Human Resources
human capital consulting

I can’t apply for this job on my phone? Pass.


Apr 19, 2017 | by Kate LaPort & Chris Huynh

There is no doubt that mobile devices are an integral part of life for many people today. We wake up, snooze the phone’s alarm, check our emails, see who posted cute dog/kitten/baby pictures, and then consider rolling out of bed.  Why?  Because we can.  Mobile devices have found themselves at the center of our daily lives and for good reason.  We use them most frequently for texting, browsing the web, checking email, social networking, and every now and then a good old fashioned phone call home. It’s not surprising, then, that our increasingly “plugged-in” society is also demanding the convenience of completing employment assessments on mobile devices. In fact, recent analyses have shown that the percentage of mobile assessment takers grew from 2.1% (2009) to 31.0% (2014) in the restaurant/retail industry.1

Employers are feeling the pressure to offer any and all assessments on mobile devices for fear that they’re missing out on an increasingly large portion of the candidate pool. This fear is rooted in reality, particularly for employers seeking entry-level candidates – 19% of Americans have limited online access options outside of mobile devices.2 Not accessing those candidates can have very real implications for recruiters trying to fill positions with the best possible candidates, especially since ethnic minorities are more than three times as likely as non-minorities to fall into this group.

On the other side of the equation, candidates unknowingly make a large assumption when they sit down to take an assessment on their tablet or smartphone. Specifically, they assume that their testing experience is the same as somebody who takes the same test sitting down at a desktop computer. Nobody wants to miss out on an interview because they tested on their tiny-screened smartphone.

In order to successfully implement mobile-enabled assessments, employers need to be confident that the tests they’re using to make hiring decisions operate the same, regardless of which device they’re taken on. This means:

  • Scores on the test predict job performance, regardless of whether they’re taken on a smartphone or computer
  • Candidates with similar ability levels don’t score lower on a test just because they tested on a smartphone
  • Minorities have the same opportunity to be eligible for employment opportunities as majority group members

Without these basic assurances, employers are at legal and ethical risk whenever they leverage mobile assessments.  I/O psychologists, as experts in test development, are on point for navigating these waters with employers. They’re up to the challenge and have been actively pursuing research in this area to establish best practices for employers seeking guidance. Though the research on this topic is still in its infancy, we do have a preliminary picture of the ramifications of employers allowing candidates to test on mobile devices:

  • There are potential candidate pool shifts. African Americans, Hispanics, women, and urban dwellers seem to be drawn to testing on mobile devices.
  • The type of test matters. Device type doesn’t seem to influence candidate scores on tests of personality and interests, though it may on other types of assessments.
  • Cognitive tests are murky territory.  Initial evidence suggests score differences on cognitive ability tests where candidates who test on smartphones smartphone score lower than tablet and desktop/laptop test takers. This can be problematic for minorities as this may exacerbate subgroup differences, considering that smartphone users also tend to be disproportionally from minority groups.

Aon continues to play a large role in these discussions. For example, just last year, three Aon I/O psychologists (Kate LaPort, Christopher Huynh, and Jeffrey Ryer) partnered with one of our valued clients to examine which features of cognitive tests can explain some of the test score differences we see on different devices and presented their results at the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP) annual conference.  This trend has continued with a number of submissions exploring promising ways to provide fair mobile assessments at 2017’s SIOP Conference in Orlando

While there is still plenty of work to do, researchers continue to advance our ability to advise employers how to make the most out of mobile assessments for employee selection.  Aon has been, and will continue to be, on the forefront of topic as it continues to evolve.  Through our learnings from our own research, as well as that presented in various other outlets, we hope to equip employers with the tools necessary to navigate these new waters.

  •  1 McClure-Johnson & Boyce, 2015
     2 Pew Research Center “US Smartphone Use in 2015”


    About the author