Your Next Job Depends On How Awake You Were for Your SAT that Saturday When You Were 16

Employers increasingly want to see SAT scores from job applicants. Because SATs are unerring predictors of future success and not merely a general knowledge bubble test taken by sullen, droopy-eyed teens.

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The Wall Street Journal has a horrifying trend piece this morning: Employers increasingly want to see SAT scores from job applicants. Because as we all know SATs are unerring predictors of future success and robustly scientific assessments of one's present and eternal intelligence, and not merely a shorthand general knowledge bubble test taken by sullen, droopy-eyed teens as part of a successful long-term marketing effort by the College Board. Good luck, applicants!

Here's the Journal which — despite its affection for both the world of business and the generally iffy idea that numbers are necessarily effective predictive devices — seems skeptical.

A low score doesn't necessarily kill a person's chances, hiring managers say; instead, they say they believe SATs and other college entrance exams like the ACT help when comparing candidates with differing backgrounds or figuring out whether someone has the raw brainpower required for the job.

"Raw brainpower." I mean: did these people take the SAT? Did they take the SAT? Did they get up at, what, 7 a.m.? and schlep to some stupid gym somewhere and try to remember all the dumb tricks and things that were in the books their parents — oh, our eternally hopeful parents! — bought for them? I took the SAT when I was 15, I guess, and while I'm pretty good at math, I suspect that my verbal skills have seen a noticeable uptick in the intervening years. (This is where all of you head to the comments to point out the weird way I use em-dashes and, of course, any typos.) The Journal quotes Kevin Monahan, dean at Carnegie Mellon, who puts it simply. "It is a little confounding how a test somebody took when they were 17 predicts success in a competitive workplace when they're 22."

Data from InsideHigherEd.

Here we must note that the SAT is, itself, a flawed tool. There are significant gaps between various ethnic groups on test results, as has been repeatedly demonstrated and which the College Board (which runs the SAT system) keeps trying and failing to eliminate. The reasons for the gaps are complex, but stem in part from on-going differences in preparation systems, socio-economic status, and educational opportunities. In other words, employers replacing SAT scores for the shorthand of listing an Ivy League school on a résumé is an improvement — but probably only a minor one.

What's particularly amusing is that Gallup released a poll this week that seems to, in part, contradict what the Journal presents here. Gallup asked employers what they look for when hiring, and employers overwhlemingly said they look for the "amount of knowledge the candidate has in the field." At the bottom of the list: where the candidate went to college. When Gallup asked the public what employers looked for, they put colleges at the top of the list.

That is because the public is not lying — or, at least, isn't misrepresenting the system. Of course employers look at the university you attended; they use it as a synthesis of a number of cultural indicators and as a first-blush way of assessing how well you'd fit with the organization. (This is, in part, why asking about your college should be banned.) Maybe later they figure out your experience — or even simultaneously, based on your resume — but there is zero chance that 40 percent of employers actually consider it "not very important."

Anyway. Back to the SAT. Here's the Journal again.

Internal studies found "very little correlation between SAT scores and job performance," said Kyle Ewing, head of global staffing programs at Google. The company now relies on interview questions that probe how a potential hire has solved complex problems in the past.

That's the thing, right there. Businesses don't have or don't want to spend a lot of time on hiring. SAT scores seem like a sort of official metric, a sort of get-rich-quick solution to the problem of figuring out if a candidate is any good, and one that's more defensible than saying, "Oh, he went to Yale, fine." (Which businesses totally don't do, businesses would like me to add.) But judging someone based on his SAT scores is only slightly better than judging him based on his IQ. What Google does is actually talk to a candidate, trying to gauge the "amount of knowledge" she has in the field.

After, presumably, checking to see where she went to college.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.