Job Hunting? Dig Up Those Old SAT Scores

Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2014

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Proving the adage that all of life is like high school, plenty of employers still care about a job candidate’s SAT score. Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.

The SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and taken during junior or senior year of high school, is a common element of college applications. The exam is scored on a scale of 2400, with up to 800 points each for critical reading, math and writing sections. The average SAT score last year was a combined 1498. (Before March 2005, the test had just two sections and was scored on a 1600-point scale.)

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.

But some companies do set targets, particularly on the math section. Mark Rich, managing director of consulting-industry recruiting firm Whitehouse Pimms, says clients often tell him to screen for candidates whose SAT scores placed them in or above the 95th percentile. Investment firm D.E. Shaw Group asks candidates to break out their math and verbal results.

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SATs and other academic artifacts remain relevant in part because they are easy—if imperfect—metrics for hiring managers to understand. This despite the fact that increased use of personality tests, data analytics and behavioral interviews have given employers more information about a candidate than ever before. Academic research has proved that cognitive ability can predict job performance, but there is scant evidence linking high SAT scores with employee success.

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Putting too much stock in standardized tests can put minority candidates at a disadvantage. In 2013, SAT test-takers in the “Black or African-American” category scored an average 431 on the exam’s critical reading section, 429 on math and 418 on writing. White test-takers, meanwhile, scored nearly 100 points higher on average in every section. There is a racial divide for ACT score reports as well.

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