I was surprised (closer to shocked)to read that McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs and other companies are using SAT scores to screen job applicants. That is a misuse of the test and a disservice to the applicant and to those organizations.

Apparently, some HR managers claim that this practice is okay because they use the score in combination with other factors. However, if they are using the SAT to sort applicants and disqualify some, then it doesn’t matter what other factors that are being used - they are using the SAT inappropriately.

The SAT should not be used in this way for three reasons.  First of all, job applicant screening is not Testthe purpose for which the test was designed. The test was designed to give high schools students and college admissions staff an additional indicator of academic success. In combination with high school grades, the test is probably the best indicator we have for success in the first year of college. That doesn’t mean it’s a good indicator of academic success; it just means it’s better than anything else that can be easily managed by college personnel.

Another reason the SAT should not be used for hiring is that although, as a group, people who score high on the test are statistically more likely to do well in school than people who score low, that doesn’t mean this is true for an individual job applicant. Statistical significance (better than chance) is not the same as practical significance. Someone who scores low on the SAT (or any achievement test) could become a wonderful employee and someone who scores high on the SAT could become a terrible employee.

And the third reason is that test scores are just not good predictors of workplace performance, unless, of course, the job task is to do well on tests. The best predictor of job performance is job performance. Companies like Menlo Innovations have job applicants do the job for a few months before they make a hiring decision. In this way, they can look at culture fit as well as competencies.

David Brooks, in his column in the New York Times titled “The Employer’s Creed”, urges employers to look beyond grades, perfectionism, and projected image of job applicants, and look for traits such as being passionate about something, doing the right thing, showing social courage, being willing to speak the truth, overcoming setbacks, and being honest about themselves. About grades, Brooks writes:

Don’t mindlessly favor people with high G.P.A.s. Students who get straight As have an ability to prudentially master their passions so they can achieve proficiency across a range of subjects. But you probably want employees who are relentlessly dedicated to one subject. In school, those people often got As in subjects they were passionate about but got Bs in subjects that did not arouse their imagination.

I understand the need to efficiently sort through hundreds, maybe thousands of job applications. But using SAT scores is a careless and unprofessional way to do this. Companies that use SAT scores to screen applicants will eliminate from consideration some of the best people in the pool.