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At my current workplace the last part of the hiring process for a junior developer is an on-site programming task. As far as I know, in the last couple years all applicants at this stage end up receiving a job offer, but the offers can differ based on the perceived skill level and the time required to brush up on things deemed inadequate. The result also often ends up being publicly known, and some people use it to compare workers.

When I applied and was doing the task, I discovered that the computer dedicated for that task isn't set up properly, and it's possible to access some of the answers of previous candidates. I quietly used those to my advantage, and ended up doing much better than I would on my own, and as one of the highest scores for that task overall. After I got hired I did not mention that exploit to anyone, as I was afraid that it would reflect on me negatively, maybe even getting me fired. I believe that performing so well has affected people's expectations of me, and, after meeting those, accelerated my career here.

I'm about to quit, should I mention the exploit now? I have no reason to think that it's been fixed already as to my knowledge nothing has been changed on that computer in at least a decade, other than setting it up for the next candidate.

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    Will you plan to tell the company that you actually did cheat in the programming task ? Or will you only mention that there is a way to cheat, but say nothing about the fact that you did cheat ? -- Does the company has any policy regarding cheaters ? Can they give you bad reference after this ? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 22:24
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    Are you daft? Of course you don't mention the exploit, or the advantage you gained. - Right now, everyone at your workplace thinks you're pretty smart. Nothing good can come from shattering their illusions. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 22:25
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    What is your goal in telling the company about this exploit ? Do you plan to help the company to prevent cheating in the future ? Or do you want to show them that you are smart and find a way to outsmart them ? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 22:27
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    What purpose would it do mention the fact you cheated on a hiring exam? If anything that could make you legally libel for being hired, you essentially lied during the interview process, executive officers have been fired on their resumes for lying after decades of working at companies. Say nothing, their hiring process being flawed, isn’t your concern. Only bring up legitimate HR issues that led you to leaving.
    – Donald
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 22:54
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    There are ways you could have informed them and gotten some respect if you were going to stay there. Thumbing your nose at them on the way out would just make you look like you were never a team player and they're well rid of you.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 23:45

4 Answers 4

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I wouldn't do this.

You behaved dishonestly during the interview process and have benefitted from that financially. It sounds like you subsequently performed well enough in your role so no great harm was done.

Fessing up now will (rightly) reflect very badly on you. Your employer might calmly analyse the situation, decide that nothing bad happened then thank you for pointing out the issue. Or they might be furious at your cheating (and their naivety in being caught out by you). If they are contacted by your new employer for a reference, recency bias means there's a chance they'll offer a reference that is somewhere between lukewarm and utterly damning.

If you would like to salve your conscience, a short term fix would be to access the computer used for interview tests and delete / protect the previous answers.

In future, think very carefully before doing something like this again. You won't always get away with behaviour like this. Depending on your industry and culture, the reputational damage can follow you and really limit your future prospects.

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    If you absolutely must mention it, I suggest you put it in terms of "I noticed this. I didn't take advantage of it, but someone might. I was a bit embarrassed to have stumbled on it, to tell you the truth, which is why I didn't bring it up sooner -- I was afraid that if I mentioned it, you'd think I'd actively tried to cheat." However, the right time to have done so was much earlier, with people you trusted, not on your way out.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 16:02
  • This illustrates how a possibility for cheating gives no good choices to a normally honest man. Do you want to be left hanging, as the sucker who didnt exploit it, or do you want to cheat? If the system rewards the cheater, you have exactly those two choices..
    – Petter TB
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 8:31
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Is your goal to fix the exploit, or to confess your sins?

If it’s the former, send an anonymous email from a burner account which doesn’t give any info (eg dates) but just makes them aware of the issue if they haven’t discovered it since you took the test.

If it’s the latter then that’s what your priest, friends, and/or family are for.

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  • Meh, if the former, I'm afraid they'd connect the timing with OP's departure. If the latter, that's what SE is for :) Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 4:46
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It is too late to be ethical by admitting your cheating. Follow simonc's advice.

But if you want to do the least you can do, fix the cheat. Since this is an exploit you can manage during the course of an interview, I'll assume it's simple enough. Before you leave, offer to update the onsite programming test for whatever reason you come up with. Then in the process fix or claim to discover the exploit.

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Companies often appreciate people who can change the terms of a problem and who are alert to the possibility of doing so.

I assume also your hack required some level of skill and familiarity with the system.

The real purpose of these tests is often to simply suppress the wages of a portion of the workforce, ostensibly on objective grounds (because arbitrary tests would raise people's hackles), but it doesn't much matter whether the selection is completely random. There's often little science to them.

Another reason for the use of tests is simply to filter a surfeit of applicants. Again, people sometimes like to think the filtering is objective or maximises the value of the choice, but the real baseline purpose is simply to reduce the number of candidates under consideration to a manageable number, without excessive cost or labour from those responsible for the filtering. Throwing two of every three CVs in the bin, by time order of application, would be a similar approach, but lacking the sheep's clothing of objectivity that some kind of test of knowledge or skill has.

These two purposes are often perceived by different people in an organisation. It is typically HR (perhaps through some kind of bank representative or workforce consultant) who will hitch a pay differential to the outcome of some testing process. It is the hiring manager who might devise the details of the test, for his filtering purpose. Neither needs to know what the other is about. Others will eventually just adopt these practices mimetically and without critical scrutiny, because they seem to be accepted practices in profitable businesses.

I speak, incidentally, as someone who generally does well on all sorts of tests - so much so that in most cases I'd choose to handicap myself by not cheating even if I thought I could, just to make it challenging, and for my own pride.

It's that which allows me to appreciate that the real agenda is not to reward me for the accidental inheritance of birth or variation of personality, but to undermine my willingness to be solid with the rest of the workforce and thereby enable attacks on all our wages, by convincing some they are better than the rest (and throwing them an extra bone) and convincing some they are worse (by applying a process to undermine their confidence).

That's why the veneer of objectivity makes the difference between acceptance and uproar, it must convince certain people they are deserving of a special lower wage, and convince the others that they deserve their bone.

From that perspective, why feel guilty about some old and spurious test, and whether it is fixed now?

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