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should I tell a candidate she was rejected for plagiarizing her recruitment test? — Ask a Manager

August 22, 2020

A reader writes:

I work for a translation agency where I am also in charge of recruitment and selection for my team. After the initial phone screening, I send out a test to candidates and evaluate their language and translation skills. To evaluate all candidates against the same parameters, I send them the same document in English and request them to send me back the translation in my language. This test piece was created specifically for recruitment testing so neither the original nor any translated versions are available publicly.

Two days ago, I rejected a candidate’s test. He wrote back asking me for “an example of what you are looking for.” My boss asked me to send a test completed earlier by a successful candidate. In hindsight, that was probably not a good idea.

Today, we had another candidate apply and I sent her the test. Within 15 minutes, she sent me the “translation” back. That struck me as a bit odd. The test piece is short — 150 words — but it is not possible to complete it in a mere 15 minutes. When I started reading it, I realized it was the identical document I had sent to the candidate I had rejected two days ago. The document properties showed that it had been created by the successful candiate, so it was clear that the document had been passed on to her and she had merely re-attached it and sent it to me.

After I alerted my boss, he told me to send out a rejection email. I generally just send a generic form letter. However, I am really tempted to mention the reasons behind the rejection this time. Is it unreasonable for me to do that? If not, how do you suggest this be communicated to her?

Yeah, not only do some candidates plagiarize, but they do it in really foolish ways. I’ve had people submit the cover letters from this site as their own to me, with almost no changes. (I’ve never sent candidates examples of other people’s work for this exact reason — it’s just too likely to get passed on to someone else. Instead, in response to that request I say I’m not able to share other candidates’ work.)

It’s particularly bad judgment to plagiarize a skills test — since if they don’t have the skills for the job, that’s going to come out once they’re hired, and they’re likely to be fired. It’s a real act of self-sabotage. I assume people who do that haven’t thought about what happens after they get the job (or perhaps don’t have especially strong critical thinking skills in play in general).

Anyway, I understand the impulse to let them know they were caught. I let a few of those cover letter plagiarizers know. Sometimes it’s satisfying to let people know you see the ridiculous thing they’re doing and that it hasn’t worked.

There’s also an argument that it’s a kindness to them to let them know, so they (maybe) stop doing it.

Some of them, though, are shameless and don’t care. I once pointed out to someone that the writing exercise he’d submitted to me had paragraphs that were copied word-for-word from something online, and he told me it was just “coincidence.”

Someone is sure to tell you that people are desperate, and you should understand what they did within that context. I think you can understand that people are desperate and still consider it a bad thing to try to cheat a better-qualified — and maybe equally or more desperate — candidate out of the job.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. It’s fine to mention it if you want to. It’s fine not to. (Although in this case, it sounds like your boss is telling you not to — if that’s the case and if that’s something he’d normally have the final call on, I wouldn’t reverse that without his explicit okay.)

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