Who did I just hire!?

Hiring people has always been hard. But since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hit new levels of strangeness.

These days it’s not uncommon to interview someone over Zoom and never actually meet them in person. A friend recently told me they hired a great candidate for their Kubernetes senior engineer position. This was a big deal. Kubernetes-savvy people are rarer than hen’s teeth. The person they hired showed he had the technical chops they needed and made it through three rounds of interviews with flying colors.

They offered him the position. He accepted, went through onboarding, showed up at his first real virtual meeting—and it wasn’t the same guy.

He literally wasn’t the person they’d interviewed. He didn’t look the same, didn’t talk the same, and most important of all, he didn’t have the job skills they needed. My buddy told me, “It was clear after five minutes that he may have taken some Kubernetes classes, but he’d never really worked with it.”

Words fail me. I’m used to people lying about their skills, exaggerating their experience, or padding their résumés. We all are. But this? This takes it to a new level.

As for my friend, he’s working it out with HR to get rid of their new “employee.” One way or the other, this mystery man will no longer be working for the company anymore.

I thought this was a one-off. I was wrong. Not long after hearing about this episode, another friend shared an almost identical experience! This job wasn’t as important, but it was otherwise the same story. “John” went through three interviews, got an offer, showed up, and wasn’t the person they hired. In this case, John suddenly quit and disappeared.

OK, so that’s two episodes. But I’ve been hearing about this kind of thing happening a lot.

When I think about it, it makes some kind of sense. In all these cases, no one has literally seen the person in real life. From the other side, I can understand how someone could think they’d get away with it. You have a buddy, or someone you can pay, who is savvy about the job, and you figure if they can just get the job for you, you’ll be able to do it once you’re in the seat.

After all, HR departments are infamous for making literally impossible demands (like requiring 10 years of Docker experience when Docker has only been around for eight). It’s become a joke in tech employment circles.

Because of nonsense like that, more potential employees than ever are taking a “Why not fake it to make it?” attitude. Putting up a fake person is just a more extreme example of how people have been lying to get jobs for ages. They think the rise of working from home gives them a real chance of getting away with it.

Sometimes, they might even be right. I’ve seen total incompetents at jobs where they clearly lied about their skills to get through the door. And, if they don’t even need to get through the door since they’ll always be working remotely, why not see if—with some help—they can get the job?

Good for them, but lousy for us. Now I’m not an HR or employment law expert, but there’s surely some clause you can put into your job agreements stating that if the employee is found to have lied about their qualifications, you’re entitled to fire them for cause.

It also doesn’t help that these days people often don’t show up for job interviews at all. Instead, they ghost you and you never hear from them again. Indeed, sometimes you make a job offer, they accept, and that’s the last you hear from them.

In a hiring world like this, it’s understandable that companies might be eager to hire someone who looks perfect without checking for red flags. For instance, my friend wasn’t offering that much for his Kubernetes position—it was only a salary of around $125,000. That may sound like big money to you, but it’s really not for a Kubernetes job. His business is in an expensive area of the U.S., and ZipRecruiter states that the average Kubernetes engineer salary is $147,732 annually. Would someone as perfect as his would-be employee really go for a job like this? I doubted it—and look what happened.

The moral of the story? Be more careful than ever about who you hire. I know, it’s harder than ever to hire the right people, but now is the time you really need to do your due diligence. And make sure you can get rid of any bad apples that get through the process.

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