The Art of Deciding with Data: Evidence from How Employers Translate Credit Reports into Hiring Decisions
About half of US employers consider personal credit history when hiring, a practice that connects individuals’ prospects for employment to their financial pasts. Yet little is known about how employers translate credit reports, complicated financial documents, into hiring decisions. Using interviews with 57 hiring professionals, this paper offers the first in-depth look at how employers move from document to decision. Faced with the context-free numbers of a credit report, and without predictively valid credit scores to fall back on, hiring professionals struggle to make sense of financial data without knowing the details of job candidates’ lives. They therefore reach beyond credit reports, both by inferring events that led to delinquent debt and by testing to see if candidates can offer morally redeeming accounts. A process of moral storytelling re-inflates credit reports with social meaning and prevents people with bad credit from getting jobs. This process carries implications for the reproduction of economic disadvantage since judgments about when it is and is not legitimate to have unpaid debt seem to at least partly depend on social background.