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Virtual Interviews Bait-and-Switch

What do you do when the person who interviewed for the job isn't the person who shows up to work?

A man in a business suit is using a tablet to watch a video conference.

One unnamed company recently interviewed an applicant to fill a key position as a senior engineer specializing in the open-source software Kubernetes. As Computerworld magazine reported, the candidate sailed through three rounds of interviews "with flying colors." 

What happened next might have drained the color from the faces of hiring managers and HR professionals everywhere. 

"They offered him the position. He accepted, went through onboarding, showed up at his first real virtual meeting—and it wasn't the same guy," according to Computerworld. "He literally wasn't the person they'd interviewed. He didn't look the same, didn't talk the same, and most important of all, he didn't have the job skills they needed." 

Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident. As the number of virtual interviews has escalated thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, anecdotal evidence suggests the number of bait-and-switch situations like the one described by Computerworld also is escalating. In fact, the writer of the Computerworld article shared stories of not one but two bait-and-switch scenarios. 

Dan Bartfield, co-founder of Yello, a provider of talent acquisition software, said his company's customers haven't reported this type of bait-and-switch hiring. But to help prevent something like that from happening, some Yello customers have asked job candidates to show a photo ID or another identifying document to the camera during remote interviews, he said. 

It appears that more employers may need to embrace such safeguards. In a poll commissioned last year by Indeed, 82 percent of the 1,100 U.S. employers interviewed said they had adopted virtual interviews because of the pandemic, and nearly all (93 percent) expected to continue using virtual interviews in the future.

But remote interviewing makes employers more vulnerable to being duped by bait-and-switch "antics," according to Mark Kluger, a labor and employment attorney in Fairfield, N.J. 

"Ultimately, though, I don't really understand what the long game is, because the person who shows up probably doesn't have the technical skills," he said. 

Kluger said his informal online research suggests that this type of job fraud often occurs at tech companies. 

"A lot of people do exaggerate credentials or experience that they've had, but … this is a totally different thing than that," he said. 

So, how can you head off a bait-and-switch situation? Kluger recommends conducting several virtual on-camera interviews with a job candidate and coupling virtual interviews with in-person interviews if possible. Furthermore, as part of the reference-checking process, an employer should ask previous employers about a candidate's technical skills and then quiz the candidate about those skills before a final offer is made, he said. 

Of course, these matters can become more complicated if the person is a remote worker who won't be coming to a physical office. 

Another recommendation: Search online for photos of the job candidate to see whether those photos match the virtual on-screen image of the interviewee. 

Kluger also suggests being wary of quickly hiring someone, without the proper due diligence, in order to fill a job opening in a tight labor market. 

"Maybe one of the reality checks here for employers is to not see what you want to see," Kluger explained. "That may be part of the problem, is that it's easier to perpetuate these frauds in a market in which it's tough to find qualified people. When somebody can talk the talk, an employer may be more quickly enamored than they might otherwise be in a market that's a little bit more flooded with qualified candidates." 

Now, what should you do if the person you interviewed and hired virtually isn't the same one who shows up for work? 

Aside from terminating the employee, an employer might consider filing a fraud lawsuit against that person to recover any wages paid, Kluger said. However, he questions whether recovery of those wages would be possible if the person who showed up actually did some work and, therefore, is legally entitled to a paycheck. 

"Somebody who just oversells their abilities is probably not going to be vulnerable to a claim of fraud," he said. "But someone who knowingly substitutes somebody else in the interview to answer the technical questions, for instance, and then shows up and starts collecting a paycheck—that's clearly a fraud." 

If a case like this went to court, an employer might not be able to recoup wages, according to Kluger, but might receive monetary damages associated with recruiting fees and other costs that an employer incurred to hire the fraudster. 

Despite that possibility, Kluger doubts many tricked employers would go to court in situations like this. Why? "Because I bet employers are too embarrassed to bring those lawsuits," he said. 

John Egan is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.


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