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Summary: during technical zoom-based interview I looked around while thinking for answer. My interviewer commented that maybe I am looking for answer online. I showed them that there is nobody else in the room. I passed the exam but feel like I've been accused of cheating and don't want to work for the company enymore.


I was accused of cheating during a technical video interview in a well-known company. When the interviewer asked me questions, I was taking a moment to think, and looking up and down to think, and not directly facing the camera. This happened for 2-3 questions. I usually look up or down and talk to myself when I am trying to think about the answers.

The interviewer told me, I don't know why you're looking up/down and sideways, and I am not sure if you're looking at answers on the Internet, materials, notes, etc. I composed myself and turned around my camera to show him there's nothing in front/back/sides of my laptop and told him this is my thinking process when I usually think about a problem at hand.

Later, I received an email from the HR that I passed the interview, and that they liked my skills and would like to interview for the next round. I am kind of bummed out that the interviewer accused me of cheating. Should I go/not go-ahead with the next interview? How do I decline and pass the message to the HR that I am not interested in proceeding forward?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Dec 8 '21 at 18:45
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    I don't think anyone has actually answered the question "How do I decline and pass the message to the HR that I am not interested in proceeding forward?" If that is, indeed what Neo chooses, what is the best way for him to do so, with as little collateral damage to him as possible?
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 9 '21 at 16:14

11 Answers 11

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You weren't accused of cheating. Your interviewer clarified something they noticed about you and then passed you. It is a totally normal and satisfactory result. There is no need to take this any further.

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    Of course he was accused of cheating. The OP even had to use his webcam to show that there weren't any cheat materials around.
    – DaveG
    Dec 6 '21 at 20:59
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    No, he was not accused. The interviewer said he sees signs that indicate OP may be cheating. If OP had truly been accused of cheating, there is no way he would have passed the interview.
    – corsiKa
    Dec 7 '21 at 20:31
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    Saying this isn't an accusation is like saying a mob boss telling a hitman to "take care of" someone isn't ordering a hit. Or maybe you take "accuse" to exclusively mean a formal accusation on the record, rather than considering there's also a definition which is just: a claim that someone did something wrong. I don't think the accusation is (necessarily) a red flag, but it's definitely an accusation.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 7 '21 at 22:55
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    Some people would say this and very truly not be accusing the OP of anything - they would just be stating their observation. Other people might say this as an indirect way of more or less accusing them. And some individuals may easily go either way, depending on the occasion. It can depend on the interviewer's personality and/or their background. This is why the comments (and their upvotes) are so divided here. However I think Kilisi's answer applies in this situation. Dec 8 '21 at 4:17
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    In a proctored exam taking place in an on-site location, a proctor might scrutinize what a test-taker was doing - if their movements seemed unusual - to rule out cheating. This would happen prior to an actual accusation of cheating. Since this test was not on-site, the method of proctoring is naturally going to be somewhat different. Asking someone what they are doing is, in the context of a test supervised by video, the functional equivalent of merely watching and observing them in person.
    – tbrookside
    Dec 8 '21 at 12:07
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You're overthinking it.

A pre-recorded interview has the advantage that it can be reviewed. If you were flagged for cheating, but then got notified that you passed, then someone higher up thought otherwise and simply chalked the interviewer to inexperience.

Go ahead and keep going with the interview. I've been accused of cheating plenty of times due to the sheer speed of how fast I did tests, and I told them that if I was cheating, the last thing I would do is hand in the paper first, because the professor will be looking at it right away and will remember me.

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    When they accuse you (or your younger relatives) of cheating, you should always say. "Fine, you can test me on the whiteboard with brand new questions, but if I do well, I want a recommendation letter (or I want an internship, or I want a pizza for the class)". Never let such an opportunity go to waste. And never trade something for nothing. Dec 6 '21 at 5:31
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    @StephanBranczyk I wouldn't. That sort of smart-ass attitude is the sort of thing that could lose you a job offer.
    – nick012000
    Dec 8 '21 at 11:51
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    @StephanBranczyk Not much of a position to negotiate from, I don't see why anyone would agree to that - the person who thinks you cheated can just decline your terms, in which case you have no recommendation letter, no pizza, and are still viewed as a cheater. To make this deal palatable, you need to buy them a pizza if you fail. Dec 8 '21 at 14:46
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    @nick012000 - or win you one. Depends how you play it and what they're like
    – Stilez
    Dec 8 '21 at 20:33
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    @NuclearHoagie, I take back what I said regarding the pizza. If there is a pizza day. I think everyone should contribute a few bucks (myself included) regardless of outcomes. Also, I think a student should ask for something only if they're 100% free of fault. In other words, if they spoke with a classmate, or went to the bathroom for 10 min, or sat too close to someone, I would not suggest such an idea. And yes, if the professor refuses, that's fine with me. If my only crime is that I knew the materials too well, then, I'm not going to sing and dance for you unless there is a cost for you too Dec 8 '21 at 23:03
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A query was made. You cleared it up. It most likely wasn't even written down. Why bring it up again?

Would you have preferred that the interviewer not asked you that question and then failed you automatically? Because if you bring this up to HR, that is what is going to happen to future candidates. Interviewers will be instructed not to say anything when they suspect someone of cheating, but then they'll still be given a way to veto the candidate.

If you prefer, and if possible, may be ask if you can interview onsite. But in my opinion, it would be short-sighted and counterproductive to refuse to move forward based on what happened even if they can only do remote interviews at this time.

Also, just in case this was for a software engineering position, I would practice on https://pramp.com with other job-hunters, and ask them if you give off that impression when you're doing technical interviews.

And if not there, practice remotely with a friend and video-record yourself. Body language is extremely important. It can make or break interviews, although interviewees are usually never lucky enough to receive frank feedback about it from real employers.

Also, place some googly eyes near the lens of your camera during the remote interview (just don't close the lid with the googly eyes, that can damage the laptop). The googly eyes can help you maintain the illusion of better eye contact with the other person.

Now, I'm not saying the interviewer was correct in his assessment. Maybe he was having bad day. Maybe he was paranoid. Maybe this had nothing to do with your body language. But during interviews, we rarely receive serious feedback, and it's probably worth investigating any of the feedback we do receive.

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    Not sure it even got as far as an allegation, more of a query that the OP cleared up.
    – Alan Dev
    Dec 6 '21 at 8:33
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    @AlanDev, Yes, a query is a better word. I've just changed it. Dec 6 '21 at 8:40
  • @StephanBranczyk - Thank you for the answer. I am the OP. This really helps, perhaps I was overthinking it, I have given several interviews, this has never happened to me before, therefore I wasn't sure how to handle the situation, just wanted to seek opinion from the professionals here. All the answers here really helped.
    – Neo
    Dec 6 '21 at 18:25
  • This is right. You (the OP) need to think about it from the other side. Businesses are used to doing interviews face to face. Online/home working is still quite new to a lot of people, they don't know how to conduct recruitment and are probably concerned over how to conduct themselves, what to ask, how to judge behavior, what's appropriate and inappropriate.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 7 '21 at 15:35
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    Great suggestion of "googly eyes". I had to read it thrice before I realized it's not a Google product... So here: googly eyes
    – P2000
    Dec 7 '21 at 17:46
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The interview told me, I don't know why you're looking up/down and sideways, and I am not sure if you're looking at answers on the net/materials/notes etc.

That sounds like a reasonable question in regard to very odd behavior. You even said yourself that you understand it isn't a common behavior. So the interviewer just wanted to know what you were doing.

I composed myself and turned around my camera to show him there's nothing in front/back/sides of my laptop and told him this is my thinking process when I usually think about a problem at hand.

It sounds like you clarified it and with the fact you moved on with the interview process tells me they were happy with the clarification.

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    I wouldn't call "looking up while thinking" a "very odd behaviour". If it is, then I don't know a single person who isn't very odd.
    – Stef
    Dec 6 '21 at 15:23
  • @Stef Based on the OP he was doing more than that. I think someone thinking by looking up is okay and normal. But someone bobbing their head up and down like the OP described would be sort of unusual.
    – Dan
    Dec 6 '21 at 15:24
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    This is not a "very odd behavior." I do this myself, although I tend to look to my right, not up, when synthesizing an answer, and I tend to look to my left when recalling facts or data. I have several friends and colleagues who do similar "quirks." Dec 6 '21 at 21:28
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    @WesleyLong That may be so but I didn't get that from the OP. He did say it was a strange behavior so it seems like whatever he was doing was strange enough to where the interviewer would ask. But it is a minor point and I think the OP is making a bigger deal of it than it needs to be since he was able to pass the interview.
    – Dan
    Dec 7 '21 at 22:17
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    Or maybe all 3 of your are just very odd Dan, @Wesley Long. And a lot of your friends could be odd too. Nothing wrong with being odd.
    – boatcoder
    Dec 8 '21 at 20:23
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Keep it between you and him

Thats the basic rule you should follow for all human communications, unless you are forced to overrule it because of something he (the other party) do.

He got suspicious (lets use the strong word here), he expressed his suspicion to you thereby violating your peace, and he did or didnt brought that up to somebody else in company. Thats all that happened. Lets analyze.

Getting suspicious is beyond his power. He saw something exceptional. Anybody in that position would feel same. Also, its an involuntary action like shivering at sudden drop in temperature. He dont owe you anything for that.

He expressed his suspicion to you. You can say he accused you though its not a formal accusation but still. Your peace got violated and you got hurt. Thats something. Now the question is: Did he had to do that? As in was it necessary and if necessary Was there a better less hurtful way to do it? To answer these ask yourself what he should do. Even ignoring the fact that he didnt have a hour to ponder on whether to do it and whats the best way to do it if he must do it you will agree that keeping suspicion in heart is much worse than letting it out and give the other party a chance to clarify. He did what was appropriate and he did it in the best way he could. Given that he didnt had time to formulate best response he is either very intelligent or an expert in taking interviews. Both good signs for the company he represent.

Having said that you dont tell about his tone when he accused you. May be it was a bad tone. If you strongly feel there was disgust or hatred in it may be there was. What to do then? Should you proceed to work in that company? It depends on the final part (below).

If he has brought his suspicion with anybody in company then you should also take it outside of between you and him. In that case you may bring it up in your next interview or act to not give that interview. The thing is you dont know He brought that up with anybody else in company. In such situation follow this second rule:

Always give benefit of doubt

Summary:

Do proceed with the second interview.

If you strongly feel that his tone was bad then talk with him in private about it if you ever get such a chance. In that just express how you felt at that time. Dont escalate any further. Dont try to convince him.

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Saying that one is "not sure of" something, is not accusing you of that thing. It means he's not sure of it and wants clarification. So you gave him clarification, and that was the end of the story. I feel like you're blowing this out of proportion; if he wanted to accuse you of cheating, he would have accused you of cheating. What you said he said is not accusing you of cheating.

As for next steps, that's for you to decide. Did this "accusation" of cheating (inasmuch as you feel it was an accusation; in my opinion it was not) dissuade you from the company for any reason? If so, simply decline their request for an additional interview. If not, then go ahead and continue. I'm not entirely sure what you want from this company to make you feel better, so either you're prepared to work for this company (if you get an offer), or you're not; in the former case then drop the subject, in the latter case then withdraw from the interview procedure now and don't waste anyone's time.

You may want to ask a mentor or friend about this habit, and try to consciously refrain from doing it in the future, if it's off-putting to interviewers. Although it came up as an issue directly in this interview, other interviewers may not be so friendly as to allow you a chance to explain yourself, and may simply write you down as a suspected cheater. Best to try to eliminate this habit as best you can.

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    I disagree. The interviewer clearly accused the OP of cheating. Saying "I'm not completely sure, are you cheating" is an accusation.
    – DaveG
    Dec 6 '21 at 20:58
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    It depends a lot on the tone of voice used. I'm giving the interviewer the benefit of the doubt, having not been there, and also given that the interviewer accepted OP's explanation enough to pass OP onto the next interview stage.
    – Ertai87
    Dec 6 '21 at 20:59
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I do understand why it irks you. Nobody likes having their integrity questioned even if it is in a subtle noncommitted way. As commenters have mentioned, it may not even be a person affiliated with your company who did this. If you let it go, you may have a real chance at gainful employment. It seems like a worthwhile compromise to me.

I'm not entirely sure how you can cheat on a coding interview. I would not even consider proving my skills in a live coding interview without the ability to reference online sources. You will always be looking through some sort of online documentation while trying to figure out how to do something. It seems weird for a simulation of a workday to forbid using such an intrinsic part of the job.

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    It'd be extremely easy to cheat on a coding interview. Just have someone else watching the interview, and typing out an answer on a screen you can see (probably just next to the actual monitor)... Dec 8 '21 at 6:16
  • I posit that even if you do that a savvy tech aligned interviewer can gauge your skill by having you talk about tech for 30 minutes. Btw I was thinking more about in person interviews.
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 8 '21 at 9:12
  • I'm not even sure that's true. I once passed a coding interview that a friend failed, despite him being a much better coder than me. Apparently I can talk while coding, and he can't. Totally selected for the wrong skill. (Fortunately, I was able to vouch for him, he got the job, and did great.) Dec 8 '21 at 23:45
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Sorry that you have to go through such experience. It sure does not feel good to be doubted that way. If it is a well-known company that is worth going for, do go with it and prove yourself worthy.

I learnt something great from my ex-manager. Before I left my ex-company, I had to participate in conducting interview sessions - to those who were to replace my position. This particular candidate was very obvious checking on the Internet for answers, which my ex-manager and I both were aware of. I thought he would not want to proceed with the candidate due to her action, but turned out after the interview session he told me "this candidate is creative, willing to seek solution and attempt to resolve problems rather than giving up". I really like this kind of mindset and this is probably the kind of mindset HR or any hiring personnel should have - because soft skills are equally important.

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The other answers are good but are mostly getting into the fact it’s not necessarily as big an accusation as you feel.

However, I feel you should focus more on the fact that according to you this is a well-known company. Then you will probably know if this company is known for these things, or if it’s just the odd interviewer. Especially in a well-known company which is usually a large company, that may mean that you may never speak again. The latter seems much more likely. In which case this initial interview really is irrelevant. This single thing shouldn’t raise too many red flags against the entire company.

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I vote that you go ahead with the interview, just to see how it goes. Maybe the next interviewer will have a better handle on the interviewing process.

But if you do decide to withdraw, all you have to do is reach out to the recuiter and tell them you are withdrawing you candidancy for the position. Don't volunteer why unless they ask. If they do, just say you realized it's not a great fit.

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Funny, looks like no one has mentioned the possibility that the interviewer tried to put you on the spot just to see how you'd react - defensive, hostile, shaken, etc. Apparently you handled the situation well and passed the interview. If the job and company are (aside from this) what you want - go ahead with the interview process.

If you're sure you don't want the job, you don't owe any explanation. Just tell the company rep that you realized it wasn't a good fit. That's what the interviews are for: to determine "fit". And "fit" cuts both ways - do you fit the job requirements, and does the job fit yours.

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