatsu Dec 8 '17 at 10:28
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    This is potentially unfair in the other direction. If she was not coached, then she must run the gauntlet twice, whereas others only had to run it once. – Evorlor Dec 8 '17 at 13:17
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    @Evorlor - that's a risk certainly, personally I'd be less interested in the "fairness" aspect but rather the "making sure a potential hire can do the job" aspect. If fairness is a concern for the OP though there's no reason they can't have all the candidates still in the running face the same second interview questions – motosubatsu Dec 8 '17 at 13:20
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    I don't see the point of involving all the others for the extra round. Invite this woman for a second round, and ask different questions: is she still that good? Then hire her. Otherwise, don't, as she clearly exploited her father's help to look better than she is. Just choose the best of the others. Inviting all the others for a second interview sounds fair and all, but if they already have a job, you'd force them to take some hours off, cancel meetings, and so on. This fairness costs time - their time (and yours, too!). If I was one of the other candidates I wouldn't be happy. – Fabio says Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '17 at 1:41
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This is definitely an unfair advantage, how to deal with this kind of situation?

While I agree with you from an advantage perspective, you don't have any evidence to support your claim. Seeing as her dad is an engineer, maybe she has the engineering gene as well and just nailed the questions?

I would tread carefully here, as you should not really treat her any differently then any other candidate. If you do decide to take additional steps to screen her, you had best do it for all of your candidates.

At this point, your best bet may be to leave this situation alone and stop using canned interview questions in the future.

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    There is no engineering gene, it's a skillset that requires training and practice. Also, OP didn't say she was interviewing for an engineering position. – 0xFEE1DEAD Dec 8 '17 at 13:27
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    @0xFEE1DEAD I think that is exactly what Mister means... Growing up she might have learned a lot from her dad. If she was fed with information and practice from a young age she might just be really good. The fact is, you don't know. And you can only find out by doing a follow-up with different questions. – Summer Dec 8 '17 at 13:45
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    While I can't speak to an engineering gene, the fact that both of my parents are programmers, one of my grandfathers was a programmer, and the other was an engineer makes it not at all surprising that I found my way into programming – cwallenpoole Dec 8 '17 at 14:56
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    @0xFEE1DEAD I doubt Mister Positive actually thinks there is a specific gene. However, it's a common way to express "they grew up with a high chance for a propensity towards that skill set due to genetic predispositions as well as in a home that has a high chance of promoting that skill set." Saying 'Engineering Gene' is a lot less wordy. – Ethan The Brave Dec 8 '17 at 15:19
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    @EthanTheBrave That is correct sir. Its a figure of speech....... – Mister Positive Dec 8 '17 at 15:22
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When you say

she managed to nail every question with laser-precision

What does this mean? Did she

  1. Provide the correct answer to every question?
  2. Demonstrate a deep understanding of every question being asked?

Regardless of whether she received coaching from her dad or not, it's the second point that matters. Let's step back and look at some common questions when hiring someone:

  • Is this person a good candidate?
  • Is this the best performing candidate amongst the ones you've interviewed?

Is she a good candidate?

Any candidate that does demonstrate a deep understanding of the question being asked and provides the correct answer, is a very good candidate. Any candidate that does not demonstrate a deep understanding of the question but provides the correct answer, is most probably parroting the answers from the internet (or in this case maybe her dad).

If the candidate appears to not demonstrate an understanding of the problems, discard them. Plain and simple.

Is this the best performing candidate amongst the ones you've interviewed?

Now, let's say that this candidate did in fact demonstrate a good understanding beyond just giving the right answer. From your OP, it appears that she did so more than any other candidate you interviewed. If this is the case, then she is indeed the best performing candidate.


Great! So you should hire her! Or should you? It appears you are asking one more question here:

One candidate has a background that grants her a privilege in terms of the coaching she can receive. Should I still hire this person? We all have our privileges. I personally can read much faster than 97% of the population. It's a technique I learnt from members of my family. It gives me a huge advantage when reading long technical documents. Is it unfair that I have this advantage? Yes.

But ask yourself this: She has maybe used certain resources that are available to her. These are resources that she didn't cheat to acquire. She simply happened to be someone's daughter. Is is correct of you to penalise her for that?


Edit (replying to this comment):

There's a big difference between having a generic useful skill and having had the opportunity to prepare in depth for a very small pool of questions. With good coaching and playing through the interview a few times even a mediocre engineer should be able to pass every interview with flying colors.

A mediocre engineer that passes an interview with flying colors isn't mediocre by definition. They are well-prepared. They are in fact passing with flying colors. Stop thinking that being prepared is a bad thing. It is a good trait. In fact, it is a necessary trait for anyone aspiring to be excellent in their field of work.

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    Adding a slight twist to this - with any candidate, you should be asking some probing questions that jump off from the answers given. So that you are drilling down into some experience or perspectives that would be unique to the individual and not memorizeable. If the candidate responds well then you can consider that the candidate has "deep understanding". Usually parroting breaks down at this level. If you can't do this, it probably means that al the questions are drawn from a flat, factual pool - which is not a great way of structuring interviews. – bethlakshmi Dec 8 '17 at 15:30
  • @bethlakshmi True. Unfortunately, the OP doesn't indicate whether or not the questions were from a "flat factual pool" as you say. It is not clear to me anyway. – kolsyra Dec 8 '17 at 16:47
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    A mediocre engineer who passes with flying colors is still a mediocre engineer if there is a problem with the interview process itself that caused them to pass that way. – Erik Dec 11 '17 at 9:15
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    The answer to your edit doesn't feel right. Someone getting full marks in a multiple choice exam due to having the knowledge required is very different to someone who is told "The answers are A, A, B, A, C" etc for all the questions. While the second person might show great memory skills, that does not show any indication they have the knowledge you require. You seem to have assumed your own "2. Demonstrate a deep understanding of every question being asked?", when we have been given no indication that that is true, or that the questions even allowed for it. – Philbo Dec 11 '17 at 16:21
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    @Philbo : Indeed, knowing the exact questions is different. I said so a few comments up. In my original answer, my "2. Demonstrate a deep understanding of every question being asked?" is not an assumption but rather a question that the OP must ask himself. – kolsyra Dec 11 '17 at 20:15
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Restrict your decision to what you learned about the candidate by how she answered the questions. Interview questions are not meant to be about getting the right answer, they should be used to show the interviewer the candidate's problem-solving skills.

In future, change your questioning style so that there are no right or wrong answers, and use the process of answering the question to learn about the candidate. Then any 'leak' of information is inconsequential.

  • Agree, if I (a random person) happened to apply and aced the questions for some unknown reason, would I automatically get the job? – Möoz Dec 11 '17 at 4:15
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I have one son (17 years old) would could breeze through most low level programmer interviews on technical aspects. Before he interviews for a position I ask him if he wants to do some practice interviews with me first.

This isn't abnormal behavior for any parent/child relationship.

If your interview consists of a set list of questions, and the employee leaked or used those questions specifically, then perhaps the preparation provided prevents you from truly assessing the candidate's capability.

However, if your interviews are more unstructured, with questions that vary depending on the candidate and the process of the interview, then you shouldn't have to worry about preparation. It wouldn't be any different than if any other candidate spent time with an employment counselor before your interview doing a practice interview. The generic questions you ask will be asked in such practice sessions. The technical questions will be similar in terms of approach and response, though the actual technical questions should be different enough that you can assess skill and capability.

If you're asking the same technical questions for each interview, then the critical thing you need to do is have them explain each step to you. I'd recommend changing the technical questions, though, so this isn't as much a concern.

In short, coaching shouldn't be a problem - you should still be able to determine if they're qualified as long as you have a strong interview process. There is only a problem if you ask the same exact questions to every candidate and if the candidate has received coaching specifically for those technical questions which you use to determine skill and capability.

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    Or, in other words, if her parent wasn't employed there and she did this well, would you be making the same complaint? – Adam Davis Dec 8 '17 at 15:40
  • You should probably add that comment into your answer. This is a great question to ask the OP. – kolsyra Dec 8 '17 at 16:51
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Is it an unfair advantage that she has a dad who could teach her relevant things? Maybe, but why would you care? If you worry about unfair advantages, then you should fire anyone coming from a rich family, anyone who is white and male, anyone who has an unusual talent.

What counts is how good she is. Her interview showed that she is good, so hire her. Only if you have a reason to believe that dad showed her the interview questions, and she knew those answers, and absolutely nothing else, then don't hire.

Now since this is "workplace": If I were a senior engineer at your company, and I found out that my daughter didn't get the job because one HR drone decided that since I am her father she must be cheating, or because she was interested in that area and I taught her what I know she has an "unfair advantage", then the **** would hit the fan. So I personally think that you should keep your uninformed and prejudiced private ideas to yourself, and do your job. Put your SJW hat on when the kid of a board member is given a job without having any talent at all.

  • "So I personally think that you should keep your uninformed and prejudiced private ideas to yourself, and do your job. Put your SJW hat on when the kid of a board member is given a job without having any talent at all." I think you've overplayed your hand here. Assuming malicious intent from the OP doesn't fall under the stackexchange values of "being nice". Since this is "workplace" I'd worry that the canned interview questions had been leaked, and look to arrange a second less-structured interview with ALL the candidates who did well. – Philbo Dec 11 '17 at 16:26
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Many people prepare for standard interview questions. In this case, it is possible this candidate may have some insights from her father about the company, culture, managers and generally how they think without really knowing the exact questions. Who knows, maybe you haven't changed them very often?

Some organizations are rigid about their list of interview questions. They want them approved by HR/Lawyer, so they're not inappropriate or illegal. Also, it is easier to evaluate candidates if they're asked the same questions in the same way. If this were an experiment, you'd use that as a control.

If you have any flexibility, why wouldn't you realize this during the interview and ask questions that probe deeper? Technical interviews should include questions with increased difficulty. Some interview questions should be open-ended/open to interpretation, so there's really no "right" answer.

Don't hold it against a candidate for being well-prepared. Have a meeting with the father and find out how much he helped. It could be a little or a lot. Start developing policies about keeping interview questions a secret. There's a big difference between sharing a previous interview experience and having an exact copy of the test questions. The policy needs to be in place first. Hopefully you can develop an interview strategy to prevent this from happening again. I wouldn't work too hard on it because it shouldn't be that big of a deal.

  • If she has great insight into the interview questions, maybe father also gave her great insight into the job. That could be a very not bad thing. We all have benefits and drawbacks in our life. If she has that benefit, don't try to penalize her for a strength that is rightfully hers. Enjoy the advantages. +1 for capturing the essence of what my answer would have communicated (even though I can tell that my wording would have been notably different.) – TOOGAM Dec 9 '17 at 7:14
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Three points:

  • It is professional to prepare for an interview. This includes reading up on the company, their products, technologies they may use, and so on. Failure to do so should be a mark against the applicant.
  • It is professional for an engineer to teach juniors, both on the job and off it. However, there is the next point:
  • It is not professional for an employee to release confidential company information, even to family members. Of course there has to be some common sense on that -- one could tell the family, "sorry, I won't be there this weekend, we have trouble with an important project," even if this is information that a competitor could use really well.

You cannot expect the applicant to tell the border between the second and third bullet point. It might have been a lapse of judgement by her father, and you should worry about that. If you didn't look at it from this angle before, that would be a sign that the entire department or company needs a little "refresher" on keeping their mouth shut unless the other side has signed a NDA.

And one more note: A company may be bound by non-discrimination laws, but the hiring decision is not required to be fair to the applicants. Company officers have a responsibility to the owner/shareholder, but that's a different issue. For instance, if one applicant comes recommended by a person you can trust and the others do not, that's an acceptable basis for the hiring decision. Even if it is "unfair" to the other applicants.

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    @JoeStrazzere, I'm assuming that any workplace information is by default confidential, until the public relations department or senior management say otherwise. I'm using the term "confidential" in the professional sense, not in the legal sense. A professional does not blab about clients or employers unless there is a specific setting which requires it (medical confidentiality vs. peer review at morbidity conferences). – o.m. Dec 9 '17 at 18:21
  • Where I work, employees have general knowledge (sometimes specialised) that isn't company confidential, and company confidential knowledge. We could never ask someone in an interview about those company confidential things, because nobody outside the company knows them. The specialised things, we won't expect anyone to know them; they'll have to learn once employed. The generally and commonly known knowledge, you just have to know, and being given the interview questions wouldn't help one bit. – gnasher729 Dec 10 '17 at 12:25
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No it's not an unfair advantage. It's an advantage.

Those questions for an engineering position should include time for you to explore experiences and thought patterns in the interviewee. If someone can ace your interview by knowing the questions then those questions will NEVER get the best candidate. Anyone can know information but not everyone can analyze or use certain thought patterns.

Other applicants will be contacting people from your company or having beers with them in order to be better at the job they're applying for. You may have even received phone calls asking for information about the job. YOU WANT THOSE PEOPLE.

Fact is, the daughter IS the best choice for your company. She knows the business and technical knowledge better than any other candidate.

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