How are software development applicants cheating?

Prior to COVID-19, many companies had engineering applicants take coding skills assessments in person. On-premises testing allowed employers to control the environment and observe the applicant’s process. Now, employers are providing these assessments (and getting observations) remotely, and applicants (almost exclusively at the junior level) are gaming the platforms.

The two most common strategies are plagiarism and identity misrepresentation. In the former, applicants copy and paste code found on sites like Github or they are lifting code from prior assessments administered by the same employer that have been published and/or sold online. (Companies that have only a few variations of a coding challenge will find, with a quick Google search, that prior test-takers have either posted it online or are offering the answers privately. They’ll even sprinkle in some minor differentiations so that it’s harder to catch.) Identity misrepresentation means asking or paying someone else to log in to the test platform and solve the test (or part of it) for the applicant.

Globally, the rate for plagiarism in 2020 was 5.6%, and suspicious connectivity patterns – indicative of session handover to someone else other than the applicant – appear in 6.48% of sessions. We are seeing a slight growth in the percent of sessions with suspicious behaviors, and this growth is visible in both global and financial markets in particular.

Some industries will have higher rates of cheating than others; for example, organizations in the government, education, and non-profit sectors can see up to double the global average for red-flag behavior. The general shortage of HR professionals with deep technical knowledge make practically all employers vulnerable to inefficiencies and the perils of under-qualified tech candidates making it too far into the recruitment funnel. Higher rates of cheating mean that IT professionals need smarter tools to avoid mis-hires.

Addressing this problem needs to be a priority for employers looking to hire remotely on a larger scale or as a permanent practice, because the short- and long-term consequences are always more costly than whatever investments they put into preventative safeguards.

Hiring a person who cheated in the recruitment process is a recipe for disaster, both for the employer and the employee. Job seekers will typically cheat because they lack the qualifications to pass the recruitment process or, sometimes, just lack the confidence that they can succeed. In either case, if the recruitment leads to employment, the nascent working relationship is botched from day one. The lack of qualifications surfaces sooner or later, frequently damaging schedules, reliability, and security of software products and services, not to mention driving business costs up and reputation down.

More alarmingly, common sense and academic research suggest (Peterson et al., 2011; Schneider & Goffin, 2012), says that the lack of integrity has a potential to reoccur on the job, quite possibly leading to security breaches immensely more dangerous than software bugs. Last but not least, it is plainly emotionally difficult for many individuals to grow a healthy relationship towards the employer and the workplace when the relationship started with dishonesty.

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