How to lose your job – before you even start

A “big name” employer at our recent fair told me a cautionary tale which I found both shocking and horribly inevitable.

Two students applied to the employer through their graduate programme.

  • They both got through the online application form stage successfully.
  • They both passed the numerical and verbal reasoning tests.
  • They both got through very demanding assessment centres and through the interviews.
  • They both got offers on this prestigious graduate programme, the gateway to excellent training and support, and often the fast-track to management – the kind of job many graduates dream of, but relatively few achieve.

Before they were even due to start their new jobs, the employer invited all its new graduate employees in for a day – an informal, get to know you, start the process of making the transition to work day, the real deluxe treatment.

At that point, in preparation for meeting all their new recruits for first time in one place, the recruiting managers pulled out the new recruits’ applications, to get some background on them.

Two applications were identical.

Not just similar, but word for word identical in their answers to those tricky online application form questions.

With so many applications coming in at different times during the year, the applications had never been seen side-to-side before, but it was now horribly obvious that collusion or copying had been going on.

You can imagine the uncomfortable conversations which had to take place at what was intended to be a celebratory day at the start of a shiny new career. Neither recruit would admit that they had copied each other and there was a further complication, when one of the new recruits tried to implicate a graduate recruited in the previous year, whose application had definite similarities to the two new identical applications.

Who knows whether one copied the other or both copied someone else? Maybe it’s even more shadowy – had they both found someone who would “help” with their applications (for a fee) and supplied the exact same help to multiple candidates?

Neither recruit would admit guilt, so the employer had no choice but to sack both the new recruits before they even officially started. They couldn’t take a chance on recruiting someone whose ethical standards fell way below their expectations.

Did the employer have proof that they were both at fault? No, but that’s not the test needed in cases of dismissal. If I remember correctly*, an employer only needs a “reasonable belief” that misconduct has occurred. That reasonable belief has to be arrived at through a reasonable investigation process, giving you the chance to have your say, but in the end, “You can’t prove it!” is no defence.

The irony is, of course, that both candidates were good enough to get through the much more difficult stages of assessment centres and interviews, but they blew it by somebody cheating at the very first stage.

So, if you know anyone who’s ever tempted to look for “model answers”, either from a friend, on the web, or from someone offering to write their applications for them, get them to imagine how they’ll feel when, after going through the pain of the assessment processes, their new employer sacks them – because they can’t be trusted.

*I may be a bit hazy on my employment law now as it’s almost 20 years since I had to go through an employment tribunal as an HR manager – but we did win, of course!

All Postgrad-highlighted Postgraduate

Elizabeth View All →

Careers Manager (Postgraduate) at the University of Manchester, UK

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