how to handle a hostile new hire — and candidates with identical interview answers

A reader writes:

I am a low-level supervisor, and I’m on the hiring committee for our entry-level contract positions. Our process is a skills test, followed by an interview for those who pass. People who get past the interview are either hired immediately or put into a list of people to call when a new spot is coming up, and they are notified of this by our rep at the contract agency—I’ll call her Angie. This is a common way to do things in my industry, since our work is very project-based, and is explained during the interview.

Recently, we had two candidates interview one after another. The interviews were practically identical in terms of what the candidates said—the order in which they brought up their points was different, but the content was eerily similar, even down to details about specific errors in the design of particular teapots on the market. Our questions are very open-ended, so it was definitely beyond coincidence.

We found out from our receptionist that the candidates had come in together for the test and interviews, so we assumed they must be friends and practiced interviewing together…which made the whole thing a bit less Twilight Zone. Still, we didn’t feel we had a good picture of either candidate as an individual. So, we decided to interview them again (with different questions). That’s question 1: was that the correct way to handle this type of situation?

Based on the second interviews, we decided that they would both be acceptable to put on our list to call in the future, but the one currently open spot was given to a candidate that had a stronger skills test.

However, when Angie emailed Candidate A to say “you passed the interview; our current open spot has been filled, but we will call you when more open up,” he absolutely flipped out. He sent a tirade comprised of half a dozen separate emails to Angie complaining, and saying some not-so-nice things about us (outright stating that we were incompetent and lazy, etc.). Angie replied that she’d be happy to take him off the list if he wasn’t interested in the position, but astoundingly, he replied that he still wanted the job. Along with another string of 6+ emails about how terrible we are. Part 2 of my question is: at that point, what should we have done? Angie (rightfully) felt uncomfortable talking to him, so we didn’t ask her to reply again.

Today, Candidate A called Angie repeatedly, not satisfied with the lack of response. She answered the first time, and told him that he was no longer on our list. He called back several times after that, but she didn’t answer. This was followed by several more angry emails about how he deserved to be hired and couldn’t believe we were going “back on our word” “just because” he called us lazy and incompetent. Obviously, we are not hiring this person.

But what do we do about Candidate B? He hasn’t done anything unprofessional, unlike Candidate A, but we are concerned knowing that he is friends with A. A’s emails were distressing, and I feel unsafe giving an access card to B if he could potentially give it to A. Also, our industry is very big on non-disclosure, and if we hired B and he told A information about an in-development teapot model, A could potentially harm our business by posting that online. On the other hand, it feels very callous to reject Candidate B when he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Candidate B is pretty much mid-tier: someone we’d normally hire if we had a big project to fill, but not necessarily be too excited about. So, barring some situation where we REALLY need to staff up in a hurry, I don’t think we’d be losing out in the long run by not hiring him.

Ooof, this is tough. It would be easy to say “these are two separate people, and the sins of one shouldn’t reflect on the other,” but I totally understand why you’re unnerved. People’s loyalty is generally (and understandably) more to their friends than to a company (especially a company that they haven’t even started working for yet), and they’d aligned themselves so closely together early on with those identical interview answers (more on that in a minute) that it’s not unreasonable to be concerned.

I know a lot of people are going to think this is unfair, but I’d probably cut Candidate B loose too. The fact is, who people align themselves with matters. It says something about them. It’s certainly possible that Candidate B would be appalled by Candidate A’s behavior, but you have no way to know that. You’re working with very limited data, which is usually the case in hiring, and you need to go with the data you have. Right now, that data says that B — who you don’t know a ton about — is partnered in some way with someone who has behaved like an ass (and not once, but over repeated calls and emails).

Plus, you’ve said that B is basically mid-tier and not unusually strong, and it sounds like you have plenty of other contract workers on your list. Why take the risk? A big part of hiring is about risk management — it’s usually better to risk missing out on a decent but not great candidate than to risk hiring someone who will be a problem.

You also asked how Angie should have responded when Candidate A flipped out. Frankly, I think she was probably too accommodating! After he sent multiple emails to her saying that your organization was incompetent and lazy (!), she shouldn’t have just told him that she would be “happy to take him off the list if he wasn’t interested in the position” — she should simply removed him from the list and told him she had done so. She was right not to continue on with a back and forth with him though; there’s no point in doing that. I’d just send a single email saying something like, “As we explained during your interview, this is how we assign work. However, I’m removing you from our list of contractors; the emails you’ve sent today make it clear that this is the wrong fit and preclude us from working with you in the future.” And then be done with it.

As for your question about how to handle the eerily duplicative interviews in the first place: I think re-interviewing them with different questions was a good idea, but assuming that they didn’t have the question list in advance for either interview, I’m not sure it actually solved the issue of where their answers were coming from. For example, if Candidate A told B, “Here are the questions I imagine we’ll be asked, and here’s how I plan to answer them,” then B’s answers aren’t really her own — for either interview. You got different answers in the second interview because you asked them each different questions — but we don’t really know whose answers were whose, because of how they chose to handle this.

And how they handled this is weird. Really weird. It denied you the ability to really assess them as individual candidates, and it denied them the ability to make sure the work would be the right fit for them. It’s weird enough that it would have been reasonable to just reject them both over it, or you could have just asked them directly about it. For example: “Your answers to our questions were extremely similar in wording and content to the answers of the candidate who came in with you. Can you shed any light?”

But at this point, with all the weirdness combined, I’d just move on without Candidate B. It sounds like you have plenty of other candidates who don’t come with a slew of weirdness attached, and they’re almost certainly better bets.

{ 320 comments… read them below }

  1. Arbynka*

    So candidate A is telling company how terrible, lazy they are while still attempting to get hired by them ? Wow. I have seen lot of “unusual” strategies but this is a winner. Just wow.

    1. LBK*

      Yeah…I mean…what!? Nothing about that made any sense to me. Why on earth would you want to work somewhere that you thought was staffed by incompetent, lazy people?

      1. Belladonna*

        Because when you need a job bad enough, you’ll work for the Devil himself, It’s beggars, not choosers, in the job market these days.

        1. Kyrielle*

          But if you need a job that badly, why would you tell them how terrible and lazy they are?

          I need to cross this river, so I’m going to burn this bridge because there’s a traffic back-up on it….

          1. Allison*

            Maybe he thinks his angry tirade will make them feel guilty, and ultimately convince them to reconsider their decision?

              1. Zillah*

                Can we not make even vague guesses at diagnoses based on a letter? There’s clearly something weird about candidate A, but jumping to “personality disorder” plays into a lot of harmful stereotypes.

          2. chicken_flavored_deodorant*

            In his personal life, that strategy has probably worked in the past. Some of his anger is, no doubt, due to realizing its lack of efficacy in the working world.

            1. Leisabet*

              Your username is the most viscerally gross thing I’ve read in a week. I love it. Thanks for the giggle.

          3. Alexandrina*

            I’m used to people who kiss up web they’re broke, but get mean when hours are cut, or what have you…
            I’ve never seen the reverse.

      1. Paul*

        It’s the D.E.N.N.I.S. system applied to work. Maybe Candidate B’s plan was to move in after completion?

        1. bridget*

          Candidate A could use some pointers from Dennis Reynolds. He failed to either Demonstrate value or Nurture dependence before Neglecting emotionally. Amateur.

        2. Amy*

          The identical interviews made me think of the Charlie/Mac dual interview in Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack.

          “Well, gentlemen, I’ve never seen two people share a resume before…”

    2. BRR*

      My common sense meter blew up at this. If you aggressive insult somebody do you think you’re going to get hired? Even if any of it was true why would you want to work there? I just can’t. I have lowered my bar for people so much and they still don’t hit it.

    3. Jeanne*

      The whole story makes no sense. Who acts like this when looking for a job? I suspect A is the stronger personality. I’m sure he coached B in the interview answers. But B agreed to use them which is not good. Then he decides insults will overturn a decision. I guess we know why he’s job searching.

      1. Anony-moose*

        Many moons ago I worked as an office manager and helped hire new teachers. We were in the process of hiring a new teacher and I was responsible for receiving resumes, passing them to the department chair, setting up interviews, and rejecting candidates on his behalf. The school is an arts-based education and had some school-specific training requirements that were clearly stated in the job posting. Basically: don’t apply if you don’t have experience with this type of education.

        One man applied and then proceeded to follow up every few days. After his resume was reviewed it was clear he wasn’t a good fit. We let him know this promptly. And then he proceeded to unleash email after email about “how long he had spent writing the cover letter and application” and “how dare we waste his time” and so on and so forth.

        Along with my boss I wrote back a succinct “we are moving forward with candidates who have the experience we need”. And then another tirade of emails. Finally my boss had to respond with basically “Dude, now you will never work here. Stop harassing my staff.”

        I still can’t imagine what he thought he was accomplsighin. Maybe it was the same guy as Candidate A!

        1. HR Generalist*

          But didn’t your staff kind of feed the crazy?

          If we’re running a competition and are receiving applications, we have a process in place for reviewing resumes (we do it after the competition has ended). If someone emails requesting follow up, they get a standard “we will contact those who are successful” template. That’s literally as far as this guy would have gotten for us. If he contacted again, he would be ignored. I mean – good for you guys in that you now know who not to hire, but it seems like a lot of wasted time on an unstable candidate.

          1. tesyaa*

            It was a hiring agency rep who got into the protracted correspondence, if that makes a difference.

          2. fposte*

            I don’t see how they were feeding the crazy. What you’re doing isn’t that different from what they did–they told him promptly when he was no longer in consideration, and it didn’t stop his emails. They then sent him one more reasonably phrased email, which would have stopped a lot of people. It didn’t stop him, so they sent him one last one and either got the message through or blocked him.

            I mean, you could argue they just should have filtered out his email after the first crazy one, but that’s not about egging him on.

            1. LBK*

              Plus, crazies are unpredictable – it’s a 50/50 shot whether a further response or no response will be what feeds them. Sometimes not saying anything just gets a “YOU CAN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO REPLY?????” follow up.

              1. BethRA*

                True, but at least you wouldn’t have wasted any of your time and energy soliciting the inappropriate response.

            2. Anony-moose*

              It definitely could have been handled differently but I’m sure his unprofessional would have found another way in. As a 23 year old who was in my first professional job I felt TOTALLY helpless and pretty creeped out by the guy. I was glad my boss quickly stepped in. It speaks to needing a clear, streamlined hiring process that this particular institution certainly did not have! (I could write a helluva post about their ridiculous hiring practices but that’s another story).

              I like HR Generalist’s idea of just sending template emails off the bat. Now,with many more hiring experiences under my belt, I would have ignored all his crazy emails and not let them fluster me. But several-years-ago-me was pretty shocked at the whole thing. I think my internal monologue was probably along the lines of “Wut. Help. This is not my job. THIS DUDE IS GOING OFF THE DEEP END. SOS.” Rinse. Repeat.

      2. Mallorie, the recruiter*

        You would be absolutely astonished at how people act. We once had a candidate call the interviewer a derogatory word, and then honestly (HONESTLY) thought that apologizing would be enough for us to continue to consider him. Like, he actually said, “I’m hoping that if I apologize to [employee], you guys will still consider me for the job.” ….. People. are. insane.

        1. Anony-moose*

          Nope. nope. nope. nope.

          My boss interviewed one woman for a maternity leave position and figured out during the interview that she was lying on her resume. She said she worked at [prestigious institution in fundraising] but it turns out she was only a volunteer, and the credit she took on her resume was completely unwarranted. I think she still reached out after about her status as a candidate. I was torn between feeling bad (she seemed like a bright yet misguided young professional) and just flabbergasted.

          1. No name, no state*

            A colleague just told me that her daughter’s colleague got a new job with a significant raise, and when the daughter went to check out her colleague’s resume on LinkedIn, she told her mother that the girl was “lying through her teeth.” Wonder how long it will take the new job to figure that out?

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I’ve been consistently amazed at how good people are at revealing their true colors during the course of a half hour interview. It’s amazing!

        3. TrainerGirl*

          I am not surprised when people take this attitude in their personal life (I’ve encountered a few trolls who did this on online dating sites) but I’m amazed that people would think an apology would suffice after this type of abuse when applying for a job. An apology is not an Undo button in real life.

      3. EngineerGirl*

        A is definitely the stronger personality but may not have had the skill set. A could have whined/manipulated/bullied B for answers. A could even insist that they practice together to get B’s answers. B will continue to get harmed by A until they sever the “friendship”.

        1. Glorified Plumber*

          Indeed! Giving B the opportunity to sever the relationship (or perception of relationship) could be the push B needs!

      4. alma*

        “Who acts like this when looking for a job?”

        My sister works in an HR office that processes applications for their company. Based on the stories she’s told me: a scarily large number of people.

      5. AnonAcademic*

        I used to do community research recruitment interviews, which involves much lower standards than a job interview because no real skills were needed, just yes/no answers about basic health screening criteria (“do you take xyz medications” etc.). You would be amazed at the number of people who are unable to 1. accurately report information about themselves; 2. keep their lies straight when they are purposefully lying; 3. attend appointments on time; 4. attend appointments AT THE RIGHT LOCATION (as in going to the wrong hospital campus despite the detailed written instructions they confirmed they received in the mail); 5; handle being excluded or asked to leave the study without cursing at me. One guy reported us to the ethics board because he gave us the wrong mailing address and his $20 travel voucher got returned to sender. Another left me so many harassing voice mail messages that the clinicians in the office were pretty sure they could diagnosis his specific personality disorder based on them alone…

        Of the ~950 people I screened, 20-30 behaved so egregiously that I had to keep a separate form in the database just for them that was basically a permanent ban list. There were easily another 100 who were ridiculous in terms of lacking basic life skills but not bad enough to make The List.

        (There were also equal numbers of very nice, interesting people, for the record).

      6. Zelda*

        It could work the other way round. “Stronger” personalities may find it easier to take credit for other people’s work – or in this case leech off a quieter but more diligent friend’s interview preparation.

    4. Michele*

      Back in my single days, there were occasional guys who would fly off the handle and become verbally abusive if I turned them down. I saw it as them confirming my decision to stay away, but I bet Candidate A is cut from the same cloth.

      1. La munieca*

        Have experienced this as well. I used to write it off as a bullet dodged, but realized a darker side when someone pointed out to me that this reaction from romantic prospects (or job candidates) comes from a place of feeling entitled to access they’re being denied. On a related note, I do like that “cup of tea” metaphor for consent that is appearing on my facebook feed. A summary of the main points can be found here:

        I fully support running full-speed away from any who indicates that a date, a cup of tea, or a job interview carry any obligation.

        1. Mephyle*

          The first time I saw the ‘cup of tea’ metaphor, I thought, there are food pushers that do this literally with tea or whatever food or drink they are serving.

          1. Ž*

            and in some cultures it’s rude to refuse, or rude to not offer even when you can’t really afford to serve it. I think food and drink isn’t a good metaphor here at all.

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    I’m with Alison. If this isn’t someone whom you were excited about, I wouldn’t risk any further backlash — either from A being pissed that you hired his friend and not him, or from B having greater loyalty to his jerky friend than to his employer.

  3. the_scientist*

    Follow-up question- do you tell candidate B that candidate A’s behaviour is the reason they’re being cut loose? I’d generally go with “no”, but I could argue the other side as well.

    1. Helka*

      I can’t think of a way to phrase that without sounding pretty awful, so no.

      On the other hand, I think pointing out the extreme similarity with A’s answers as something that did not help B when push came to shove could be managed.

      1. LBK*

        If you think Candidate B didn’t know and would be horrified to hear about what Candidate A did, I could see saying something like “We want to be really frank with you – we noticed you seemed extremely close to Candidate A based on your interactions during the interview process and the similarity of your interview answers. We had a very bad experience with Candidate A following the interviews and that was part of our decision to not carry forward with your candidacy as well. We wanted you to be aware of how your relationship to A might reflect on you if you continue to apply to jobs together.”

        That being said, I can’t really envision a scenario where Candidate B 1) could really be that clueless about Candidate A and 2) I had gotten such a good sense of Candidate B’s rationality that I wouldn’t want to hire them anyway.

        1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

          I really like LBK s wording. So at least B will know what happend and think twice about applying to the same positions..

        2. HR Generalist*

          I come from a small town, so maybe I’m a little off on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Candidate B had no idea about Candidate A’s interactions with the company (or if they would fly off the handle like that). We had a scenario here where we had a candidate chosen and offered him a position. He counter-offered with something that wasn’t feasible. Once we told him it couldn’t be done, he got in touch with upper management in the company (who had no idea about the hiring situation or what was going on in this department) and then left threatening voicemails (some in the middle of the night, sounding intoxicated) stating that he would get what he wanted from us.
          I later found out that my brother-in-law was the Best Man at this candidate’s wedding. My BIL is very professional, has a good job, really nice guy. I mentioned the candidate’s name to him and he said, “He’s a good guy. We grew up together and I’ve always been close with him.” I’m sure my BIL would be mortified if he knew what the candidate did and the name he made for himself in our department (not that I would disclose to him) – but they’re the type that have been friends since they were kids and maybe aren’t the same “type of person” any more but are still very close.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            But maybe you should tell the BIL. I recommended a guy for a job where I worked: he’d worked with my spouse, we’d helped him move, he’d helped me solve some work tasks. I thought he’d be a good choice to work with. My spouse had never mentioned some other aspects of his personality; things that I found out after I started working with him. If I had known that, I would not have recommended him, and while I’ve lost track of him now, I think it’s also better that way. He’s the only person I’ve worked with that I think could come to the workplace and shoot it up.

            1. Anony-moose*

              My gut would be to speak up in this conversation, too. What if BadCandidate asked BIL for a recommendation and BIL, being a great guy, put in a good word for him only to have his own reputation tarnished?

              My boyfriend’s best friend could be BadCandidate. He’s got a dismal work history and a caustic, somewhat misogynistic personality. (Sigh). He struggles in the workplace and in life. But they’ve been best friends since 5 years old and that friendship has weathered the test of time.

              Now, best friend is moving back and keeps asking for help. Boyfriend made one referral that was a good fit and made clear that was all he could do. He loves his friend dearly but also knows he needs to keep his friend life and professional life very separate in this case.

        3. CAinUK*

          Eek, no no no – I totally get why you want to be helpful, but this creates a larger risk and isn’t worth it. Best case scenario: Candidate B learns something. Worst case scenario: Candidate B tells Candidate A, they BOTH begin harassing you about unfair treatment, and you’ve re-opened a can of worms with all the crazy.

          Likely scenario: you invest more time in a lukewarm candidate, with high risk of him/her blowing up or brushing it off, and nobody gains anything.

          1. LBK*

            Right, that’s why I said it would have to be in a specific situation where I thought the best case scenario was the most likely (ie probably never).

          2. Riri*

            Also I don’t think it is OK to give one candidate info about another candidate, even if you happened to know they are friends.

            1. Davey1983*

              While I normally agree with this, if I am being rejected for a job because of another candidate, whatever that candidate did just become my business, and I would argue that I have a right to know.

              Seems to me that it is a double standard– we will use other peoples actions against you, but we won’t tell you what the other person did that made us pass up your application.

        4. Anonsie*

          Agreed with your first point, if they were a strong enough candidate to be worth it or something like that.

          For the second point, I wouldn’t be so sure. There are people who are plainly volatile and abrasive on the surface, and then there are people that only let it slip in limited enough circumstances that no one believes the people who have seen it. Some people are pretty strategic about when they blow up.

          We’ve all probably heard some variation of this before. “Soandso would never do that, I know him and he’s a great guy!”

          “No no, Soandso isn’t like that, I’ve known her for years and that’s not the Soandso I know.”

    2. LBK*

      Unless I got a really, really strong sense that Candidate B was more levelheaded and would be mortified to hear their friend had been such a jackass, I’d say no.

    3. Allison Mary*

      That’s a tough question to answer – I know that if I were in Candidate B’s position, and I was suddenly cut loose for what seemed (to me) to be no reason at all, I would feel really upset and extremely confused. I would really want some understanding of what was going on and what had changed. On the other hand, from the employer’s side, that doesn’t seem like a conversation I would want to have.

      1. TCO*

        I’m not sure Candidate B has actually been offered (or started) the job yet, so that makes it a little easier.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah–I think it does make a difference whether the OP’s company has made any kind of commitment to B yet.

        2. Allison Mary*

          That’s true. I was definitely reading the OP’s letter as saying the job had been offered to Candidate B, and I was thinking Candidate B had already started working. If that’s not the case, then simply withdrawing the job offer makes more sense to me.

      2. fposte*

        Though I don’t think from the outside B is being “suddenly cut loose”–he’s just not being hired, which is something that happens when you interview.

        I’m with Helka in that if I said anything, it would be about the duplicate interview issue, because for me that would have been enough to drop them both off the list at that point. Would I? I don’t know; I would if B asked, I think, but I’m not sure if I’d bring it up on its own.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          +1. B should not be expecting the job at this point.

          This varies by personal preference, but I would not give B any details, lest B relay anything back to A and trigger ANOTHER cray-cray reaction from A.

      3. Jen S. 2.0*

        You know what? People are cut loose from job consideration all the time, for many, many, many reasons. For all I know I’ve been cut loose from job consideration because someone else acted nuts. All I’m entitled to is “Thank you for your time; we won’t be moving you forward in the process.” I feel the same way about B. He’s not getting the job for a number of reasons, and all they have to do is decline. He’s not owed answers.

    4. BRR*

      Because B was put on the future call list I would just not call. If you tell them why, you could be adding fuel to the fire. A doesn’t seem to need a reason to go off.

    5. Jeanne*

      No. I would just not contact B again. It’s like any other time you have an interview and someone else gets the job. If B contacts Angie or whoever, they can say the general thing about positions being filled or other candidates being a better fit.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        All of which is true. Others are a better fit because they have better skills (the guy was a C+ candidate all along) AND better taste in friends.

    6. Michele*

      It sounds like both candidates had someone on the inside if they knew what the interview questions were going to be ahead of time. Whoever it was can tell Candidate B why they weren’t hired. (Unless they have a third friend who also went through the interview process and coached them with the questions.)
      Either way, I wouldn’t tell Candidate B the real reason they weren’t hired. I can see Candidate A getting ahold of that information and contorting it into some sort of crazy lawsuit.

    7. QAT Contractor*

      No, there is no reason to tell them why they are not being hired, especially if it’s in reference to another person’s behavior.

      From the sound of it, Candidate B was assessed to be about a C+. If they are on the future list to be hired _if needed_ there is no reason to actually hire them. The standard “we found someone better aligned with our needs” is all that needs to be given as an explaination.

      Giving the reason of Candidate A’s behavior just sounds like a case for Candidate B to say the company is discriminating against B. Whether or not it drives a wedge between A and B doesn’t matter, but it does seem like something that could cause more issues than needed when the simple rejection answer is vague enough to be a clean cut (in most cases, clearly not in Candidate A’s case..).

  4. BRR*

    What a tough letter (it’s nice though to see new challenges continue to appear). In this specific situation I agree that it’s ok to cut B lose. If they shared interview answers I would have concerns about the non-disclosure. If B was stronger it would be different but that’s not the case.

    1. KarenT*

      I really enjoyed this letter and yesterday’s letter about whether or not to withdraw the offer. I think it’s because they are management dilemma’s and we typically see more from the employee’s side.

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    Did I go through a wormhole and come out in Wednesday?

    Totally agree. I would have cut A loose much sooner. That type of behavior is totally unacceptable. You’ve dodged a land mine on that one. But I would have cut B loose as well. You just don’t know enough about B to really answer your questions or assuage your fears.

    I did have one question. Were your first round interview questions available ahead of time somehow? I can’t think of any other way that two people could come up with identical answers. That might be something to look into.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      If OP’s company regularly hires like this with few variations in format, I could see A and B being in touch with someone who interviewed previously and gave them a good idea of what the questions might be.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes. Or if they are classmates, its possible the question is similar to a case study they just discussed in class recently, which is why they point out the same teapot design flaws.

        OP, have you checked Glassdoor recently to make sure your interview questions aren’t posted there? Or googled your company and the words “interview questions”?

        Last, is the skills test something they do on their own before the interview, or once they are at your site? Is it open ended or multiple choice? Any chance they also worked on the skills test together?

        1. Today's Letter Writer*

          Hi! To answer your questions: yes, we immediately Googled after the scary similar interviews to see if something like that was going on. Two of our question are on Glassdoor, but those happen to be the two less open-ended questions—just meant to gauge whether candidates know how to properly operate in a professional environment, so we are generally ok with having them up there (and with candidates giving similar answers on them). Nevertheless, this situation has (fortunately?) given me some of ammunition I need to convince management to change our interview questions to be more useful, so hopefully we’ll be changing our questions soon!

          The skills test is part multiple choice, part essay, so it’s about half-and-half. We do it onsite because the answers would be pretty easy to Google.

  6. MousyNon*

    Yeah, I’m sorry but Alison’s right, cut them both loose. It’s not worth the risk if B ever mentioned getting an offer to nut-job-A and nut-job-A decides now is a good time to stalk your HR department.

    1. The Toxic Avenger*

      Agreed. Hiring is tough enough without engaging in drama. Cut B loose and move on. B wasn’t that great of a candidate anyway. There are plenty of candidates out there who are good, know how to behave, and associate with those who know how to behave.

  7. TCO*

    I agree that you’re right to just walk away from both candidates–it’s not worth risking your company getting dragged into something messy or harmful by continuing to be even distantly aligned with A.

    I think it was fine to conduct a second interview, but I would have considered doing it by phone if the circumstances allowed. You had already met the candidates in person, so following up by phone would save them the time and money of driving in again since they’ve probably been told that there’s usually only one round of interviews. But given that you had some concerns about how the candidates came up with their answers, I can understand why in-person just felt like it was a better way to assess their skills and integrity.

    Personally, I might have even walked away from both candidates after such a weird first interview, but hindsight is 20/20.

    1. Lizzy*

      Agreed with your last sentence. Before this even escalated into A showing what a whack job he is, I would have been reticent to deal with two candidates who I later learned may have been coaching each other. Part of the interviewing process is to get a feel for a candidate, including personality, work style, how they handle pressure, etc. Both candidates basically dropped the ball on giving any insight on themselves, instead opting to say what they thought the interviewers wanted to hear. Unless there is a shortage of contract workers in this industry, that alone would have caused me to drop them as candidates and look for better options. But again, hindsight is 20/20.

      1. Anonsie*

        I would never assume up front that both parties did this on purpose, though, I would assume one was being honest and one was not. My inclination would be to think that they knew each other from whatever source (professionally or socially) and they talked about the role and the less honest candidate just wholesale ripped off what the other one said. It should be relatively easy to tell which was which by just asking some more followup questions and see who followed their own trail, wouldn’t it?

        This is definitely something to think about for myself, though, because talking about who asks what kinds of questions and what types of responses they like to see is pretty common for the grad programs I’m looking in to. I have some continuing ed classes and people discuss their interview strategies with the people who sit around them all the time. We share a lot of other resources and many of us are targeting the same couple of schools. I’m suddenly seeing how very very easy it would be for one person to share a lot of information in the hopes of being helpful or just as small talk and some other person regurgitating that to the same institutions and making both of them look dishonest, while the first person would have no idea what happened.

        1. Today's Letter Writer*

          This was definitely our concern! We didn’t want to hang both of the candidates out to dry if only one of them had made a bad choice, though sadly that’s what it’s come to in the end anyway.

          But, I can definitely see everyone’s points about just not proceeding in the process since we weren’t super thrilled about either candidate, as well. It might have been better, in retrospect, to just drop both of them instead of having us and them all spend more time on the process (though we did just have another spot open up that Candidate B probably would have been chosen for if it weren’t for this whole debacle—now we’re just interviewing other candidates instead). It’s a really tough situation to try to figure out what’s “right” in.

  8. Joey*

    how in the heck did they give the same answers in the interview? Did they have the exact same work experiences? If youre not asking about past experiences that’s where Id focus your efforts?

    1. LBK*

      Were you the one that said to listen for “we” instead of “I” in interview responses the other day? If A and B were interviewing together I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d worked on the same team together before, so they could have “we”-d through the interview describing the same work their team had done.

    2. Today's Letter Writer*

      You’re absolutely right on this. I don’t think we are asking enough about candidates’ histories and experience, or at least we’re not getting the information we need.

      The position we hire contractors for is a very entry-level, low-paying position, so it’s not at all uncommon for candidates for this position to be recent grads with little to no relevant experience. We usually explain to them the main skill involved in the job, and then ask if they have any relevant work/school/extracurricular experience that involved using that skill. We’ll ask follow-up questions to the degree that we can based on their answer, but it’s pretty common for candidates to just say they don’t really have any experience aside from helping friends with teapot tasks in college or something of that nature. That was pretty much the case for these two—but I will say that this is the one area where we did manage to coax out some actual useful differences in their answers, as one candidate went more into his school experiences and one went more into trying to relate his past work experience to the job.

      Our other questions are focused around determining whether the candidate has critical thinking skills, whether they can communicate clearly, and whether they know basic professional norms. I’d say 80% of the interview is currently dedicated to the critical thinking/communication portion, and that’s where all of the strangely same answers were; if the similar answers had all been in experience/professional norms, we probably wouldn’t have found that strange at all.

      But I would really like to delve more into candidates’ skills and experiences, limited as they may be, in the interview. So if anyone has any great interview questions or strategies for interviewing people with little work experience, I’d really like to hear about them! I’m only a couple years out of college myself, so I’d be completely lost on this subject if it weren’t for AAM…

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Are sure the contracting company isn’t coaching the candidates? We had a contracting company that was over-embellishing some of the resumes it was passing to us.

  9. Ben Around*

    I agree that Candidate B shouldn’t be hired, and I don’t even think it’s a close call. The OP’s account is basically a list of red flags. And I don’t think any reason should be given to Candidate B. OP’s company dodged a lot of trouble, thanks to Candidate A’s lack of self-control.

  10. itsame...Adam*

    If people can be coached on your particular interview process I might need to be changed. But don’t cut loose B for A’s actions. Even though they might be acquaintances and prepared together that doesn’t mean they are thick as thiefs. I actually ask the B candidate about those interview similarities, this would then give some insight about their connection.

    1. Joey*

      But don’t the folks you choose to hang with say a lot about you. And they’re hangin pretty tight if they applied at the same place and gave the same answers.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. And also, hiring isn’t a court of law where you need to prove your concerns beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s no requirement to let fairness to candidates trump your own concerns.

        1. Joey*

          Yes. Fairness is a goal, but it’s not one that comes at the expense of what’s best for the company.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            This. I am surprised by how much people are stressing “fairness” when this site teaches us so much about hiring decisions being based on what’s best for the company.

            1. LBK*

              And we also preach caution to job seekers when they see red flags at a company they’re interviewing at. I don’t see how the reversed situation is different. I’m picturing the OP as a candidate who was iffy about a company to begin with and then got yelled at by a manager there who may or may not have anything to do with the OP’s job, but was still one of the few data points available about the company. I don’t think so many people would say “Yeah, definitely go in for another interview, you owe it to the company to be fair and ensure you have a full picture of what they’re really like.” We’d probably say “Hell no, find a job that’s not already stressing you out before your first day.”

        2. CAinUK*


          It isn’t like Candidate B is strong – the OP says they were mid-tier at best. I actually think OP and others are OVER-correcting by reconsidering everything just because of Candidate A’s behaviour and relationship to Candidate B. It is one of three data points, and even if we say their friendship is a weak data point, there is still a 2/3 argument to not proceed with Candidate B.

          Strike 1 = weak candidate (might make waitlist, depends on interview).
          Strike 2 = identical interview answers (struck off waitlist, but could reconsider).
          Strike 3 = associated with crazy friend who also interviewed (aaannndd nope).

          1. Sunshine*

            Yep. They’re over thinking by wondering if B is being treated fairly. Whether aware of A’s behavior or not, B has chosen to connect themselves with A. I sure wouldn’t do that unless I knew it would only help me.

      2. Anonsie*

        The only objection I have to this thought is that all you know is that they walked in together and got some information or strategy from the same source in the past, which isn’t necessarily indicative that they are friends-friends where they actively choose to be around each other socially.

        I do agree I would not hire either candidate unless I knew the nature of the relationship well enough to be confident that blowback from the rejected candidate was not possible, however, it wouldn’t be because I was judging the accepted candidate on their choice of company.

      3. KerryOwl*

        Agreed. It would be one thing if you happened to know that they knew each other, but they’re so tight that they’re preparing for an interview with exactly the same answers . . . honestly, I still can’t get past that part, it is so bizarre.

        1. AnonForThisOne*

          I really don’t understand why people think this means they’re “so tight”. At one point I worked with 10 acquaintances from college at a job that hired people for low level/few skills. I wasn’t “tight” with all of them – but we all knew that place hired regularly, paid more than most other low skill jobs, and were happy to help someone else out. I actually got the job info from someone I barely knew, and she coached me on what to say/not say in the interview.

          If any of those people had done what Candidate A is doing – I would have had zero idea it was going on, let alone be planning to give them company secrets or an access card.

      4. AnonForThisOne*

        I disagree so much with the concept of “who you spend time with is who you are” – both on a personal and professional level. I’ve worked some jobs where I have worked with loons, and did a lot of hand wringing about how that was going to affect my career to have my name next to theirs out there in the professional world. But I didn’t have a choice, there were bills to pay and I had to take the job hiring at the time. In the personal world (as it sounds like this might also be) I have friends that are absolutely nothing like me, and their character would say nothing about me – but I’ve felt guilty cutting them off because they have no other friends, have social problems because of disorders that aren’t readily apparent, we’re friends because our families are friends, etc.

        I get the conundrum the OP is in (though I think there is a general problem with low level employees having access to sensitive information – and isn’t that what the non-disclosure agreement is for?) so I know they’ll probably just cut B, and as the saying goes: life isn’t fair. But ugh. I feel for B.

        1. LBK*

          Remember that you’re assuming the best version of Candidate B, though. They very could be close and B could be fully aware of the duplicate answers, and if you found out that were the case, would you feel sympathetic? You’re only feeling for B at the moment because you’re guessing they’re innocent in the situation.

          You only give someone the benefit of the doubt so many times before the benefit of you is more important.

        2. Lamb*

          But even if Candidate B is just still friends with A because they feel guilty cutting A off, how would I, as an employer, know that B’s guilt wouldn’t lead to B doing things against the interest if my company?
          Especially if B doesn’t know about A’s specific poor behavior re:this job, B might have the best intentions and still do the company wrong.
          For example, B might try to coach A for interviewing for the next project that comes up and reveal confidential information. Or forward A’s call to the hiring manager who’s number A “lost”. Or help A with some rediculous foot-in-the-door stunt. Or opening the “Congrats on you new job” e-card A sent which also has a computer virus attached to it.
          You may not be like your friends, but if you choose to closely associate with them in a professional context, as these two did, if I don’t want my business to be exposed to your A, then I feel I have to pass on you.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I tried to think of a way that Candidate B might be worth the risk, but the OP said they weren’t amazeballs. And what could the OP do now, ask Candidate B outright? The behavior has been so odd that I don’t see how any explanation could make up for it, because at this point even if they came clean about showing poor judgment in memorizing answers with some random person who they didn’t know so well, there isn’t enough of an investment in them to make it worth taking the risk that they’re telling the truth. When the behavior is this off, it makes me think that their decisionmaking and judgment is very poor, and so at best you’d be hiring someone who makes bad decisions without thinking them through. At worst you’re getting a con artist who is trying to scam the company or steal trade secrets (remember, the OP mentioned that security and confidentiality is very important in their field).

      1. itsame...Adam*

        For me all of this sounds like entry level college behavior, that’s why I would be very forgiving. College kids are trained to work as a team now a days, and the first job after college is treated more as an assignment in getting any job rather then finding the right work environment. If those are experienced hires then yeah that would be a no go.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Fair point. I’d feel quite bad for a brand-spanking-new grad who got duped into “collaborating” with an asshole like Candidate A, but teaching n00bs how to properly behave when interviewing and applying for jobs really isn’t the interviewer’s responsibility.

  11. C Average*

    Were they members of different ethnic groups? My first thought when I read the description of their interviews was that it was some sort of sociology experiment! It’s just so very weird to rattle off the same answers.

    (Of course, this doesn’t even touch the subsequent weirdness.)

    1. Hermione*

      That was my (second) thought as well (after an initial “What the Hippogryff?!”) But the subsequent reaction by Candidate A completely threw that theory out the window – those sorts of experiments would be much more controlled than an addled candidate flying off the handle.

      Also, poor Angie.

        1. Hermione*

          My favorite is Hagrid’s saggy ba—, but it’s not really appropriate for anything short of a quest against an evil dark lord trying to kill you…

      1. Natalie*

        I would think that those experiments also wouldn’t send their candidates in one right after the other, lest they get found out.

    2. Today's Letter Writer*

      Actually, they were the same ethnic group! I left this out of my original letter because it wouldn’t fit, but one of the things Candidate A accused us of in his tirade was not being able to tell him and Candidate B apart purely because they are of the same ethnicity. Ignoring the well-known fact that our company is actually the U.S. branch of a company run entirely by people of said race (though different nationality, I suppose), who we work with (and somehow manage to tell apart from one another *eye roll*) on a daily basis…

      It was just so bizarre. I don’t even know.

  12. grasshopper*

    Are you sure that A & B actually know each other? That is a huge assumption just because they arrived together. Unless your receptionist saw them arrive in the same car, it is possible that they both came on time and walked in together. Do you have any way of actually verifying (perhaps through linkedin or other social media) whether the two candidates are indeed friends?

    Is there only one position available or are there multiple positions? If there is only one, then even if they do know each other, given how competitive one of them is, it seems unlikely that they would be sharing so much information with each other. If there are multiple positions available, then the collusion theory is more sound.

    In either case, Candidate A definitely goes on the blacklist!

    Is it possible that your questions are really obvious ones that anyone who is preparing for interviews might have already prepped answers for? Even if they do know each other, one of them is obviously very competitive and if there is only one position available I don’t know if they would be directly sharing the questions and preparing answers together, since obviously one of them is very competitive.

    1. jamlady*

      We can talk hypotheticals all day – what if Candidate A is actually abusive and manipulative and ready to use Candidate B to get information about this company? – but the basic facts are that Candidate A is hostile and undesirable as a hire, Candidate B is associated with hostile Candidate A, and Candidate B is mediocre. The possible pros of keeping Candidate B on are severely outweighed by the cons.

    2. JB*

      I don’t think it’s a HUGE assumption. They arrived together *and* the OP said their answers were too similar to be coincidence. There’s no reason we shouldn’t take the OP’s word on that point. Where I work is such a specific, niche area that if we had two people giving very similar answers, it would be almost certain they had prepared for the interview together.

    3. Cheesecake*

      I think it is not a huge assumption. Same answers to open end questions or even similarities are very obvious and raise eyebrows big times. That alone can be a reason to cut them from hiring process to be honest. Without going into details if they were friends or not.

      1. Lizzy*

        Yes, this. Even if they were not friends and it was all merely a coincidence, it is still obvious they gave canned answers and gave no insight into themselves.

    4. Beancounter in Texas*

      Carefully note that the LW stated the receptionist observed the two of them together at the test and the interview. Given that only candidates who pass the test are interviewed, I think it’s safe to say that these two know each other beyond a casual meeting in the hall before the interview.

      1. Chrissi*

        Thank you for explaining that! I had assumed that the test and interview were one right after the other and also thought that maybe they just walked in together and maybe chatted between sessions which might explain the similar answers. If the test and interviews were on different days and they were together at both, then I understand why everyone would assume that they are close(ish).

    5. Sunshine*

      That’s definitely more time than I would spend on a mediocre candidate. It’s up to them to convince me they’re a good fit – I’m not going to research their relationships to verify whether or not they are associated with Whack Job A. I would take the info I have at face value and move on to better applicants.

  13. jamlady*

    Honestly, there could be plenty of arguments of “well maybe they just met in the parking lot and practiced together” or “but Candidate B deserves to know” or blah blah blah. But I totally agree with Alison (as usual). Candidate B was mediocre and, even without the insanity of Candidate A, was barely suitable for the position. Cut ties completely – no losses there.

  14. Brett*

    Up until the part where Candidate A berated Angie, this sounded identical to a method the EEOC used during the Clinton administration to establish proof of Title VI/VII/IX violations. Basically they would prep two candidates two appear as identical as possible in resume, dress, speaking ability, and interview responses, except they would be of different race, gender, or ethnicity (reflected by their names too). And then have them both apply for the same position and see the differences between how each one is handled.
    But this wasn’t not that (I hope), since I never heard of the candidates flipping out like that; instead they would do everything they could to be absolutely perfect candidates.

    1. Ben Around*

      Well, if this scenario could be the case, then there’s another reason not to hire either.

  15. Allison Mary*

    I can totally understand where Alison is coming from on the notion of cutting Candidate B loose… Everything she said about the risk to the employer and not knowing how closely Candidate B is tied to Candidate A — that all makes sense to me. But I think this might be one of the rare occasions where I disagree with Alison’s advice. I think I would have recommended maybe having a serious talk with Candidate B about their concerns, and then closely monitoring Candidate B’s performance and attitude from there on out. They can always cut Candidate B loose later, if they decide that’s what needs to happen based on direct observations of Candidate B’s attitude and performance.

    1. fposte*

      I would consider doing that for a strong candidate, but that’s an awful lot of work for a middling candidate.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        This to me is the crux of the issue. If B were such an outstanding candidate that the OP wished she could hire 10 more of him, I could see being a little more forgiving and trying to explore B’s candidacy further to potentially dispel some of the OP’s concerns.

        But B’s not, and since it sounds like OP is not hurting for qualified candidates for these positions, I’d cut B loose. Not worth the risk or additional effort (especially considering that it sounds like the OP has already put in extra time to evaluating these two candidates, since they had to bring them in for the second interview to try to get different answers from the them).

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Agreed. You don’t owe it to B to keep them in the running for any reason, and that goes double if they weren’t even all that great. Just hire someone else.

    2. Aisling*

      Why would you hire a candidate when you already have reservations about them? B wasn’t a particularly strong candidate, so the risk to the company is actually much higher. There’s a small chance that the person would work out, but a much larger one that they either won’t, or their work will only be so-so anyway. It would be easier to hire someone else you’re really excited about, and someone that didn’t have any red flags.

      You’re talking about them as if they have already been hired. Talking about concerns, monitoring progress, etc., is what you would do with someone who’s already been hired, but why give yourself more work if you don’t need to?

  16. illini02*

    I’m going to dissent a bit on both. I know how you say their answers weren’t a coincidence, but if they have worked together in the past (which isn’t really clear), I can see how a past job could shape both sets of answers. Even if they DID practice together, I don’t know that its really a problem. Is that really any worse than if Jim recommends Dwight for a job at his company and gives a heads up about the questions they will answer. For all you know, they both went on Glassdoor and saw the questions you asked. It would frankly be stupid to NOT discuss this with someone else who is in the same situation. I think when you do ask the exact same questions to everyone with no further probing, you open yourself up to this.

    As to client B, I also don’t think its fair to disregard them. It does sound like you were kind of so-so on him anyway but just because someone associated with them was a jerk, doesn’t mean you can assume they are. Plenty of my friends do things I don’t agree with, doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same thing. If you googled someone and found out their husband was convicted of theft, at some point, would you refuse to hire them as well? I think people should be judged on their merits. I get the “you are judged by the company you keep” thing, but this seems a bit much since you have no idea that candidate B even knows the extent of what happened.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, she’s under no obligation to be “fair” to B. Her obligation is to make the best hires she can with limited data, and to manage risk for her company. If she now has worries about B, there’s no reason that fairness requires her to ignore those worries.

      Also, disagree about the interview answers! It’s fine to practice together, but if your answers are so rehearsed that they sound just like someone else’s, you’re not really being candid.

      1. AMG*

        I’ve worked on the same project as 4 of my other coworkers at a new company. Identical project, with different roles, experiences, interactions, and POVs. And yes, I even had the interview questions going into it because I was the 3rd one to be hired.

      2. Dan*

        Frankly, interviews with a canned set of questions and answers aren’t very good interviews anyway… particularly when those questions are known in advance.

        1. illini02*

          Thats kind of my point. If everyone has to answer the exact same questions that can be found in advance, you can’t be taken aback when it happens.

          1. MK*

            Yes, you very well can. The questions are about centred on the job, which is the same for everyone, while the answers are the candidate’s chance to show how they are best fitted for the role and what their own ideas are, so they are centred more on the candidate. It’s not to be expected that candidates’ answers to the same questions will be so similar as to be eerie.

      3. JB*

        Exactly. You might have answers that incorporate the same substance if you are describing past projects you’ve worked on, but the answers shouldn’t sound like you’re basically replaying a recording of the first one.

      4. illini02*

        I guess I agree that there is no obligation of fairness, it just seems wrong to assume that B is so unprofessional that they will give their key card to this person or spill company secrets. I am good friends with people who have been fired from jobs where we worked together. While my “loyalty” may have been with my friend on a personal level, I’d be pretty upset if someone assumed that I was going to risk my professional career because of it.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I don’t think anyone’s assuming B will do these things, just acknowledging that it’s a viable risk and a serious enough one to outweigh the benefit of the doubt.

        2. BRR*

          It’s unfair to B (although would be worse if they were a stronger candidate) but it seems that this company has a strong need for confidentiality and to risk what might be a lot of money in order to be fair in a situation like this just isn’t that reasonable.

        3. Zillah*

          But I think there’s a big difference between firing and not hiring. When your friends were fired, presumably you were already a known quantity to your company, so their concerns were going to be much less. And, while you don’t specify what your friends were fired for, there’s a huge difference between being unreliable or producing poor work and flying off the handle like Candidate A did. I doubt the OP would have the same concerns if all Candidate A did was show up 20 minutes late wearing jeans.

        4. Jen S. 2.0*

          Lots of people don’t get hired for reasons that aren’t fair. It’s not fair if the interviewer went to USC and leans away from UCLA people. It’s not fair if someone doesn’t like orange and so hated the guy’s tie. But life isn’t fair. They have several candidates to choose from and they don’t have to hire this guy. Sucks to be him, but he’s not entitled to the job just because he is one of 25 people with the basic qualifications for it.

      5. Student*

        I think it’s worthwhile to follow up with candidate B to simply ask why their answers were similar to candidate A. That could shed tons of light on whether cutting candidate B is the correct decision or not with a pretty simple, fast conversation. No need to talk about candidate A’s behavior with candidate B.

        There are lots of scenarios where candidate A and B are associated and B deserves to be tarred by A’s crazy behavior. However, there are some possible scenarios where cutting candidate B because of A’s behavior is a horrible thing to do. If the company could justify cutting candidate B out of the running without considering candidate A, then it’s a moot point, but then the OP would presumably not have written in. So far, candidate B hasn’t actually shown himself to be any risk to the company; they’re hypothetical based on an assumption about the connection between A and B, just as hypothetical as scenarios where B is unfairly being harmed by candidate A.

        For example, what if they’re actually relatives? Then it’s a largely involuntary association, and gives rise to a number of possible situations where they’d know each others’ answers (similar past experiences, or one was practicing with the other, or one was watching/eavesdropping while the other practiced with a third party). Hypothetical! But easily figured out by asking candidate B. “Oh yeah, that’s my step-brother. We aren’t very close to each other, but we do live together, so I heard him talking with Uncle Bob about the interview for hours before we can to talk with you. It probably influenced my answers.”

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      but where you have very limited knowledge about someone (such as in the hiring process) then any little thing you find out that informs your thinking can be very powerful and I can quite understand why the OP might not be keen on inviting a lot of drama in to the work place, even more so if the candidate isn’t a perfect candidate and they keep a list of people they will use for work they don’t need to take the risk when they have other candidates that don’t come with this baggage.

    3. puddin*

      I think it is more ‘fair’ to consider the potential impact to your current employees if this scenario does go off the rails. It is not fair to existing staff hire someone who has a greater than normal level of risk for workplace conflict. To me the sense of allegiance and fairness belongs to the current folks, not an average candidate.

      If the OP were to probe B with questions to find out the extent of their knowledge of A’s actions, that just opens up the possibilities for more abuse from either candidate or other worrying consequences. It really is best to have B move on with their job search. B may be scratching his/her head about the reason why, but that has happened to all of us at one point.

    4. Lefty*

      If I knew that a candidate was married to someone convicted of theft I probably would not hire them. I see no benefit to taking on the additional risk of hiring someone who chooses to associate with a criminal. Who knows, maybe the candidate is also a thief. Maybe he/she doesn’t see theft as that big of a deal – maybe sees it can be justifiable. Maybe the person hangs out with a variety of criminals. Maybe the person is too trusting and would not think twice of bringing the spouse onto company property. Maybe the candidate actually did the thieving and the spouse took the blame for them. Maybe the spouse was wrongly convicted and it’s the injustice of the century.

      My point is I don’t know and I don’t care. To me, it’s just an unnecessary risk to hire that person.

  17. Sunshine DC*

    I’m not sure that it’s fair to assume a friendship between the two. I’ve found myself in a position of showing up to an interview scheduled back to back with a former colleague at a prior job, running into each other in the building lobby when I arrive a little early (and they, maybe a bit late?) I always thought that guy was a complete jerk—his and a few other former coworkers’ unprofessionalism was part of why I left that old job, about 6 years ago. I’m a very diplomatic, generally friendly person though, so when he greeted me in the lobby that day, of course I was pleasant to him. I remember all the way up in the elevator, he kept talking and talking to me (bragging about himself, mostly) and then when it was clear we were arriving to interview for the same position, well… it was awkward. For me. For him… well, he kept talking on and on about himself, and how he was “sure” to get the job, and insisted coming in to interview was “just a formality” because he “knew people” there. I didn’t get that job, and have no idea if he did or not. But I share this because if anyone, such as a receptionist, had observed us sitting there together they would have inferred that we knew each other, and possibly even that we were friends (him talking on and on, and me smiling and nodding to be “polite.”)

    1. fposte*

      Did you plan your interview answers together, though? Because I think that’s the key here, not the simultaneous arrival.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, and OP says it were the similar answers that prompted them to ask the receptionist about it in the first place. It’s not like OP heard “candidates came in together” and that coloured their view of the interview.

  18. AMG*

    I am imagining Candidate A reading this and flipping out all over again. I wonder if anyone has ever seen themselves in AAM when they were NOT the OP…

    1. Today's Letter Writer*

      Part of me assumes that there’s no way someone who is aware of AAM would ever behave like Candidate A, but another part of me is bracing for another slew of emails any day now…

  19. OriginalEmma*

    Totally a situation where a Mom Quote (like a Dad joke, but sometimes wise) is applicable: Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you’re like.

  20. Persephone Mulberry*

    Whoooooo, boy. Candidate A is a piece of work, and I agree with Totes that you dodged not just a bullet but a land mine.

    That said, I feel really, really bad for Candidate B, if you are seriously considering disqualifying an otherwise acceptable candidate because it appears they are acquaintances with a nutjob. Let’s remember, too, that this is an entry level position – B may just not have the professional chops yet to realize they need to distance themselves from people like A, lest they get spattered with A’s crappy reputation. You might actually be doing B a huge professional favor if you make him/her aware of how A’s actions are potentially reflecting on her.

  21. Mike C.*

    Candidate B has done nothing wrong nor unprofessional. The idea that they would give A a key card into the company is nothing more than speculation and paranoia at best.

    Has no one every been friends with someone only to discover years later there was a dark side to them? How many times have you ever heard, “I had no idea this person I thought I knew well was a murderer/rapist/robber/child abuser/con artist/etc?” What if the crazy didn’t show up until after you hired both of them, are you going to fire both because one person goes crazy and the other person is simply friendly with them? If I went to someone’s wedding, and I now responsible for everything they do at work? Does that mean when they do well, I get a cut of their bonus?

    This is nothing more than guilt by association, and you’re letting a completely separate person who you would otherwise normally hire anyway suffer harm for no reason at all. You’re placing the responsibility of one’s professional behavior on someone else who has absolutely no control over that behavior and that’s an incredibly unreasonable standard to uphold. How far does it go?

    1. fposte*

      I agree that the key card speculation is fantastical. However, you’re not talking about the identical interview thing, which to me is B’s real problem. I’d have cut both of them after that. I don’t think the fact that the OP didn’t at the time means she can’t decide now that it’s just not good enough.

      1. Mike C.*

        I agree that’s weird but unlike a poorly written tv show, we can ask direct questions about that, and understand what happened.

        1. fposte*

          Not sure what you mean there. I can understand what happened but still not want to hire the person who did it.

          1. Mike C.*

            What I mean here is that with the “same answers” situation, we have several possible explanations – some of which make Candidate B look bad and could reasonably disqualify them, while others make clear Candidate B’s record entirely. But we don’t know which is which, but only for now. Lots of folks are advocating just assuming the worst and dumping them right now, while I advocate raising the question directly and making a judgement call from the answer given by B.

            The comparison to “poorly written tv” is an over used trope where two main characters have conflict over something they normally wouldn’t if they both had complete information. Normally they would have complete information because they know each other and could presumably talk but they’re both too pissed off at each other to make the effort. Until the very end of the episode.

            1. Cat*

              The problem here is that we don’t have any independent way to verify anything that Candidate B says except redoing the interview, and redoing the interview led to mediocre results.

            2. fposte*

              Yes, the old wacky misunderstandings thing.

              But I think you and I are just on different sides here. I don’t think talking to B would actually clear it up unless he says something that confirms the problem, which just leaves me where I already am. And since I wasn’t all that sold on B I don’t really want to add another step to hiring him–or to not hiring him.

            3. ThursdaysGeek*

              Such as B mentions the job posting to A. A also applies. A brags that they got an interview and B admits that they have one too. A suggests they work together and practice for the interview. The answers they give each other are different, and B assumes that will continue for the interview. But A was listening to B’s practice answers, decided they were better, and since they had practiced several times, knows B’s answers too. So A uses B’s answers in the real interview. B has no idea, and uses her own answer too.

              Yeah, I can see a case where B really doesn’t know. And if I were B in that case, I’d be grateful to find out what kind of acquaintance A is. Unfortunately, the OP doesn’t know if this is the case or something else, OP doesn’t know if B is also a jerk or is innocent and unknowing.

            4. LBK*

              What version of the events could B provide that would improve his candidacy? Best case scenario, B had no idea A copied his answers, thus confirming that B’s mediocre answers are his own…and still mediocre.

              If B’s answers had been stellar, this would be a whole separate issue. In that situation I’d also be more likely to believe that A had somehow stolen B’s responses – but who cheats off a C+ student?

      2. illini02*

        If the advice was ONLY about the answers being similar, I could understand cutting them after. I may not agree, but I could get it. But it seems that the reason they want to cut them loose is more based on someone else’s actions. That to me is a bit much

        1. Zillah*

          But I think the aggregate is important – one thing might be able to be overlooked, but multiple red flags are a problem.

      3. Tomato Frog*

        Agreed. The interview is what makes it different. That is a display of bad professional judgment, not just poor taste in friends.

    2. Joey*

      Guilt by association isn’t all that irrational a conclusion. Why do you think the best employees never hang out with the worst ones?

      1. Mike C.*

        I see it all the time when groups institute “peer to peer” training programs. Getting to know someone is a great way to gain insight as to the best ways to teach someone.

      1. illini02*

        I honestly don’t know why thats unprofessional. Maybe they were at a company and both got laid off at the same time. One found a job with multiple openings, and told the other. If the stock questions are easily found on Glassdoor, and you share that and discuss what “good” answers would be. I don’t find any of that unprofessional.

        1. Cheesecake*

          Because it wasn’t similar as in “where do you see yourself in 5 years”- “in a managerial position”. It was similar on very specific details. As an interviewer i hear so many different answers on same questions, including basic ones. What OP describes really stands out in the process.

        1. AMG*

          Because it would give me the impression that a candidate can’t interview on their own. This isn’t shopping at the mall–it’s a career decision. A person should be able to speak to their own experiences and not rely on otehrs to brainstorm that. Also, you wouldn’t have the other person there when the job kicks in–you need to be able to do this on your own.

      2. Sunflower*

        I wouldn’t consider job searching together and/or answer sharing any less professional than working with a career coach. Unless you’re telling someone to give answers about scenarios that have never happened to them or they have no experience with AKA pretty much lying about job experience then there’s nothing wrong with it. I personally make it a rule to not talk about any jobs with any of my friends in the same field unless I found a job that isn’t a fit for me but might be for one of them.

      3. Zillah*

        I don’t disagree about using each other’s answers, but how on earth is sharing a job search unprofessional??

      4. Anonsie*

        That’s interesting, why is that?

        Obviously it’s dumb to share identical answers, but just discussing them together?

    3. Cheesecake*

      Look, the fact that they gave same answers to open ended question is already a reason to not to consider them both.
      Candidate B first gave same answers as A – unprofessional, at second glance he was just mediocre. It is on OP to not hire someone based on the interview. And that is not a candidate they’d normally hire. Because if he was brilliant, this head scratching won’t happen. It is not high school “my friend stole and plagiarized my assignment” situation.

      1. Mike C.*

        Why are similar answers a reason not to consider both? And yes, it is a candidate they’d normally hire.

        Frankly, I’m seeing a whole lot of folks applying secret morality tests as to what is and is not professional here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not about morality. It’s about realizing that you’re not necessarily getting a true look at the candidate because there’s now a high likelihood that they’re giving you someone else’s answers. Whether or not they are, now the question has been raised and it’s reasonable to decide you don’t care to take the risk of hiring someone on the basis of interview answers that may not have been theirs.

          1. Mike C.*

            Just to be clear, by “secret morality test”, I mean “situations where one thing is used as a substitute measure of a completely unrelated thing”. Things like, “Billy is a good family man, therefore he’ll be a great employee” or “Candidate B seems to know Crazy Candidate A, therefore Candidate B could also be crazy or further enable CCA’s craziness”.

            As for the issue about “giving someone else’s answers”, we don’t know who copied off of who, or if it was a joint situation. Again, simply asking Candidate B would resolve a great deal about this issue. Why not ask the question first and see from there? Like I keep saying, this is like some poorly written tv plot that would be solved with 5 minutes of talking.

            Without that, you’re holding one person responsible for the actions of another for circumstantial reasons. Are you really comfortable with that?

            1. fposte*

              I’m holding one person responsible for giving poor and shared interview answers. And yup, I’m utterly fine with that. I also don’t see how asking Candidate B would resolve anything, because I don’t have any history with Candidate B to trust what he’s saying. I would be hiring somebody that I’d be dubious about and would feel obliged to give extra supervision to. That’s a waste of my time.

              1. Mike C.*

                I’ve heard too many cases where one person’s paper is unwillingly plagiarized by someone else but because the professor doesn’t want to bother looking into it flunks both students. It just seems like common sense to raise the question and use one’s best judgement.

                1. LBK*

                  But an interviewer’s level of obligation to research a situation like this is basically zero, whereas the professor owes a certain level of effort to the students.

                2. Cat*

                  I think there’s two main differences. The first I mentioned above – the company essentially did do an independent investigation here by redoing the interview, and the results were not great for the candidate. The second is that there’s a level of due process students are entitled to for grades that candidates are not entitled to in the hiring process. To a large extent, hiring requires making judgments to minimize risk – you should be doing everything you can to ensure those judgments aren’t being made along systemically unjust lines (race, gender, etc.) but in terms of individuals and their quirks and weird circumstances, you’re going to weed out some good people unfairly in the search of avoiding people who really will be destabilizing disasters and that’s the way it goes. If the candidates are good people, they’ll fit in somewhere else just fine because we’re not talking systemic issues and the odds will be in their favor in the end.

                3. fposte*

                  Yup, I’m with LBK. This isn’t about punishing B, this is about making good and efficient hiring choices.

                  (And unless A was spying on B’s rehearsal practice here, the answers had to be openly shared in considerable detail. That’s not like having your paper stealthily copied.)

                4. Cat*

                  (And I think I’ve said this here before in prior posts. My instincts were always like yours in hiring, Mike. But it went badly more than once – every time I ignored red flags like this, I regretted it. I don’t ignore them anymore.)

                5. Artemesia*

                  I don’t believe people who tell me they had no idea student B copied their paper. In my experience it was usually an athlete who copied and there are not many ways a paper (as opposed to a test) can be copied without complicity.

                6. Chriama*

                  Actually, a lot of universities will penalize both the cheater and the victim. They have no way of knowing if B allowed A to cheat, or B is just an innocent bystander, or A and B are somehow colluding. If universities can do it, employers shouldn’t be afraid to. The fact of the matter is that the company has no way of independently verifying B’s statements, so asking B for an explanation returns no useful data.

                7. LJL*

                  My default is to flunk both students. I have no idea who did the work and who didn’t. In one case, the copying student even left the original writer’s name on the assignment (!!!). The original writer made the argument that I could tell that he was the original writer. After considering his argument, I gave him partial credit and copying student no credit, because I could not determine if original student had intentionally shared the work with copying student. Original student commented that the situation “sucked.” I surprised him when I said, “yes, it does.”

                8. Tara*

                  Okay, I have to say that it’s /ridiculously unfair/ to flunk both students. At least at the high school level, peer editing and looking for advice from your fellow students is highly encouraged. If I emailed my paper to my friend looking for critique and she turned in an identical copy, I would be beyond distraught to be failed and I think it’s awful to penalize victims of plagiarism. I know it’s not a court of law, but in situations where you have “no way of knowing” what happened, the default should not be to punish. I don’t seek advice from people who I suspect would take advantage, but if something did go wrong and I got a zero because of someone else’s lack of morality it would tank my grade point average and likely endager my admission to university. I would urge you to reconsider that stance.

            2. LBK*

              But your whole argument is centered around fairness, when there’s no reason the OP really needs to be “fair” in this situation. They aren’t dying to hiring someone and Candidate B was mediocre at best anyway. There’s no good reason to dig this much into the situation – what does the OP get out of that?

            3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Mike, I really appreciate the way your comments focus on supporting the humans involved in the situations we see here. I always look out for your responses, especially on divisive posts.

              But this time, I don’t understand why you’re working so hard to give a chance to this one candidate. Setting aside everything the OP has told us – why does this one person deserve or require such special attention?

              When I was hiring, I decided “not to bother” with plenty of applicants who could have been good candidates. My time and other resources were limited. I had to make decisions with imperfect information all the time (literally every time – you can’t possibly know everything you’d like to know about someone you’re considering bringing on board). When I had a strong pool of applicants, I didn’t interview everyone who could have been a good employee – I couldn’t! So that meant that I didn’t interview all the people whose applications were weak… and some people who I decided not to go to the trouble of accommodating. I didn’t interview people because they were traveling out of the country during our interview period, because I didn’t want the hassle of a relocation, etc. You can’t interview and hire everyone. Why this one person, who has some complications?

  22. Kate*

    Agree about cutting B loose and washing your hands of these people. Will definitely want an update on this.

  23. weasel007*

    Consider this a blessing. You learned that candidate A is a hot head before you started paperwork. However, I do agree that you should at least proceed with caution on Candidate B. I think this is worth a quick conversation with Candidate B and watching their reaction carefully. Maybe they had no idea Candidate A was a hot head.

    1. Zillah*

      So call them in a third time? To me, that seems far more unfair to Candidate B than simply eliminating an okay-but-not-great candidate from your list.

  24. Macedon*

    I would definitely hesitate to assume acquaintance, let alone close friendship, based purely on two candidates having arrived together and served similar interview answers. Given that you haven’t mentioned that they referenced the same companies in either their CVs or interviews, I’m going to presume that wasn’t the case either – so… isn’t this inference a bit premature?

    Even if they are friends, I’m going to go against the grain and say I don’t think it’s fair to cut one for the other. There’ve been plenty of AAM letter writers whom we’ve urged not to fear that their boss or reference-writer being ARRESTED would reflect poorly on them – and these were people with whom the letter writers chose ( by continuing work and employment ties ) to associate with on a professional level. I don’t think it’s fair to now say that the behaviour of someone with whom you might associate purely in your personal time should reflect on your work ethics.

  25. Dan*

    Did anybody else pick up on the reference to “entry-level contract positions”?

    I got my curiosity piqued because assuming the OP is in the US, so few positions are true contract positions. When there are legit positions, they’re for limited-term experienced help.

    1. Natalie*

      OP may not be referring to independent contractors. Tons of entry level positions are W2 contractors, run through a staffing agency or similar.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this is what I assumed. Contract positions, usually hired on a project or certain number of months basis – and more and more places are going to this type of hiring for people straight out of college, even (especially) ones in the STEM fields that are supposed to be such a great way to get a job. Long term perma-temping (a series of 3, 6 or 12 month contract positions) is really common in my field now. But I digress, not the point for this specific question.

    2. Decimus*

      You can be on a contract and not be a contractor. I spent a lot of time working for my favorite past employer that way. The company got a contract to do X project in Y months. I’d be hired on for Y months to do X project, with the clause that if the contract was cancelled my employment could be terminated without penalty on their part. The one time that happened though the company just moved me to a different project. Which actually helped us both – on a later project I was able to finish several months ahead of schedule, without hindering the quality of the work, and got move to a different project. So they made money (it was a fixed dollars per project thing) and I kept my job.

  26. Meg Murry*

    Its rude, but this might be one of those cases where its just best not to contact B at all. If I were Angie I’d lean toward this, personally, in case B flipped out on me like A did. Or if B does call, just to say “We just filled our last open position but I’ll put you on the list and we’ll call if we need you.” B doesn’t know that the list you are referring to is the “don’t hire this person” list. Most temp-to-hire places I’ve applied for said something like this – and sometimes you heard back from them asking if you could work a position, and sometimes you never heard a word again.

  27. illini02*

    This is one of those questions that the comments shock me. Specifically how many of you assume that candidate B must be a bad guy because they are friends with candidate A. I mean, even friends is a loose word. I have plenty of drinking buddies that I wouldn’t consider a friend. However, if over the course of drinks, I found out that we were applying to the same job (and there were multiple openings) I could definitely see myself discussing the process with them even, GASP, practicing with them (practicing interviews with someone else has NEVER been recommended before). None of that means that we are close friends or that I would agree with their behavior. I think many of you need to re-read that whole quote about glass houses, because chances are there are some close people in your lives that exhibit behavior you wouldn’t condone, and you wouldn’t want to be judged based on that. Again, we don’t even know that B has any idea what A did.

    1. Cheesecake*

      But we don’t assume he is a bad guy! He was not the best AND he the whole thing did not start right – all in terms of job interview. Hiring is not a fair process – only one candidate gets the job, the best one who does not raise red flags or leave hiring managers in head scratching situations.

      1. illini02*

        But only one person isn’t getting the job. there are multiple openings. And it not starting right, you know NOTHING about how that went down. Maybe they did practice together, B answered questions there way, and then A decided that his way was better and stole it. I think we are putting entirely too much stock on some things that are curious at best

        1. LBK*

          Okay, but…what’s the point of the OP going through all this hassle? You’re banking on a potential payout based on giving multiple benefits of the doubt – that B isn’t like A just because they know each other, that B didn’t know about the questions being copied, and that B is actually a great candidate worth hiring but the interview process wasn’t truly representative of that. I don’t get the sense that the OP is dying to hire B – if there are other candidates available whose fit for the position is more readily available, I can’t fathom why you feel the OP should put so much effort into trying to figure out B instead of just choosing someone else whose candidacy won’t require a research project.

        2. Cheesecake*

          You have described perfect example of hiring process – initially we know NOTHING about candidates. Then we spend merely a couple of hours with a candidate that we will hire permanently. So you pay attention to everything. And when there are 50 other good candidates, a little red flag will be enough to cut you out.

          And actually I personally not putting any stock on things. Candidate’s first interview was alarming, second – meh. I don’t care about the whole friend situation (but i raised my eyebrow). I don’t go extra length analyzing his friends and family. Feedback on 2 interviews was enough for me.

        3. JB*

          This is one of those questions where the comments shock me because I can’t understand why some people are taking the rejection of B like a personal rejection of themselves.

          As LBK said, you seem to expect the OP to go through a lot of effort for a candidate they’re not excited about. They’ve already interviewed the OP twice, and they still consider him mediocre. So now you think they should interview him–a mediocre candidate–yet *again*, or else they should keep on the list when they aren’t sure about him and aren’t excited about him. How many chances does OP have to give this guy?

          1. illini02*

            I don’t take it as a personal rejection, I just think many of you are being ridiculously judgmental. I would be upset if you found out who my brother was and disqualified me based on his behavior. If the person isn’t a great candidate and wouldn’t have been hired, fine. But to essentially take one person out of the running because of poor behavior of an acquaintance is just absurd in my eyes.

            1. JB*

              This is what I meant by taking it personally. Maybe I should have said unexpectedly invested in B’s opportunities. You think people are being “ridiculously judgmental” because they don’t want to jump through more hoops for a mediocre candidate they aren’t excited about just because . . . reasons? There were suspicious circumstances that A and B had at least worked on what to say together–indicating that at least one of them isn’t actually thinking for himself. Then you find out that one of them acts inappropriately. Giving B the benefit of the doubt, they interviewed B again, and they still thought he was meh. Why should they have to do anything more? “He’s not that great of a candidate, even after talking to him twice. But maybe he doesn’t know that A is a jerk, so let’s interview him one more time to see if this time he’ll suddenly turn into a great candidate.”

              It makes total sense to me that somebody wouldn’t want to go through that kind of effort, and that’s not being ridiculously judgmental about B. As a candidate, of course I’d want every shot at a job. But it’s reasonable for an employer to not go through yet another interview about somebody they’re already apathetic about. And how would B feel if he had yet another interview and didn’t make the cut?

              1. Not So NewReader*

                You can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends.
                You can’t control what your family or friends do. You can choose not to be involved with it.

                If you set all this to one side, the candidate is still mediocre. He’s not a great choice for the company.
                So really, the whole question about the friend’s (?) behavior is moot.

                I do agree, that one should not judge others by their family nor their friends. I know that some people do and I am totally uncomfortable with that-to the point where I have spoken up in the moment. I don’t think that is what is going on here- in fact the opposite. I think OPs question is “I don’t want to judge by his friends but I can’t figure out his degree of involvement here.” She’s not even sure if this is his friend. And the bottom line is having mediocre experience trumps other questions.

              2. Mander*

                I agree with this. Also, and I may be wrong, but my understanding was that candidate B seemed more mediocre after the second interview. So to me that hints at candidate A coaching candidate B, potentially in ways to (untruthfully) overcome some shortcoming in candidate B’s application. Wild speculation, perhaps.

                Knowing myself I’d probably be tempted to email candidate B and ask why their answers were so similar to another candidate’s, without naming names or explaining the situation at all. But in reality it seems there’s little reason to hire candidate B even without A’s crazy behavior and the possibility that they are associated. I’m not sure what I’d gain from hearing their explanation except satisfying my own curiosity.

    2. Tomato Frog*

      Would you really go into an interview and give answers that you knew matched the person who had interviewed just before you? If I prepped for an interview with someone, you could bet that avoiding identical responses would be on the agenda.

      1. Mike C.*

        This presumes that B didn’t come up with the answers to begin with and A didn’t simply copy B.

        1. Cat*

          But are you going to believe a candidate who says “I happened to write out all my answers in meticulous detail and Candidate A must have stolen them and memorized them”? It could be true but I wouldn’t take that risk.

          1. Sunflower*

            I’m not sure I’d want to hire someone who memorized a list of questions, came up with the perfect answers and repeated them verbatim. I write down answers to possible interview questions all the time when I practice but during the real life interview, the answer I give is always somewhat different than what I wrote down. I’ll never know until I get to the interview what kind of a vibe the person is giving me and what I want to give off. I just think that would be really weird if someone wanted to make their case that way- as a hiring manager, I’d feel like I didn’t get to see the real candidate.

          2. fposte*

            Right, another version of this would be if you get two near-identical cover letters from people who aren’t hugely strong candidates and who live in the same town. I’d toss ’em both without a second thought. I mean, even if I take the time to try to hunt down who copied (and I’d have to Google to make sure the answer wasn’t “both of them”), all I get for my reward is a middling employee. There’s not enough ROI.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        I would not interview prep with someone who was also interviewing for the same job or one of the openings. Bad idea.

        1. Zillah*

          Ditto. I wouldn’t practice with anyone in my field who I didn’t know well and who I knew wasn’t job searching. Don’t share information with the competition.

    3. Kate*

      Honestly, if I was candidate B in this situation and an acquaintance of mine was acting the way candidate A is, I would completely understand why the company wouldn’t want to hire me either, and distance myself ASAP from A going forward. Even if I was deep in a months-long hopeless job search. I’d consider A in the wrong, not the company. (This assumes, of course, that the company explained that A’s behavior was reflecting poorly on me, which I support the company doing.)

    4. Helka*

      No one is assuming that candidate B must be a bad guy. We’re noting that the risk of him being unprofessional is higher than average, due to these red flags. That’s still not probably of 1, but it’s a higher probability than we’d want to hire. In the same way that the person who runs late for their job interview and doesn’t call to let the interviewer know isn’t 100% guaranteed to be sloppy and bad at time management — of course it’s not absolutely certain, but it’s still an indicator.

      1. puddin*

        Good comparison. When you have so little information to go off of, every little thing counts.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          It strikes me as a bit like dating advice.

          You’re asked out by someone who strikes you as a bit off, or there are some red flags in the way he’s approaching you or communicating. There will always be a string of people who tell you that “He’s probably a really nice guy/just awkward/having a bad day/shy so you should definitely give him a chance, and go out on a few dates to find out.”

          And there is a chance that he’s an amazing guy who [insert string of reasons here]. But you don’t owe it to him to date him to be 100% sure that your first impression was wrong, and often those red flags or gut feelings were right, and you’re stuck with the consequences.

          If B were a great candidate the LW was really interested in hiring, then it could be worth following up. But for a mediocre candidate with a red flag interview it’s probably not worth the effort of trying to figure out what’s going on, and may cause even more problems for the LW.

  28. YandO*

    I don’t really understand why not interview candidate B again. Call/ask for more references. Give him a scenario to handle.

    Also, can’t you simply ask him if he knows candidate A? See what his response is? Maybe he knows about A’s behavior and use it as opportunity to separate himself.

    I don’t think your company owes candidate B anything, but I do think you were going to hire him for a reason….so, why not investigate a little further?

    1. fposte*

      But that’s a heck of a lot of work for somebody who wasn’t a strong hire in the first place. Why do that when you can move on to another hire who wouldn’t require that work? I mean, we seem to be talking a workplace where they have a number of people doing these jobs and a number of candidates are usually available; this isn’t a specialized position where you don’t want to do the work of opening up a position again.

      1. Mike C.*

        But if they were going to hire them anyway, it certainly looks like they are the best of the current bunch.

        And no, a 10-15 minute conversation isn’t all that much work. Sometimes a weird situation happens and you have to ask for a clarification about it. It’s really not that big of a deal.

        This whole thing feels like a sitcom where there’s confusion and nothing ever gets settled because the two parties just won’t talk to each other.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think they were the best of the current bunch–they were among the acceptable of the current bunch (we have no indication, for instance, that they were the only ones put on the list, and they weren’t even o the hire immediately list). I don’t see it worth pulling the committee back together and sorting out the scheduling in order to talk further about a merely middle-tier candidate.

          I think we’ve got a few different viewpoints being expressed here even on the same side. I could care less about B’s friendship with A as far as any taint goes. What I have is an average candidate who gave a poor interview. I’m required to ask the same questions in all interviews myself, and it’s never, ever elicited weirdly identical answers, and I would see it as a problem if they did. And I wouldn’t talk to them further about it, I’d just go with somebody else.

        2. Cat*

          It sounds like they hire in batches and Candidate B got put on a list as “possibly for a future batch; not good enough to rise to the top now.” So you have someone who (a) apparently prepped interview answers with someone else so extensively that their answers came out weirdly similar; (b) wasn’t great when you asked them a separate set of questions; and (c) turned out to have extensively prepped answers with a nutjob. What is Candidate B going to say when you talk to them? Best case scenario is something like “oh my God, I had no idea Candidate A was crazy but I thought it was a good idea to give the exact same interview answers as them because of [reason but really, what reason is actually good here].” And their skills still aren’t blowing you away. I’m not seeing the upside here.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I agree that cutting B loose too is fine, since they weren’t a super strong candidate anyway, but disagree with your best case scenario. Best case scenario that I see is something like “I had no idea Candidate A was crazy and when we practiced together A had different answers than me. Didn’t they answer question x with the-answer-I-heard-A-give-in-our-practice? What?! A also used my answers! Candidate A is crazy and a jerk, and I’ll make sure to distance myself. Thank you for letting me know.”

            1. LBK*

              But what does the OP get out of that? It’s a nice thing to do, I guess, but I don’t see how it’s worth it to the OP since the chances of it going that well seem really low.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                Yeah, I agree the chances are low, and the best choice for the OP is to quietly cut them loose.

                But I was just pointing out that the best case listed above wasn’t really what I could see as a potential best case. I was seeing it from B’s point of view, since I once recommended someone who turned out to be a bad recommendation, because of things I didn’t know about him.

            2. Today's Letter Writer*

              I would really like to let Candidate B at least know that A is unprofessional (because I do think there’s a decent chance he doesn’t know), but part of the issue is that my butt is not in the primary contact seat—that’s Angie. I couldn’t contact Candidate B myself regardless, so I’d need a compelling reason and good phrasing to give Angie if we were going to proceed with further speaking to B in any way. I’ll definitely think about this and discuss it with my manager.

          2. Today's Letter Writer*

            This is pretty an accurate interpretation, yes! B is on the list of “might hire in the future if we have a lot of places to fill, depending on the strength of the pool at the time,” but we did end up hiring a stronger candidate for the currently open position over him. Whether we have one position or many open for this role at a time is a toss-up, because we never know when projects are coming in, so I really can’t say whether we would definitely hire this person in the future or not, even without the Candidate A drama.

        3. Erin*

          They weren’t the best of the current bunch. OP hired a stronger candidate, filling the open vacancy. A and B were going to go into the pool of “keep in mind in case we get really busy.”

          1. Mike C.*

            Ok, so they were good enough to hire at some point, but I feel my greater point still stands.

      2. YandO*

        I think if they are so “meh” about candidate B in the first place, then they should not hire him regardless of everything else.

        Don’t hire people you are not excited about, it never works out in the long run.

    2. Ms Enthusiasm*

      The thing is they don’t NEED to interview candidate B again. It sounds like they always have other applicants and actually a running list of people they could hire. And since B was only average there is no reason to interact with them further. It is just not worth the risk.

    3. Lindsay J*

      But they weren’t going to hire him.

      It’s not a job where there is one spot and he was the best candidate. It’s a job where they’re doing mass hiring and anyone who is “good enough” gets put on a list, and then called to see if they are still looking for a job/available during that time frame/interested in working on the project when the project comes up. (And “good enough” can range from having a specific degree and background, to filling out an application and having a pulse depending on the industry and position type).

      Candidate B was just barely “good enough” to be put on the list to begin with. There’s no guarantee that he was ever going to be placed in a position in a short time frame (or at all). Candidate has now shown more information that shows that they are not “good enough” anymore (like if someone who had a good resume and phone screen showed up in clubwear to their interview – there *was* a reason you had pursued their candidacy that far – you liked their resume and phone screen. But then you got more information about them and decided not to pursue it further. That’s what interview processes are about – narrowing things down. Now you could investigate the clubwear thing further – maybe her house burnt down and these were the only clothes she had left, maybe her washing machine broke and her interview clothes were all soaked when it was time to leave for the interview, maybe somebody pranked her and told her that that was the dresscode for the interview, maybe she’s young and doesn’t know any better and thought that that was her nicest dress, maybe she just has bad judgement. But presumably, if you had equally or better qualified candidates, you would just continue to pursue their candidacy and drop hers.

  29. _ism*

    Forgive me if I misunderstood something, but where is the part about the hostile new hire? I clicked through to read about that, I don’t see anything specifically about having already hired a hostile person.

    1. Artemesia*

      Both A and B were in the pool to be used for new projects — they ‘passed the interview’ and were told they would be called for projects i.e. new hires. A has now been removed and the question is should B be removed and Alison suggests yes and I agree.

  30. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    I can’t help but wonder how A would have reacted if B had gotten the job. NOT the kind of person you want to share your job searching with apparently!

  31. TCO*

    Has anyone else questions whether or not one candidate could have “stolen” the answers from the other? What B asked A to help him practice for the interview, and then A copied all of B’s answers verbatim? (It could have been the other way around as well.) I don’t think OP’s company has any obligation to hire either candidate, but it’s worth considering that maybe one of the applicants was not complicit in the whole identical-answers thing.

    1. illini02*

      I posted something similar. People are assuming collusion, when it could be theft. I just thing B is getting the short end of the stick for possibly doing nothing wrong at all

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the point is, it doesn’t matter. The OP isn’t obligated to give B a perfectly fair shake. Her obligation is to manage risk for her organization. Hiring involves lots of deducing things without being positive.

        1. Mike C.*

          But some of the deductions are absolutely crazy – that if hired Candidate B would give their keycard to Candidate A?

          1. Artemesia*

            I don’t want to run the risk given the apparent closeness of the applicants. I have been in the position of having seriously disturbed ex employees that pose a risk to staff — it is a very vulnerable scary position to be in. Not wanting to hire the wingman of a loon is not an irrational position to take especially when said wingman is a middling applicant and you have no trouble filling the positions.

          2. BRR*

            The keycard seems a little far fetched to me too but what about sharing information as they’ve already done that. You’re essentially asking other people to risk their jobs on an unknown entity who wasn’t even that great.

            I think we all feel bad about people being screwed out of opportunities (I think it makes a big difference that B is in the alternate pile) but in order to be fair to B then it’s not fair the OP/hiring committee. And at this point there’s just more reason to not be fair to B than to not be fair to the company.

            This is also a very broad decision. If B had accepted an offer or if B had wowed everybody in the follow up this could be different. I have hesitation in staying away from B but when you’re hiring somebody it’s different than other situation.

        2. Macedon*

          OP isn’t ‘obligated’ to give B a fair shake – employment decisions aren’t always about morals, and utilitarianism can trump sentiment. The company is entitled to committing to that mentality.

          But the absence of fairness is reflective of the company’s values and should be both acknowledged and, frankly, advertised. Because I for one would not want to unknowingly apply to a company that dismisses candidates based on their friends’ behaviour (because this, and not the interview experience, is what is prompting the letter writer to let B loose). And yet, somehow, I doubt the company will put down, “We judge your by your friends” on its About Us page.

          1. Sunflower*

            I totally agree with this. If I was B I’d be PISSED I wasn’t hired, pissed enough to never want to work at this place again.

            But…the company doesn’t really care if B ever works for them again. And if B wants to go around telling his friends, I doubt he’d tell the full story which is, to be totally honest, he wasn’t a great candidate in the first place.

            1. Macedon*

              I’m not referring just to B, actually. Speaking as someone who is external to this situation, if I learned that the company had this antecedent in their hiring practices, I would be wary to dedicate them my time as a candidate. Personally call – as an applicant, I’m allowed to make it. Whether I’m in the minority or majority, it seems clear by the divide in the comment section that this kind of behaviour would be found off-putting by certain candidates. And this is why, while some claim unfairness of this degree is pragmatically implicit in the recruitment process, I can’t think of many companies who openly publish, “We hire and fire you by your friends.”

              1. Chriama*

                Except they interviewed both candidates again and they were only average. It’s definitely your prerogative to screen companies, but do you think a great candidate would end up in a similar circumstance as these 2 people?

                1. Macedon*

                  I don’t know. Like OP in the case of A and B, I only have a limited set of data to work off of. The OP doesn’t seem to feel it’s necessary to extend B the presumption of innocence – should I, in viewing this recruitment antecedent, extend the company the presumption of acting differently towards candidates in better professional standing?

                  More importantly, I don’t feel that B’s status as a mediocre candidate really matters, because their average performance isn’t why they’re being dismissed. They were deemed good enough to be put on file before the A incident, and they’re only being considered for dismissal because of their potential affiliation with a turbulent candidate.

              2. Sunflower*

                The guy wasn’t fired, he was never offered the job- very different. The company isn’t committed to that mentality either. This is the first time this has ever happened in fact. Hiring decisions are made based on individual situations- most people agree if the guy was a strong candidate, it’d be a different story.

                People aren’t hired all the time for plenty of reasons, fair or not. I don’t think hiring managers are trying to hide this. In fact, they often desire to tell applicants why they aren’t chosen but most people just take it badly. Should a company list every hiring decision they’ve ever made and the reasoning on the website? If every company did that, I have a feeling you wouldn’t be finding any place that you’d want to work.

                1. Macedon*

                  You’re right, B wasn’t hired – I said “hire or fire” for pure, rhyme-loving reasons.

                  I’ll have to disagree as to the commitment – the moment you endorse the principle that fairness doesn’t play into hiring, you’re allowing for that clause to be invoked at any point in the recruitment process (and, arguably, even beyond that). To me, that is a company commitment, because the company protocol stands behind it. You’re not saying you’ll dismiss someone unfairly every time, but you are saying it’s legitimate to be perfectly unfair.

                  And no, not every dismissal reason should be included on a website, but let’s not pretend this is a classical dismissal criterion that falls under the typical umbrella of “your skills, background or work persona don’t fall in line with our requirements for the role” (which is what most companies will trumpet is needed to get the job). I don’t think most people will say they expect their suitability for a position to be judged based on the independent actions of a friend. And I don’t actually expect a website disclaimer concerning this – but I’m pretty sure if OP decides to dismiss B for the cited situation, the company will insist on not divulging the exact reasons, because they’re aware it’ll hurt their rep.

                2. LBK*

                  Isn’t that exactly the same argument as for why the company should be free to not hire the candidate, though? You’re saying that based on one of few available data points, you’ve formed the opinion that the company may act unfairly, and therefore wouldn’t want to work there. Well…based on one of few available data points, the company has formed the opinion that Candidate B may make questionable choices based on her relationship with Candidate A, and therefore don’t want to hire her. How is that not fair? On both sides you’re working with limited information and making necessary jumps to conclusions because the hiring process is brief and you have to make choices based on whatever you’re able to learn during it.

                  Furthermore, if your argument is that companies should consider even their smallest choices lest it impact their reputation, how is that not equally applicable to candidates? Seems like a double standard that a company should tread on eggshells for their candidates but candidates should be endlessly given the benefit of the doubt until the best and most accurate version of themselves is presented to the interviewer.

                3. Macedon*

                  Bear with me while I struggle with the further reply feature, LBK ( I think I need my glasses ) – but that’s actually my point: if the company is at liberty to exercise unfairness and draw some pretty ugly conclusions based on limited information, then we, as potential applicants that might be put off by this decision, should therefore feel free to do the same about its decision-making. Likewise, if the company expects you to closely monitor your friendships so that you don’t share in guilt by association, then they shouldn’t be surprised if they form a reputation for questionable dismissal from the recruitment process.

                  That’s what I’m trying (perhaps unsuccessfully!) to underline here: there will be consequences for acting unfairly. Perhaps the company doesn’t care for them – maybe it doesn’t even want candidates who would be put off by this situation, as they wouldn’t fit the culture anyway – but actions don’t exist in a void, and practising unfair standards rarely goes without repercussions.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Macedon, of course you’re free to draw your own conclusions about employers — and should. I disagree with the conclusion that you’d be drawing about this one, but you should draw whatever conclusions you want about employers and proceed accordingly; I don’t think anyone is disputing that.

                  As an employer, I’m totally fine with candidates screening themselves out if they don’t like how I hire.

                5. LBK*

                  Alison is right – I wasn’t disagreeing with that, nor do I. Both the candidate and the company are free to draw whatever conclusions they want about each other (in general, not just in this situation) and use that to decide if it’s a match. That’s how hiring works.

                  What does still confuse me is why you think it’s any more unfair for the company to make a judgment about Candidate B based on this one piece of info than it is for you to make a judgment about the company based on this one piece of info. In either case, you’re taking a single data point and extrapolating it into a trend. You can’t say “there will be consequences for unfairness” with the level of certainty you’ve repeatedly used without levying the same statement towards Candidate B about the consequences of associating herself with a nutjob. Either way is speculation.

                6. Macedon*

                  I don’t think it’s more unfair for the company to dismiss the candidate on the given grounds than for someone to assume a company’s behaviour pattern based on the one instance – they’re equally unfortunate. The candidate is denied potential employment and the company is denied potential applicants based on sheer (and, in my opinion, poorly researched) speculation. I think this is a cycle that shouldn’t begin, period – and the ball is currently in the company’s court.

                  If the company refuses to give a fair benefit of the doubt to a candidate, it loses the ground to expect a fair benefit of the doubt itself with respect to its hiring practices.

        3. Anonsie*

          I agree but I still like to play the find-all-possible-scenarios game with stuff like this.

    2. Anonsie*

      I wondered if, since the job is entry level, they were both actually coached on this by a third party unaware that other candidates were given the same coaching.

  32. mel*

    Birds of a feather flock together, right? A couldn’t have kept his/her personality a secret from B, if they were actually friends.

    1. Mike C.*

      A couldn’t have kept his/her personality a secret from B, if they were actually friends.

      This is a terrible assumption to make. People are very, very good at hiding or compartmentalizing bad behavior.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        And I have so many friends that are actually more acquaintances. I am SURE that at least some of those people are not as wonderful as I think they are. It can take a long time to become close enough to a person to see the evil they are hiding.

      2. JB*

        VERY bad behavior, sure. I imagine most people are surprised to find out that a friend was a child molester. But the kind of behavior that’s described here is quite noticeable in someone if you are paying attention. I seriously doubt there were no clues. How does A treat salespeople, wait staff, taxi drivers? How often does B make sweeping statements about the sheer idiocy of someone else? How forgiving is he of other people’s mistakes? How did he react in the immediate moments after something unexpected and inconvient has happened, like a flat tire or minor car accident? Has he ever hit on a woman and then, when she turned him down, he described her an ugly b!tch?

        It’s totally believable that A has never been awful to B. But it’s quite unlikely that there’s been no evidence from which B could judge that A had this in him.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, the more I think about this the more I’m extremely skeptical that B is free and clear here. I’m having to make more and more leaps of faith to believe that B is totally in the clear:

          1) B doesn’t know A well enough to know A is kind of a jerk
          2) Despite #1, B agrees to do interview prep with A (out of sheer generosity?)
          3) B commits so much effort and time to interview prep with A that A is able to rip some lines verbatim from B’s answers (again, why? just being really nice?)
          4) A steals B’s answers with absolutely no knowledge on B’s part
          5) A flips out and acts like an asshat, again with zero knowledge on B’s part

          I have a history of giving people an insanely huge benefit of the doubt, to the point of naivete. But all this? To hire for a minimum wage entry level job where I already have a bunch of other qualified applicants? Nope. Pass. I don’t buy that the chances I’m totally wrong about B are worth it.

    2. Leah*

      Also considering they clearly prepared for the interview together, arrived together, I can’t imagine that B doesn’t know what A was doing.

      1. Leah*

        To clarify: Given that information, I would be surprised if A wasn’t ranting up and down about the “lazy, incompetent” jerks.

    3. brownblack*

      I mean, they could just be classmates or very vague acquaintances. As long as we’re speculating, I could imagine a LOT of scenarios in which B is just an innocent bystander who got waylaid by A’s craziness.

  33. DuckDuckMøøse*

    That reminds me of an audition for a musical community theatre production, where a guy didn’t make the cut. He emailed the production team, trying to argue how good he was, and how horrible everyone else at the audition had been, next to him. And how stupid the production team was. Yeah, thanks, there were TWO nights of auditions, did you ever stop to think that there were better people at the other one? And you weren’t all that good, Mr.Dunning-Kruger. And theatre people talk, so have fun in your future endeavors.

  34. Lanya*

    In my opinion OP, you answered your own question when you said Candidate B is mid-tier and you’re not missing out by not hiring that person. Take them both out of the running and be done with it.

  35. Artemesia*

    Every time I have ignored concerns I had during the hiring process, the person hired has exhibited all those negatives once hired. Sometimes we could live with it and sometimes it was pretty awful. I’d absolutely go with the spidey sense on this one and cut B loose. I wouldn’t probably even tell her that but just not call her for jobs. I’d also probably make sure your security has a picture of candidate A or at least knows there is a crazy disgruntled and hostile applicant out there. Someone who will call the people hiring him ‘lazy and incompetent’ is someone who might do anything.

  36. Glorified Plumber*

    You know, I wonder if Candidate B has any idea about Candidate A. Sure, they appear to know one another, but maybe candidate B is a nice and helpful person and helped candidate A out… and candidate A decided to verbatim take that help and move forward.

    I know some crazy people in my industry… I am even NICE and HELPFUL to some crazy people in my industry… I would very much prefer to be given the opportunity to explain myself if asked why one of those crazy people decided on THEIR end to associate with me.

    Honestly, this sounds like a situation where OP would love some closure… what is stopping from calling up Candidate B and saying, “Hey… so THIS happened, what do you think?” Listen to the response… it sounds like candidate A is crazy, and might be most reasonable explanation.

    Someone sage advice given to me once says, “Never assume malice where craziness or stupidity would easily explain.”

    Candidate A could be crazy, and has chosen to overly associate with candidate B and candidate B struggles to distance themselves from A.

    Anyways… interesting story, thanks for sharing.

  37. (A Little Less) Ashamed*

    Yesterday I posted that I once flubbed a negotiation so badly the offered was rescinded. I also said I was still ashamed of it to this day. Well, I can honestly say that Candidate A has made me feel wwwwaaaaayyyyyy better about my behavior.

    1. Artemesia*

      Everyone has a place in the world. We have just found A’s purpose. And all of us have some cringeworthy moment in our past.

  38. Jwal*

    I understand from the perspective of the company why they wouldn’t want to contact B again, but if I were B then I’d definitely want to know that the reason I didn’t get hired was nothing to do with me (given that B was going to be put on the ‘maybe’ list) and to do with the ridiculousness of another candidate.

    I lways try to be friendly wth other candidates at interviews, because in a past situation the interviewer subsequently asked the receptionist/assistant how we’d all interracted. I’m probably now going to be a bit wary, especially is it’s someone that I’ve worked with before…

  39. Elder Dog*

    If I worked at OP’s company, and people thought candidate B should be hired because it’s fair, I’d be rechecking my plan for dealing with an active shooter in the building.

    Yeah, that’s worst case scenario, but I think it’s important, when you’re trying to be “fair” to remember to be fair to current employees first, and being fair to somebody whose interview raised questions should come way down the list.

  40. Persephone Mulberry*

    I’m with Mike C on this one. Candidate B was good enough to put on the short list, even in light of the copycat answers, until circumstances beyond their control and unrelated to their ability to do the job happened, and now they’re not? I don’t get it.

    1. LBK*

      But keep in mind that they only made the list because the OP had already given them the benefit of the doubt that the interview duplication thing was just weirdness that wasn’t reflective of the candidate’s true value. How many asterisks do you put next to someone’s name before you just take them off the list instead?

      1. illini02*

        But it seemed after the 2nd interview, they were STILL on the short list, which counts for something.

        1. LBK*

          I think reading the OP’s follow up comments give some more color to the choice to keep them on the list – it sounds like anyone who seems relatively competent and can pass the skills test for the job is added to the potential hire list since the qualifications are low. I don’t think being considered as a potential backup in this case means as much as it would in most other jobs where only your top 3ish people probably make that list.

    2. Today's Letter Writer*

      To be clear, Candidate B was not marked for hire after the first interview (due to the copycat answers plus his skills test not being good enough to make us want to disregard that), but after a lot of discussion, we decided that it wasn’t fair to disqualify the two on the off-chance that the copycat answers were either a) a stunning coincidence or b) totally the fault of one party and not the other, and chose to give them another shot by interviewing them again. After that both A and B were put on the “possibly hire in the future” but not “hire immediately” list. So I’m not sure I would really characterize it as B having been on the short list the entire time.

      Point taken that we may be focusing too much on B’s relationship to A, though. I will definitely make a point to at least revisit this with the rest of the team.

  41. NickelandDime*

    I wonder why people keep bringing up the type of questions used during the interview: the OP states the questions are very open-ended, so for the two candidates to have almost identical answers like that is WEIRD.

    That alone to me is reason to cut them both loose. I can see helping each other out with interview materials, such as reviewing for typos and other edits, clothing decisions, something simple. But almost identical answers to interview questions? I need a candidate to tell me how they would solve my problems, not developing robotic answers on what you and a committee decided you think I want to hear. I would cut them both loose and move on. I wouldn’t like that at all, and this isn’t taking Candidate A’s crazy behavior into account.

  42. brownblack*

    I can’t help imagining that successful candidate B has no idea that A acted so crazily. I could even imagine a scenario where A grilled B prior to the interview, and then said a bunch of the same stuff in the interview without B realizing it. Maybe they are classmates in a big graduate program and they are both interested in this company, but B doesn’t know A all that well, and has no idea that his chance at this job may have been torpedoed by A’s crazy behavior.

  43. ArianJ*

    I don’t usually comment but I’m a daily reader and I felt led to comment on this post. I actually disagree with Allison on this. Don’t punish candidate B because A flipped out. Just because they’re friends doesn’t mean that B would act the same way as A and it’s really unfair to penalize candidate B because of candidate A’s actions regardless of whether or not they’re friends. For everyone here who says that candidate A’s actions mean something because candidate B hangs out with him how would you feel if someone made a judgment call about you based on a relationship you had with someone else? These are two separate people and should be judged as such. Reject candidate B based on his OWN actions not what someone else does.

  44. faces come out of the rain*

    Too much going on in this for my little bitty brain to handle.

    But addressing just one point: I’m not sure I see a problem with two candidates having identical answers to interview questions. Sure, they coached each other – this is not necessarily a bad thing. Here on AAM, Alison is quite good at coming up with very “smooth” scripts for awkward situations – is it bad if I use her words to help me out of a jam? I don’t know if it matters if my response originally came from someone else, so long as I’ve “learned” a better response than what I might have come up with on my own.

    1. LBK*

      But those are responses to general situations, not specific questions about your own experience or work history.

      1. faces come out of the rain*

        But in this situation, it doesn’t appear that A or B claimed to have duplicate work experience – in fact, I believe the LW explicitly said that this was an area where they did not agree.

        I guess I’m visualizing A and B as roommates; they decide to interview for a job at the same company; and they decide to do some studying together. A googles around and finds some likely material: “they’re probably going to ask if we know how to make a raku teapot”. “Well … how *do* you make a raku teapot?” More googling ensues. I’m not seeing how this is a bad or dishonest thing.

        1. Lindsay J*

          It didn’t sound like these were factual questions to me. If that were the case *a lot* of people would have the same answer, because there are only finite answers to the question.

          This sounds more like they both answered, “So what drew you to a pursuing a career in chocolate teapots?” with the exact same answer verbatim, when it should have been a more personal answer.

          1. faces come out of the rain*

            I’m not sure that that is correct. According to the LW:

            Our other questions are focused around determining whether the candidate has critical thinking skills, whether they can communicate clearly, and whether they know basic professional norms. I’d say 80% of the interview is currently dedicated to the critical thinking/communication portion, and that’s where all of the strangely same answers were; if the similar answers had all been in experience/professional norms, we probably wouldn’t have found that strange at all.

            So it sounds like the questions where the candidates gave identical answers involved “critical thinking skills” and the “ability to communicate clearly”. I’m not sure about the “communication” questions, but questions about “critical thinking skills” could definitely have a single factual answer. Or an accepted set of “correct” answers.

            It would help to know exactly what questions were asked, and how they were answered, but that’s probably not going to happen. But I went back and read every word that the LW wrote in this thread, and all I’m seeing are things like this:

            … the content was eerily similar, even down to details about specific errors in the design of particular teapots on the market.

            This is definitely the kind of thing where the two candidates could have practiced ahead of time with flashcards: “What are the disadvantages of ABC brand teapots?”

            Again, I don’t know what the actual questions and answers were. But I’m attempting to work purely from what the LW wrote. And I’m not seeing anything particularly “wrong” WRT the duplicate answers.

            (The other behavior – I can’t deal with that level of crazy, I’m not even going to try)

  45. Purr purr purr*

    Isn’t this a fairly similar question to the earlier one where someone was arrested and they’re recommended a friend for a position who never heard back? The answers are different yet the situations are fairly similar where the friend did something wrong that’s impacted on another candidate. Not criticising, just making an observation that maybe we all need to be more careful of who we choose to befriend!

  46. C Average*

    I’ve been following this comment thread with great interest for way too much of my working day.

    I can sympathize with both sides, honestly.

    I can sympathize with a manager who thinks, “Why should I go out of my way to give an extra extra chance to someone I was only ever meh on to begin with, when I could hold out for someone impressive who doesn’t have a weird back story or potentially sketchy associations?”

    And I can sympathize with those of you who are putting yourselves in the applicant’s shoes, drawing on all of your own job-search-induced rage and helplessness, and saying, “WTF? I’ve already gone to school, gotten the degree, rewritten my resume AGAIN, written a tailored cover letter AGAIN, put on my stupid navy-blue interview suit and my stupid uncomfortable shoes AGAIN, made all the right yes-I-would-love-to-work-for-you noises AGAIN, actually made a good enough impression that I could have freaking HAD THE JOB, and now you’re telling me that I blew my chance by being acquaintances with someone who acted like a jackass without me even knowing about it? For real? Does God hate me?”

    I dunno. I guess I land on the side of Alison and the cut-’em-loose crowd. But I can see both sides.

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