At my business school, we have the habit of sharing interview questions with classmates who are scheduled to interview after us. Is this ethical?

Contributed by Mmoatame.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

5 responses »

  1. BM says:

    The generalization test states that whatever action I take should be equivalent to actions taken by everyone who has the same reason to act the way that I do. It can be assumed that the reason interview questions are shared with one another this obvious one. Most likely, the person asking for the questions wants to do better on their interview. If everyone followed this logic, then everyone would ask each other for interview questions. This can be seen as equivalent to cheating, as if everyone received the questions prior to their interview and were able to prepare those questions accurately then everyone would be excellent at their interviews. Recruiters would then look to other sources to make their decisions on the candidates. It is true that the first person who interviewed would not have the advantage, but it can be assumed that the same person would not be first to interview in all cases and thus, in other instances would have the advantage as well. Thus adoption of this practice would prevent accomplishment of the original reason for the action, and fails corollary 1 of the generalization test.

    Given that this dilemma already fails the generalization test, it is obvious that the action is unethical. However, it is interesting to evaluate this dilemma under the utilitarian test as well. It is obvious that this action also fails the utilitarian test, as not informing other students of the interview questions actually creates more utility for the greater good. This is because a student may be chosen for a position based on an interview that they were able to prepare unfairly for thought they may not actually be the appropriate person for the job. For example, if the student is unprepared because the position was not important enough to them to prepare for it in the first place, it is likely that they won’t accept the role anyway, deterring acceptance of another student who may have been better for the role and actually want to work there. Thus under the utilitarian test, this action is also unethical.

  2. Lauren says:

    Generalization Test: Fails
    If everyone were to pass along interview questions, every candidate for every interview would be equally prepared. If everyone was equally prepared for interviews, it stands to reason that companies would not be able to determine the best candidates for the job (assuming the interview holds all or the majority of the weight in hiring decisions). The companies would need to insert another component into the selection process which would defeat the purpose of having interviews in the first place. So, essentially, sharing interview questions does not allow candidates to fulfill their purpose in standing apart from peers by being prepared and confident so it fails the generalization test.

    Utilitarian Test: Fails
    I believe that from the company’s perspective, the utility is not increased when candidates are artificially prepared for interviews with the company. Companies use the interview process to screen for how people respond in unknown situations, how they problem solve, and what their past experience reveals about their future performance. If questions are shared prior to the interview, companies have a harder time distinguishing the best possible employees from ones who might not be a good fit for the company. The company’s decreased utility carries more importance than a single person’s gain from doing well in an interview.

    Virtue Test: Passes
    One of the main purposes of coming to Tepper is to prepare oneself to find an excellent job after completing the rigorous MBA program. Part of the MBA experience is networking with colleagues and alums to understand how to be better prepared to ace interviews. Essentially, sharing questions with one another is one form of business school education. Assuming that one virtue held by a business student is to learn as much as possible in order to put one’s best foot forward in the business setting, studying interview questions would succeed in acting according to virtue. It is less ethical, in fact, to be unprepared for an interview than it is to be prepared for one. Since interviewees do not sign a contract or make a commitment to the company with whom they are interviewing that they will not share the questions they are asked, it does not fail the virtue test to pass the questions along. An individual would need to decide for him or herself if they want to accept the questions, but overall, sharing interview questions passes the virtue test.

  3. Abhishek says:

    Sharing your questions is clearly non-ethical. Assuming employers ask similar questions to everyone, it is hugely disadvantageous for people who interviewed without knowing these questions (these can be people who interviewed before or who don’t have the network to know about these questions ).

    Let’s apply the 3 rules to analyze this –

    1) Generalization test:

    I will share my questions with people I care about because I believe this would help them succeed. To generalize, we assume that everyone has similar reasons. If everyone starts sharing then all students will have the answers which will make employers suspicious and they may start giving different questions to each student.
    I was able to successfully help people by sharing my questions because everyone was not doing this and therefore generalizing this scenario makes it inconsistent.

    2) Utilitarian test:

    If we share interview questions, we defeat the very purpose of an interview which is to test the candidate’s skills. It also leads to interviews selecting the wrong candidates or possibly no candidates (because they can’t differentiate). If they select subpar candidates, it will lead to bad performance at work and may indirectly impact the company’s profits or the company’s willingness to come to your school in future.
    Hence the overall utility is decreased and the scenario fails the utilitarian test too.

    3) Virtue test:
    Companies come to your school for recruitment because they believe your school meets their employment needs. You have an obligation towards your school to make sure your school’s reputation remains intact. Sharing your interview questions with others is an act of duping these companies – which may impact their relationship with your school and also your school’s reputation with other employers in general.
    Hence, we see that there is no virtue in sharing your answers .

  4. John Hooker says:

    There are two issues: (a) Should I share the interview questions with another student? (b) Should I obtain the questions from another student who offers them?

    Both pass the generalization test. The purpose of (a) is to allow other students to make a better impression than they would otherwise. I could still achieve this if everyone were sharing questions. Similarly for (b).

    The comments compare this with cheating on an exam, but cheating is different. Let’s suppose I cheat to improve my job prospects. If everyone cheated, the exam would be meaningless. My exam score would not improve my job prospects, because no one would care about exam scores. So cheating is not generalizable. The interview remains meaningful even if everyone is sharing the questions.

    One might draw a parallel between sharing interview questions and sharing exam questions before the exam. If the former is generalizable, why isn’t the latter? It may in fact be generalizable if the questions have unobvious answers even when known in advance, because the exam would still be meaningful. Even so, exams are different from interviews, because sharing exam questions is normally deceptive. If I take an exam, I implicitly affirm that I have not seen the questions. There is an understanding that exam questions are supposed to be secret beforehand, and instructors take care to reveal the questions to all students simultaneously. It is hard to argue there is such an understanding for interview questions, because interviewers take no such precautions.

    The comments suggest that sharing fails the utilitarian test because hiring is less efficient if people share questions. But this is not the utilitarian test. If I am pondering whether to share questions, the test is whether hiring is less efficient if *I* do so.

    (a) and (b) may fail this test in certain circumstances. If I share questions with people who are less qualified than I, then the company is more likely to make a suboptimal choice, which makes (a) nonutilitarian. A similar point holds for (b) if I obtain questions from someone more qualified than I — although in this case I could restore utility by withdrawing my application!

    However, if I don’t know who is better qualified for the job, it is hard to find an ethical problem with sharing questions.

  5. Selly B says:

    I think what everyone is failing to recognize is that interview decisions are not solely made as a result of an applicants ability to answer an interview question. In fact, decision are largely based on the non-verbal body language of the applicant. For example, was the applicant passionate about the job?, what was my sense of the applicant in the interviews?, first impression, etc.
    Most experienced interviewers will see right through a well rehearsed answer to an interview question. In fact, this may even discount that person from the job as they were not authentic and/or passionate about the position. In this way I do not believe it is unethical to share interview questions with other job seekers.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s