Research on Hiring Technologies of Large Hourly Employers

Upturn has an interesting study on the impact of digital expectations on hiring of hourly employees…

Most workers in the United States depend on hourly wages to support themselves and their families. To apply for these jobs, especially at the entry level, job seekers commonly fill out online applications. Online applications for hourly work can be daunting and inscrutable. Candidates — many of whom are young people, people of color, and people with disabilities — may end up filling out dozens of applications, while receiving no responses from employers.

This report provides new empirical research about the technologies that applicants for low-wage hourly jobs encounter each day. We submitted online applications to 15 large, hourly employers in the Washington, D.C. metro area, scrutinizing each process. We observed a blend of algorithmic hiring systems and traditional selection procedures. Many employers used an Applicant Tracking System to administer a range of selection procedures, including screening questions and psychometric tests. We augmented this research with expert interviews, legal research, and a review of industry white papers to offer a more comprehensive analysis.

We offer the following findings and related policy recommendations:

  1. It is simply impossible to fully assess employers’ digital hiring practices from the outside. Even the most careful research has limits. It is critical that regulators, employers, vendors, and others proactively assess their hiring selection procedures to ensure that all applicants are treated fairly.
  2. The current U.S. legal framework is woefully insufficient to protect applicants. Federal oversight is far too passive, and employers lack incentives to critically evaluate their hiring processes. Regulators must be more proactive in their research and investigations, and modernize guidelines on the discriminatory effects of hiring selection procedures.
  3. Major employers are using traditional selection procedures at scale — including troubling personality tests — even as they adopt new hiring technologies. Some test questions lacked any apparent connection to the essential functions of the jobs for which we applied, and they raised a range of discrimination concerns. Employers should seek to measure essential job skills, and discontinue the use of assessments that fail to do so.
  4. Employers rarely give candidates meaningful feedback during the application process. In our analysis, we received minimal feedback from employers — about the purpose of selection procedures, details of reasonable accommodations, or the final disposition of our applications. Employers can and should be required to offer more, so applicants can improve their prospects and vindicate their legal rights.


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