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SAT scores as hiring criteria runs risks of discrimination

The Wall Street Journal reports that several prestigious consulting firms and corporations have begun asking prospective hires for SAT scores. McKinsey and Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bain & Co. are among the groups filtering out potential candidates by SAT scores.

Companies aren’t just asking the interns and fresh college graduates for SAT scores. Cvent, a Virginia-based software company, reported that applicant scores can be considered “well into middle age” for some management positions.

It’s not difficult to see why the use of SAT score reports might be attractive to overworked recruiters. A New York Times history of the SAT details how the exam was purportedly created to measure innate intelligence, along the lines of an IQ test. While employers hesitate to claim that SAT scores can predict job performance, Boston Consulting Group representative Jennifer Comparoni claims that SAT scores are good measures of the “building blocks of success” such as critical thinking, quantitative skills and verbal ability.

Many high-demand employers already make prospective hires jump through rings of aptitude tests and personality assessments. An evaluation of SAT scores accomplishes the same task with less time investment.

Furthermore, the job market is glutted, especially for prestigious high-demand professions in consulting and banking. SAT scores offer an easy filter for HR representatives tasked with sorting through hundreds of resumes.

But SAT scores drag in a load of practical and historical baggage.

For starters, it doesn’t make much sense to evaluate a college graduate’s potential job performance based on a single test taken when they were 16 or 17, much less a 50-year-old managerial candidate. If all employers made a habit of hiring based on high school performance, most people would be out of a job.

The SAT itself hasn’t remained consistent over the past few decades. The College Board revamped the test in 2005 and has recently announced major changes to the test format set to take effect in 2016. The College Board has waffled on the writing section, removed and added math and vocabulary requirements and fiddled with the scoring system. The more the test changes, the less likely it is that job candidates will be judged on an even playing field.

The SAT can hardly be considered an objective measure of innate intelligence.

There’s a racial divide in scores, with Hispanic and African-American test takers regularly scoring lower than white test-takers. Major studies on the score imbalance have pointed to cultural biases in the test, particularly in the verbal and writing sections, that put minority test-takers at a disadvantage.

The use of SAT scores in the hiring process represents another barrier to socioeconomic mobility.

When SAT scores became a standard requirement in college admissions, a several billion-dollar cottage industry sprang up around SAT preparation. It quickly became evident that the SAT could be studied and gamed just like any other test. Analysis of SAT scores across the nation show that test performance improves as income bracket increases. Students from wealthy backgrounds are privy to the kind of education and tutoring that correlates strongly with high SAT scores.

Evaluating SAT scores in the hiring process penalizes applicants for their childhood circumstances and socioeconomic background. Industries that evaluate SAT scores are often prestigious, high-paying fields in consulting, banking and technology. Entry requirements like high SAT scores bar the industry doors to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds and create an insular environment at the upper levels of the industry.

While some employers have begun digging up SAT scores, others are beginning to move away from the practice.

Google was once famous for demanding high-scoring applicants from prestigious universities. However, Kyle Ewing, the head of the global staffing program at Google, said to WSJ that internal studies found “very little correlation between SAT scores and job performance.”

Google has shifted to a holistic review process in which applicants are expected to apply problem-solving skills during interviews.

Hopefully, more prestigious firms will shift away from evaluation based on a subjective, flawed test and consider real-world skills.

Opinion columnist Megan Kallus is a pre-business freshman and may be reached at [email protected]

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