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A company's interview process consists of sending the interviewee a task that they have to complete in a couple of days/weeks and send it back to them for evaluation. I have received such a task.

I solved the task myself, after which I have sent my solution to a close friend of mine who has more experience in that role, so that he can double-check my answers and offer some suggestions as to how I can improve my solution before I send it to the company. I do not intend to disclose the fact that I received help from a close friend.

Is this unethical?

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    Why do you think that submitting someone else work as your own is ethical? The fact that you do not plan tomention is should be your answer. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 24 at 10:51
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    Is other help (Internet etc.) explicitly allowed or forbidden? – guest Jul 24 at 13:14
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    Are you going to be asking this friend for help every day if you actually get the job? Are they ok with supporting your employment like this? The risk is that you are hired on the expectation of having the skill level of your friend and that you then find yourself ill prepared to actually succeed in the job. – J... Jul 24 at 19:40
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    You've already taken your friend's help. So why are you asking this question after that ? – MasterJoe Jul 24 at 23:40
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    Why not send it to the company, and then send it to your friend after that? That way, the company gets your original work and you also get feedback? Slightly different order and totally ethical. – stanri Jul 25 at 12:21

11 Answers 11

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One useful test for ethics questions is "If everyone with an interest in this issue knew exactly what I am doing, would they act differently or think less of me?"

By that test, you answered your own question when you wrote "I do not intend to disclose the fact that I received help from a close friend."

If you really thought it was ethical, and something the employer intended to permit, you would be comfortable including with your answer a note saying exactly what help you got from your friend.

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    IMO this question was not ask to gain knowledge. This question was asked to gain affirmation to alleviate moral dissonance. The OP already knew it was wrong but wants someone to say otherwise. If they really thought this is OK, they wouldn't even think to ask. – Nelson Jul 25 at 6:19
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    @Nelson I've noticed an alarming number of questions from 1-rep users recently that seem to have exactly that purpose: "I did bad thing, I think bad thing was actually good thing, tell me I'm right". – F1Krazy Jul 25 at 10:16
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    @F1Krazy This has indeed been getting worse over the years, and an awful lot of them hit the Hot Network questions list. If enough people agree this is detrimental to the site, they could be outlawed by meta consensus. – Mast Jul 25 at 10:23
  • @Mast: I believe that heavily downvoted questions do not hit the HNQ list. Even without meta, healthy downvotes help in curating the site. – Matthieu M. Jul 26 at 15:54
  • While useful, it's not really enough to pass judgement on its own. I remember passing a test where key information was purposefully neglected in order to see how well candidates would fare in unpredictable scenarios. It was for an internship position, and asking for help was deemed acceptable (in fact, it was a hidden requirement). While I did disclose the information, it wasn't explicitly required in the manual. – Ramon Melo Jul 26 at 21:29
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Is this unethical?

The short answer is: Yes

You would be able to do your own research, so Google, use other sources (textbooks) for your task.

To ask someone to edit your work for you means it is not your own work.

After all the employer is paying for your expertise, and what you can bring to the organisation.

I would suspect you would not be the only person to approach this task in this manner.

In the end, it is a personal judgement call, and where you stand with your values.

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    I slightly edited the answer to highlight the question. If you do not agree, please rollback the change. – virolino Jul 24 at 11:11
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    The long answer is: Yeeeeeeees – Mirror318 Jul 26 at 21:27
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Yes, it's unethical.

When I test someone, I want to know how they think more than how right they are.

I gave a technical interview once where the guy couldn't answer any of my (deliberately difficult) questions. We hired him, because he gave HONEST answers. Technical deficiencies can always be addressed through training/education and are not deal breakers in many cases.

It also can come back to bite you when you get on the job and you're not performing at the level that they think you are capable of performing.

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    As a remark: Too many companies still check for near-perfect technical skills fitting for the job and not the candidate's motivation and soft skills (like you describe the willingness to learn new things) – Marco Jul 26 at 9:14
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    @javadba Yet you seem like the usual anti-young people. I'm 24, I was in charge of all technical tests in a previous job while I was 22-23, and I relate quite well with this answer, I look for enthusiasm and willingness to learn much more than technical accuracy, specially if you can do the test in a setting that allows cheating as this question suggests – SomeProgrammer Jul 27 at 8:31
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    @CamiloTerevinto Yep, I'd rather work with an enthusiastic, honest employee lacking skills, than a hotshot who is a lose cannon or can't get along with his team – Old_Lamplighter Jul 27 at 12:28
  • @Marco I couldn't agree more, and companies who do that would never hire me, nor would I want to work for them. I test terribly, I can't test to save my life, all I can do is the job. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 27 at 16:37
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I think it's a grey area. If they did the work for you, would be unethical. If they did part of it for you, it would be unethical.

You doing it all and after it's done getting suggestions on how to improve it? Assuming you do the improvements yourself and don't have them done by them, I'd say that's very borderline okay-ish.

I mean it's what we do. We work in teams, we review a colleagues work, we react to outside suggestions and in the end we hope to build the best product.

It's what we all suggest for everything else in interviews, right? A written CV or cover letter, should that be proofread by as many people as possible? Absolutely! Do we give credit at the end, listing all the people that helped? No we would not.

So you should definitely by able to say you did all the work on this. if some suggestions on improvements were by a friend you showed it too, I would not mind personally. Not mentioning that friend up front would be okay with me, too.

But at some point there might be a question or even casual remark like "so you did that all on your own". Lying to that question would indeed be unethical. So be prepared what you want to do when that question comes up. I cannot tell you what to do, whether you want to be truthful or deceiving, but stuttering, stalling, evading or having to think about this question will surely get you a black mark.

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    When you say group work, it makes it sound as if their friend did any work other than commenting. I assume that all their friend did was making suggestions for improvements, that the OP then did on their own. "Group work" looks differently. If we were to do group work and I did all the work and you just sat their commenting, I'd not consider that group work at all. – nvoigt Jul 24 at 13:16
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    Well, if you work two weeks and I look over it and say "yeah, that really looks good", would you consider us to have done that as a group project? – nvoigt Jul 24 at 13:22
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    Yes. Having someone validate whether the work is correct or not is equally useful. Just like in day to day software dev PRs which leave no feedback comments, but just accept the work are as valuable as the ones with feedback. You are still benefiting from them. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 24 at 13:23
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    @alephzero you might want to rethink that. As a person with awful memory, I would not be able to recollect all that much of it either.. that's why I have a written CV in the first place. – Erik Jul 26 at 18:57
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    @alephzero - LMAO I would straight up tell you to fuck off. I barely remember when my kid was born, and you want me to remember when I started work for some irrelevant company 15 years ago? Also, what kind of company relies on anything in a CV when hiring? Not a good one, for sure. – Davor Jul 27 at 8:23
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Send them both. Then tell them you had a code review done by colleague that knew the subject and implemented his/her suggestions.

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    Quite. How would that be different from how they expected you to behave if they did hire you? – Robbie Goodwin Jul 26 at 19:48
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I do not intend to disclose the fact that I received help from a close friend.

I can only see two reasons not to disclose this fact. One is that you know in your heart that you were cheating. The other is that you know in your heart the prospective employer should be looking to hire your close friend rather than you.

Most colleges require that students sign a statement affirming that the student did not receive help from another person on a test. This pertains to everything from a short closed-book exam to a multi-week open-book exam. With open-book exams, a student is typically allowed to consult notes, consult textbooks, consult the library, and even consult the internet. But consulting friends, close or otherwise, is verboten.

The working world is even more restrictive than college is, because consulting people who do not work on the project at hand risks disclosure of proprietary knowledge. These risks can apply even within the company, let alone with "close friends" who might or might not happen to work for a competitor.

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Ethical

conforming to accepted standards of conduct. Merriam-Webster

It is not standard or accepted conduct in the tech industry to let someone else take your interview/job placement test(s) for you or to help you. Unless they are actually the person administrating the test.

Furthermore, should you be given the job you will lack the confidence to complete tasks without additional help from your friend (or others). Do you think your friend is going to be interested in doing your job for you? Or that it would be ethical to send your company's internal documents and client info to your friend? You are doing things that will snowball into more problems later. Focus on making yourself the person who can pass a test without help.

And for those who say, it's normal to get help when you're working a job, sure but only for things the employer would have expected you might need help on based on their hiring process. If you cheat the process then you would likely need help on things the employer didn't want to spend time on helping you with! And you, knowing that, wouldn't be likely to seek that help from inside the company. Now, since I have never cheated to get a job I'm not an expert on the thought process but this seems to be the likely outcome to me.

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    The last paragraph does not seem right to me. the user wants their friend to double-check, this does not mean they cannot do the task. Indeed, in many jobs it is the case that someone does a task and someone else doublechecks it (quality-assurance). If this is also a case in this company, the user would in this job send internal documents and client info to somebody else (inside the company) which would be totally ethical. – guest Jul 24 at 13:27
  • "It is not standard or accepted conduct..." the devil is in the details. OP did not, say, "let someone take the test". Software review is a core software principle, one could easily argue that having others glance at our product is a non-issue or even normal. – Fattie Jul 24 at 14:40
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    @Fattie Oh, stop. I've worked in tech for a long time and seen it all. OP wrote: "so that he can offer some suggestions as to how can I improve my solution before I send it to the company." So obviously he is planning on cheating. Imagine being at university and saying to a professor, 'yeah, I had my friend review my test answers and then I changed them based on his advice". – HenryM Jul 24 at 14:48
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    @guest, have you ever had a company, as a pre hiring screen, give you a take home software project/test where they said, "feel free to ask your friends for advice" ? Don't be ridiculous. – HenryM Jul 24 at 14:50
  • @HenryM: I am not ridiculous. I am not saying it is good the friend is asked. But the argument "If you have to ask the friend to double-check, this implies you are not able to do the job" is not the right one as it might be untrue. – guest Jul 24 at 15:47
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I have sent my solution to a close friend of mine

You will not be able to do that when you start working (i.e. share your work with a friend who is not known to the company), so yes it is unethical and can be illegal if you do it when you are employee of the company.

If you would have just asked a query to your friend that would have been okay because it is like google search. Sending the entire file is definitely not in the grey area.

Edit: Based on the downvotes, I am adding more context to it. I think the purpose of these kind of interviews is that company is checking if you can to do your job either through your knowledge or though self research without sharing the code with people they do not know! So you need to emulate that behaviour in the interview. That is what my point is.

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  • In the company where I worked, we were encouraged to let someone else doublecheck the work (quality assurance). – guest Jul 24 at 13:57
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    @guest Not to an outsider right? That is what I meant. The person who reviews within the company is known to the company. In this case it was not. – PagMax Jul 24 at 14:26
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    In this case, you do not do insider work, so I don't think this is comparable. If you are not employed, you are an outsider and the company hopefully does not send you inside information. – guest Jul 24 at 14:29
  • @JoeStrazzere I read that as illegal if/when OP starts their new job. At that point they will not be able to send project code they are working on outside for assistance to non-employees, without breaking contract on sharing IP. Although even if I am right I think this could do with clarifying – Neil Slater Jul 24 at 19:09
  • @NeilSlater Yes that is what I meant and I did not realize it was not clear. There were already great answers to it, so I just wanted to make a small point. May be a comment would have been better – PagMax Jul 25 at 1:37
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I would suggest simply mentioning that "Code has been peer reviewed by XXX" (including full contact information)

This implies that you have had more experienced eyes looking at what you did, and give you feedback on your solution, but that you did the work yourself! You might want to elaborate on what the feedback was, so that they know what you learned in the process.

This tells your potential employers that:

  • You know that having others look at your code and responding to their feedback, makes your code better.
  • You know that this process has a name and how to use it.
  • You are open about it. The reviewer did not write your code, so it is your own work, but you received the kind of help I would expect them to expect you to require in a work scenario.

Good luck.

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Is this unethical?

No, it is not unethical.

The company provided you with a task without specific instructions (this is what I get from your question). You do your best to succeed with that task.

In real life, people go to SO, friends, forums, church to get an answer to their coding problems, so no surprise you use whatever you can in that case.

Now - and this is an important disclaimer - you must make sure your own solution was "good enough". Otherwise, you may end up with a stressful job where you won't be able to do anything, as it will be beyond your capacities - a truly awful situation to be in.

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Is this unethical?

Maybe, but not necessarily.

Firstly, it is you that is being interviewed for this job, not your friend. Unless your friend is going to be willing to do your work for you when you get the job, you should present your work without his input. The company is trying to assess you, not someone else.

However, unless the instructions with the task specifically state that you must complete it alone, you are free to assume that you are allowed to complete it in whatever way you wish. This is, after all, supposed to be the point of a complete-at-home task: "realism" and freedom. That means using Google, Stack Overflow, and even the input of others are all valid options. Read the instructions closely and follow them accordingly.

(Personally I think a company asking a candidate to complete some task on their own time are unfairly abusing that candidate's good nature anyway. But those companies that do choose to do this, must provide clear instructions on how the task is to be approached and whether there are any restrictions on time or resources that the candidate should limit themselves to. If they do not, any approach is completely fair game).

Indeed, it is perfectly normal to ask a friend to review one's CV or covering letter. This is not quite the same situation as that, but it could be argued that it is similar.

In summary: follow the instructions with the task. If there are no instructions, you may do as you wish. But you must be able to justify your hiring to this position, whether your friend helps or not, so you may wish to consider making a point of doing it alone.

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    I didn't vote yet but seeing four down votes on this made me have a closer look to find if there is something that people may find lacking. I can't read minds of these folks but one thing I noticed, this advice ignores an option to re-check with the company if they would be okay with that. Also, the answer demands crystal clear instructions without taking into account that many companies started practicing remote hiring only recently (due to pandemic) and may simply lack experience to make perfectly polished procedure – gnat Jul 24 at 15:18
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    I'd argue that an employer shouldn't have to tell an applicant not to commit fraud. Maybe the deal is that you have run into employers who actually didn't care (and they explicitly stated this) if you got help from a second person. But that's outside of my experience. As far as "unfairly abusing that candidate's good nature". Well it depends on the amount of work required and whether it really increases the odds of being hired or not. Giving candidates a test before actually interviewing them is likely to be a waste of everyone's time imo. – HenryM Jul 24 at 16:06
  • @HenryM - but it's not fraud if he's not breaking any rule. – Davor Jul 27 at 8:25
  • @Davor Fraud is when you lie to obtain something of value. – HenryM Jul 27 at 12:45

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