As if it weren’t stressful enough for jobseekers looking for work in this miserable job market, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal dated February 25, 2014 some large U.S. companies, including consulting firms such as McKinsey & Co. are thinning out the candidate pool even further by asking interviewees to come armed with their résumés and SAT scores. Did I mention these candidates are in their 40’s and 50’s? Companies are starting to ask senior hires to dig out their Scholastic Aptitude Tests to be used as some kind of current work aptitude gauge—tests they took when they were juniors and seniors in high school. There, I said it.
What is the world coming to? It’s bad enough that well over 10 million Americans were counted as unemployed last month (real numbers are much higher) and that Americans are still dropping out of the labor force. According to the government, as of January, only 63% of Americans over the age 16 participating in the labor market have a job or are actively looking for one – the lowest share of the population participating in the labor force since 1978.
So, it’s not surprising that unemployment has retaken its place in Americans' minds as the country's biggest problem, according to a recent Gallup Poll. More people named joblessness as the nation's top problem over the category of "government and politicians," which had been the most popular answer among survey respondents since the government shutdown last year.
But what do SAT scores have to do with job performance when you’ve been in the workforce for over 30 years? “As an HR professional and recruiter I wouldn’t ask for a jobseeker’s SAT scores,” says Kim Giangrande, SPHR, GPHR, and owner of Intuitive HR. “If you look at top leaders in corporate America they are all strong in emotional intelligence and know how to put a rock solid team together and lead. That kind of leadership and intellect isn’t evident in an SAT score.”
In the last decade we’ve seen a transition in the way education is delivered in our country. There are more programs geared toward people who need to work full time while also going to school. Some of those programs deviate from requiring SAT’s altogether. Why would companies want to reject a whole class of people like that from its candidate pool? This massive grouping of individuals who want to work full time and be in school full time is generally made up of exceptionally hard working people and will do what it takes to get the job done.
Another way companies miss out on good talent is by asking for “old” SAT scores from people who as students didn’t commit to academic excellence until after they entered college and after they took the SAT’s and started to focus on their studies.
I also question the legality of a company using SAT’s as a way to eliminate groups of people from the workforce. From an affirmative action perspective this could be a serious issue. Even The Wall Street Journal pointed out that there is a marked racial divide among SAT scores.
“Recruiting in this market is incredibly difficult,” says Giangrande. “The pool of candidates is huge so I think a lot of companies are eager to find creative ways and new metrics to simply weed out the pool faster. The truth is to some degree they’re hurting themselves by inadvertently rejecting highly competent, qualified and focused individuals. Past performance on your SAT’s doesn’t dictate how successful you will be in your career. SAT’s do not measure your instincts for entrepreneurship, critical thinking or drive.”
I say companies should lean more heavily on customized pre-employment assessment tests like the ones I used to take during the 80’s and 90’s. When I was interviewing for a job years ago to become director of corporate communications for an international high tech company the head of publicity issued me a test to write a sample press release for a new company product launch. I had an hour to complete the project. It exposed a majority of the skills I would need for the job: spelling, grammar, vocabulary, creativity, and organizational skills. The test was current and valid to the actual position I was applying for. I passed the test and eventually landed the job.
“I’m all for these types of simulations and assessments of talent as it relates to the real world and the specific job,” says Giangrande. “With SAT’s, companies are using a tool that measures a person’s academic prowess. What does it have to do with the workplace?”
Dwain Schenck is author of RESET, How to Beat the Job-Loss Blues, and Get Ready for Your Next Act. He is retained by corporations and nonprofit organizations as a communications consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org