Recently, we had a new department open up in our tech company and people from my department were being interviewed for possible selection in the new department.

It was rumoured that people who do badly in the interview would likely lose their jobs (our department will close down in a few months).

After I had my technical interview for this new department, people in the office asked me if I could tell them the interview questions. I did not want to give them an advantage and, also, I think it is not ethical to share technical interview questions in such a scenario.

But I noticed that a person who had an interviewed after me was discussing the questions that he was asked. He was telling all the people who were yet to be interviewed about the questions.

To my surprise, they were the same questions that I was asked.

So, I emailed the manager who interviewed me and told him that some people (I did not mention any names) are sharing their interview questions with others and that I think it's not ethical. I said that I wanted to share this with him. I haven't received a reply from him.

Did I handle it correctly? What should have I done?

update

Got a reply from manager after 8 hours. He thanked me for the information.

  • Are these "know this fact" questions, or open questions with no correct answers? That is; does knowing the question beforehand really help you ace the test in ways you wouldn't have without this information? – Erik Dec 6 at 11:00
  • @Erik knowing it beforehand would really help to get the answer quickly. – user87466 Dec 6 at 11:13
  • Remember to vote on the merit of the question, not on your personal opinion of OP's actions. – rath Dec 6 at 16:18
up vote 4 down vote accepted

If I had any pointers they would be:

  • Frame it as a business concern rather than an ethical concern because I think it makes you look better, although that's probably subjective.

  • Make the focus THEM. It's hard not to come across as self-absorbed. If you say "I think it's unethical" then the focus is YOUR ethics. Alternatively, if you say "incase it impacts your selection process" then you make the focus of your attention THEM which looks more helpful.

  • Make the email more constructive by giving a possible way forward. I can't remember the acronym, but there's a template for constructive criticism and it's something like:

     - What they did/ what happened
     - What was the impact
     - Why is that bad
     - What to do in future / next time
    

    So I would add "so you might want to think about varying the questions in future interviews". In fact, I often try to follow that template.

    The problem is if you just point to something and say "look that's bad!" it doesn't look as professional as it could. So following that template in general makes your communications come across as more professional.

All those things together would look a bit like

Hi, some people are being informed of the interview questions prior to taking the interview. I wanted to let you know incase it skews your selection process. You might want to think about varying the questions in future interviews.

And then lastly, sometimes people take badly to be given suggestions like that. They might read " You might want to think about " and think "who are you to tell me what to do?!" Therefore, I always add a caveat to the end to make it clear it's just a suggestion.

Although I know that's not always possible since you might not have time

Then it's up to the manager whether he acts on it or not. You could be pushy and kick up more of a fuss but I don't think it's worth it. You did the right thing by not naming names in the email because then it become back stabbing and you'll make enemies.

Did I handle it correctly? What should have I done?

It's a difficult situation, without a single right answer, but the way you chose to handle it was a valid approach.

  • The fact that people's jobs are on the line means that people will be responding to this emotionally. Everyone will want to do well on the interview, because they have bills to pay. It is unsurprising that your colleagues wanted to know the questions early as it gives them a chance to give better answers, and perhaps that might make the difference between whether they can afford to feed their children next month or not. It's cheating, but it's understandable. Similarly, your colleague who shared the questions may have understood this and wanted to help out people he liked - or perhaps he felt pressured into it. We can't know.

  • Of course, that means you may feel unfairly disadvantaged, as you didn't get to know the questions in advance. And, emotion aside, the questions should not be shared as a matter of principle. So, it is also understandable that you raised your concerns with the interview manager. (Perhaps putting the emphasis on the fairness of the process, rather than that you found it unethical, might have served better, but that's a minor point). If the company management have an interest in running the process fairly, they may appreciate knowing that people are trying to circumvent it.

However, there are some other considerations:

  • To truly assess people fairly, interviews should be built around the same questions. The conversation may wander, of course; but if candidate A is asked about one thing, and candidate B is asked about something else, how can they be compared at all? The interviewer may not be able to change the questions asked, even after your tip.
  • You all already work for the company. The company has created a new department and will be closing the old department, taking only some of the staff across. It seems very likely that the company already knows which staff they will be keeping, and which they will get rid of, but are running the interviews to give an impression of fairness (again, people respond emotionally in these situations). Maybe they even created the new department for exactly this purpose.

So, reporting the situation was valid. It wasn't necessary to report it, you could have just let things run their course, and it's unclear what difference your report may make; but as described, you have not done anything wrong. Good luck in getting/keeping the job, if that's your goal.

  • It hadn't occurred to me that sticking to the same questions for every candidate is necessary for fair assessment when I gave my answer. Made me rethink slightly the reply that I would give. But another thought is that even if all the questions are the same between interviews; the selection process is already unfair once the questions are shared with other candidates. So use the same questions and it's STILL unfair. I wonder what is the best thing for the interviewer to do in this scenario. You could use different questions judged to be of equal difficulty? Dependant on judgement – HelloWorld Dec 8 at 12:18
  • @HelloWorld: yeah, interviews are a lot more difficult to get right than a lot of people understand. Consistent questions are just one part of it. Normally though, you interview external candidates who don't know each other and are unlikely to share the questions between themselves. Interviewing internal candidates is a bit weird, and as I alluded to, seems likely to be to give an impression of fair play than anything else. If you've worked with someone for three years, what difference will a one-hour interview make? You already know them and their capabilities. – BittermanAndy Dec 8 at 12:58
  • Fair point. <15 characters > – HelloWorld Dec 8 at 13:39

You messed up badly.

You are now going to be seen as either the office rat, or someone who was badmouthing coworkers to advance his or her own career. Worst case, it will be seen as both.

In situations like this, it is best to either remain silent, or report exactly who is doing what. By trying to split the difference, you've wound up with the worst aspects of both.

If you had reported who did what, then you'd be a rat, but seen as trustworthy because you did, in effect put yourself at risk, so while your coworkers wouldn't be too fond of you, your management would.

If you had remained silent, your coworkers would not have a problem with you, and management would be none the wiser.

Now, you are in the unfortunate business of being both a rat, and as someone not willing to stick his neck out. The information you gave to management will be seen as less than useful, as you named no names, they have no idea which interviews were tainted, so it's back to the drawing board, best case scenario.

Worse, if your manager does respond to you, he's likely going to say: WHO DID IT? Putting you in the position of either lying, or ratting out your colleagues by name. If you give the names, management will still not be pleased with you as they'll want to know why you didn't say who in the first place.

Another mistake you made was in putting it in an email. Now, there's a paper trail of your mistake as well as well as a formal record that your manager is aware of the situation, now he can get in trouble if he doesn't act. not good.

AS TO THE ETHICS

Anonymous ratting out that "someone" did something is not ethical at all. Name the person, or say nothing.

WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE, AND SHOULD DO IN THE FUTURE

Approach your manager and ask him, face to face if he thinks that sharing the questions is a bad idea, or mention to him off the record that the interview questions are getting circulated. He may or may not see it as something that should be addressed.

Ethics is a subjective thing but we can examine the facts of the case. Management has contrived a means to justify sacking workers just before Christmas, building a paper trail so it looks performance related, presumably to avoid needing to pay severance. You have taken it upon yourself to actively assist with this scheme, for your own advancement at your peers expense, rather than as your colleague did, showing solidarity against an underhanded plan. I hope this is sufficient for you to reach a conclusion.

  • 1
    You made so many wrong assumptions in your answer. – user87466 Dec 7 at 0:48

There is absolutely no way to stop people from sharing questions.

Did I handle it correctly? What should have I done?

Most interviewers tell the applicants not to share the questions. Glassdoor generally has a list of recent interview questions asked.

No sane interviewer expects their questions to stay secret. By telling people others have shared the question, you've likely given ammunition to the crazy hiring manager that though this was a good idea. You've also painted yourself as a snitch.

Why

Not sharing the question only benefits the interviewer. Furthermore, once the questions are posted publicly, any applicant that doesn't take the time to look at them has put themselves at a disadvantage. There is also no effective way to tell if the question has been shared, or if the applicant is just a really good fit.

Good hiring managers understand this and have a bank of questions they can pull from. By making sure no two interviews are exactly the same, good hiring managers can mitigate the inevitable information sharing.

Asking applicants to explain their answer is also a good way to separate who memorized a couple of problems vs. who really understands the solution. Good interviewers prepare for information sharing.

What to do now

Hope the manager doesn't respond. If he/she does, keep it vague, or just say you're not comfortable talking about it anymore. Disengage as quickly as possible.

  • But the company is a joke, that is falling apart anyway. OP needs to simply "run away". – Fattie Dec 6 at 14:43
  • @Fattie What makes you say that? OP mentioned his current department is likely getting shut down, but that doesn't imply the company as a whole is shutting down, or is in any way mis-managed. Sometimes cuts have to be made for the greater good. It might suck for the people in the line of fire, but it doesn't make the company a joke. – Steve-O Dec 6 at 14:59
  • 1
    "Not sharing the question only benefits the interviewer" user87466 is also profiting from keeping the question secret as his peers with later interview dates would have an obvious advantage otherwise. And it sounds as if they were competing for the new positions. – FooBar Dec 6 at 15:27
  • "Snitch"? Is this the school playground? Would it also be snitching to phone the police to report a crime? – BittermanAndy Dec 6 at 16:08
  • 1
    @BittermanAndy - This situation is surprisingly similar to middle school. "The Boss" is choosing his team (dodgeball or accounts payable, doesn't matter). You don't want to be the person not picked. – sevensevens Dec 6 at 17:07

You did

Great.

Work is not high school.

However, your next move should be

simply leave and get a better job with better pay.

The current place sounds like a fiasco on many levels. Dump 'em.

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