An AI hiring firm says it can predict job hopping based on your interviews

An AI hiring firm says it can predict job-hopping based on your interviews. The idea of “bias-free” hiring, already highly misleading, is being used by companies to shirk greater scrutiny for their tools’ labor issues beyond discrimination.

Since the onset of the pandemic, a growing number of companies have turned to AI to assist with their hiring.

The most common systems involve using face-scanning algorithms, games or other evaluations to help determine which candidates to interview.

Activists and scholars warn that these screening tools can perpetuate discrimination. However, the makers themselves argue that algorithmic hiring helps correct for human biases.

Algorithms can be tested and tweaked, whereas human biases are much harder to correct—or so the thinking goes.

In a December 2019 paper, researchers at Cornell reviewed the landscape of algorithmic screening companies to analyze their claims and practices. Of the 18 they identified with English-language websites, the majority marketed as a fairer alternative to human-based hiring. Thus suggesting that they were latching onto the heightened concern around these issues to tout their tools’ benefits and get more customers.

But discrimination isn’t the only concern with algorithmic hiring. Some scholars worry that marketing language that focuses on bias lets companies off the hook on other issues, such as workers’ rights. A new preprint from one of these firms serves as an important reminder. “We should not let the attention that people have begun to pay to bias/discrimination crowd other issues,” says Solon Barocas, an assistant professor at Cornell University and principal researcher at Microsoft Research, who studies algorithmic fairness and accountability.

The firm in question is Australia-based Sapia (Formerly PredictiveHire), founded in October 2013.


It offers a chatbot that asks candidates a series of open-ended questions. It then analyses their responses to assess job-related personality traits like “drive,” “initiative,” and “resilience.”


According to the firm’s CEO, Barbara Hyman, its clients are employers that must manage large numbers of applications, such as those in retail, sales, call centers, and health care.

As the Cornell study found, it also actively uses promises of fairer hiring in its marketing language. On its home page, it boldly advertises: “Meet Smart Interviewer – Your co-pilot in hiring. Making interviews super fast, inclusive and bias free.

As we’ve written before, the idea of “bias-free” algorithms is highly misleading. But Sapia’s latest research is troubling for a different reason. It is focused on building a new machine-learning model that seeks to predict a candidate’s likelihood of job-hopping. That is the practice of changing jobs more frequently than an employer desires. The work follows the company’s recent peer-reviewed research that looked at how open-ended interview questions correlate with personality.

The study used the free-text responses from 45,899 candidates who had used Sapia’s chatbot.

Applicants had originally been asked five to seven open-ended questions and self-rating questions about their past experience and situational judgment.

These included questions meant to tease out traits that studies have previously shown to correlate strongly with job-hopping tendencies, such as being more open to experience, less practical, and less down to earth. The company researchers claim the model was able to predict job hopping with statistical significance. Sapia’s website is already advertising this work as a “flight risk” assessment that is “coming soon.” Sapia’s new work is a prime example of what Nathan Newman argues is one of the biggest adverse impacts of big data on labor.

Machine learning for the win!

Machine-learning-based personality tests, for example, are increasingly being used in hiring to screen. This is to out potential employees who have a higher likelihood of agitating for increased wages or supporting unionisation. Employers are increasingly monitoring employees’ emails, chats, and data to assess which might leave and calculate the minimum pay increase to make them stay.

None of these examples should be surprising, Newman argued. They are simply a modern manifestation of what employers have historically done to suppress wages by targeting and breaking up union activities. The use of personality assessments in hiring, which dates back to the 1930s in the US, in fact began as a mechanism to weed out people most likely to become labor organizers. The tests became particularly popular in the 1960s and ’70s once organizational psychologists had refined them to assess workers for their union sympathies.

In this context, Sapia’s fight-risk assessment is just another example of this trend. “Job hopping, or the threat of job hopping,” points out Barocas, “is one of the main ways that workers are able to increase their income.” The company even built its assessment on personality screenings designed by organizational psychologists.

Barocas doesn’t necessarily advocate tossing out the tools altogether. He believes the goal of making hiring work better for everyone is a noble one and could be achieved if regulators mandate greater transparency.

By Karen Haoa, July 24, 2020, MIT Technology Review | https://www.technologyreview.com/


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