Plagiarism in Recruiting: A Definitive Guide

by Victoria Mckee

Numerous companies struggle to attract and hire technical talent. Much of it is because of a shortage of capable coders and because software developers possess unique skill sets that are difficult for recruiters to screen.


Not many recruiters know how to code. In order to appropriately gauge a candidate’s abilities, technical recruiting teams will be left to either leverage a technical skills assessment or involve hiring managers early on in the hiring process.


However, technical hiring managers are pretty costly, and you wouldn’t want to have them spend a lot of time reviewing resumes or conducting interviews when they should be focusing on their jobs.


That’s why numerous organizations look into technical assessments. These assessments, which are usually in the form of coding challenges, are created and given to testing the competencies and skills that capable developers require. However, the increasing demand for coding challenges and the lucrativeness of programming jobs have resulted in more candidates trying to game the system.


Unfortunately, many hiring managers and recruiters see plagiarism in recruiting. But what can you do to prevent it from happening? Read on to find out!


Plagiarism in Recruiting: Technical Assessments

On a regular day, computer programmers constantly solve various technical problems. There are always multitudes of solutions posted online for programming problems, and there are no particular solutions made best for all the code’s potential applications.


In real-world software development work, developers are expected to research existing solutions before tackling their current tasks. It’s normal for software developers to use other people’s solutions that they can find online as they consider the problem. It can help reduce development time while increasing reliability since the solutions aren’t developed from scratch.


That said, this is an unhelpful approach in technical assessments when the goal is to know more about the candidate’s problem-solving skills and coding proficiency.

Plagiarism in Recruiting


When it comes to technical assessments, plagiarism in recruiting ends up being counterproductive as you wouldn’t know which candidates actually understand how the code works versus those who just copied another person’s solution online.


Unfortunately, this dilemma has put hiring teams in a pickle! Suppose technical assessments can’t distinguish the capable candidates who know their coding versus those who copied it without actually knowing what to do. In that case, the burden of screening candidates will fall on hiring managers. And as mentioned, the technical hiring manager’s time is crucial and expensive in organizations.


How to Prevent Plagiarism in Recruiting

There are ways to prevent plagiarism in recruiting to avoid spending too much time, money, and effort hiring software developers. Here are some tips to follow:


Establish what plagiarism is

Plagiarism in Recruiting

As mentioned, copying and reusing code is an accouraged and expected practice in software development. In terms of hiring, managers may have different ideas on what would constitute plagiarism.


Even in the same organizations, hiring managers might have different ideas on what copying code is during technical assessments.


If your company uses technical assessments, you must sit down with fellow recruiters and hiring managers to discuss their views of plagiarism and find consensus before beginning the hiring process.


Set expectations

After recruiters have established hiring managers’ perspectives, you need to pass on that information to candidates before beginning their assessments. Remember, we all have different views on plagiarism, and the same will go for candidates. It would be best if you didn’t assume your organization’s consensus of plagiarism is universal.


Suppose you do not establish parameters for what cheating and plagiarism are during the technical assessment. In that case, it becomes unfair for candidates that may pass over others who actually understand the code they just copied.


For instance, you may tell candidates you expect all of them to build solutions within the assessment platform compared to external development environments. You can also discourage copy-pasting if such criteria are agreed on with your hiring managers. This is also an excellent opportunity to establish ground rules. If you tell candidates that you are more interested in how they solve problems rather than the perfect answer, then they will relax, being less likely to copy and plagiarize a perfect answer.


Use software similarity scoring.

A few technical assessments automatically compare a candidate’s submitted code to code that was submitted by other candidates before. You can use tools to flag any likely plagiarist that way!


High similarity in code would indicate suspicious activity. However, it would be best if you didn’t use this in isolation. As a rule of thumb, recruiters must assume benign intent.


Suspicious activity should not mean that you need to remove the candidate from the process immediately. It just means that it’s the starting point or flag raised and that both the recruiter and hiring manager should look into it.

You can also search for the candidates’ code answers by a simple Google search. Alternatively, you can visit coding and software development websites such as StackOverflow or Leetcode, among others. You’ll be surprised with how many websites offer answers to companies’ technical assignments, even if these companies try their best to keep their assessments a secret!


He most likely plagiarized if you see the exact copy of a candidate’s code from a website. You can still validate your judgment of whether or not the candidate plagiarized through the next two steps if you still aren’t sure.


Evaluate the way candidates code their solutions

Your technical assessment must also provide easily digestible timelines or candidate activity as they complete a challenge. For instance, you can monitor:


·      The amount of time spent in other browser windows based on the loss of browser focus

·      When any content was pasted

·      When code was tested successfully or unsuccessfully

·      When a candidate is inactive


Once that data is collected, recruiters would already usually see if candidates have plagiarized. The typical plagiarism or copying pattern would look something like this step-by-step procedure:


1.    The candidate won’t do anything in the beginning. He’s probably inactive and reading the challenge details.

2.    His browser focus will go away for a certain period, meaning he’s most likely searching for the answer and copying it.

3.    The candidate will paste a considerable amount of code, a significant amount that could not have been done in mere seconds.

4.    He will then quickly pass the test without even trying to edit the code.


Of course, this method isn’t completely foolproof. While this is a pattern we often find with plagiarists, some knowledgeable candidates follow a similar pattern. For example, that candidate most likely coded their response from a development environment or another window!


Since it’s not always easy to tell if a candidate plagiarized based on how they coded their solutions, the next and final step will be the strongest method to detect plagiarism!


Validate the candidate’s understanding through a follow-up interview

Plagiarism in Recruiting

The best method to validate a candidate’s understanding of his code from the technical assessment is just to ask them questions regarding their solution. You can meet face-to-face or via on-demand video, asking them follow-up interview questions from the coding challenge. Doing so turns the assessment into a smooth conversation piece.


If candidates can walk you through the thought process, the approaches taken, choices made, and the alternative solutions they thought of, then that is most likely a knowledgeable candidate who constructed the code and solution on his own, with maybe a bit of help from research!


But if a candidate copied the solution without bothering to understand it, you’ll immediately see it from their response. They may stammer, appear nervous, and only answer generally. Worst of all, they may have nothing to say!


Wrapping It Up

Plagiarism is a pretty touchy subject for technical hiring, but there are solutions you can work with. The best way to deal with plagiarism will involve out-of-assessment communication and in-assessment features. You must set expectations with hiring managers and candidates, set a similarity score, monitor activity timelines, and have video interview questions, among other viable strategies.


Hopefully, this article on plagiarism in recruiting fully informed you of what to do to help hire knowledgeable technical candidates. If you want to learn more about recruitment and hiring processes, we’ve got many posts to learn from; please check our blog!

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1 comment

Plagiarism in Recruiting - Plagiarism Today November 13, 2023 - 8:59 pm

[…] and Challenges: Many companies require a candidate to undergo certain tests for their position. These are especially common in computer programming or similarly technical positions, where programming challenges are very common. However, other candidates may have to take knowledge […]

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