(ran NP, CT, PT, HT, CI)
Donna Chan is 23 years old and has been out of college since May 2002, when she graduated from Wagner College on New York's Staten Island. So should anyone care how she did way back in high school on her SATs?
Apparently some people do. Since Chan started looking for an entry-level job in financial services more than a year ago, she has repeatedly stumbled over a common requirement for many of these positions: a combined SAT score of at least 1300 out of a maximum 1600. Chan's combined score on the math and verbal tests fell "somewhere in the 1200s," even though she earned a 3.9 grade-point average in college while getting a degree in computer science with a minor in math.
"I think it's asking a bit much," gripes Chan, who is currently working as a part-time paralegal on Staten Island. "That's something high school kids have to worry about. After four years of working hard, I think you've paid your dues, and unless you're applying to Princeton Review or some math-related, analytical job, I don't see the relevance."
The SATs, usually taken by high school juniors and seniors and once used solely as a criterion for college admission, are now following many people through college and into the workplace as a defining performance measure. A certain cadre of companies that hire large numbers of fresh college graduates have long asked about SAT scores, but many other large employers took up the habit in recent years because of the dismal job market. With thousands of resumes flooding in for even a single open position these days, employers see the scores as one more way to differentiate among applicants.
And most employers who ask about the SAT say they want someone whose scores are well above the national average. According to the College Board, the association in New York that administers the SAT, the 1.4-million SAT takers in the class of 2003 earned average scores of 519 on the math portion of the test and 507 on the verbal section, for a total of 1026. The math average is the highest in more than 35 years, meaning that those who are applying for jobs right now on average scored lower.
A number of ads placed by recruiters and staffing firms set clear SAT goals. Consider this recent ad on HotJobs.com for an entry-level, investment-banking position: "Minimum expectations include an overall score of 1350 on the SATs. ... You will be required to provide official scores and transcripts, so please do not respond if you do not meet the aforementioned requirements."
Alan Sage, a vice president at Configuresoft Inc., a Woodland Park, Colo., systems-management software company, said he routinely asks applicants to submit their SAT scores when they apply for sales jobs. He said he picked up the practice from a former employer of his who wanted applicants to have no less than a combined SAT score of 1400.
Sage sets his bar somewhat lower, at 1200, but said he nonetheless sees the test as a good indicator of future success. "In my experience, people with high SAT scores tend to do better," he said, adding that his mother recently reminded him that he scored somewhere in the 1200s. "We wouldn't exclude someone from an interview if he or she didn't score high," he added.
While Sage said he has always asked to see SAT scores, he admits that he was far more flexible when Configuresoft was first launched in the boom days of 1999. With his sales team experiencing lots of turnover, he said, he had to "beg marginal people" to come work for the company.
Sage said he also places the SAT requirement in ads to see whether applicants are paying attention to details. When he placed an ad for an account-manager position on an online job board earlier this month, he received hundreds of resumes. But fewer than 10 percent of respondents bothered to include their scores. Those who did, he added, scored at least a 1200.
Some are critical of the trend. Seppy Basili, vice president of Kaplan Inc., a test-preparation company, said that over the past six months he has been hearing anecdotally that more companies are asking applicants to submit SAT scores. He feels that in general, SAT scores in these cases are being used for the wrong reasons.
"It's such a maligned instrument," said Basili. "It's not designed to measure job performance, and the kind of person who performs well on the SATs is not necessarily the kind of person who will perform well sitting at their desks."
Morgan Denny, a partner in a New York search firm specializing in financial services, said he has several clients who only want to see candidates who reached a certain SAT threshold, even if they have been out of high school for 10 years. Because he realizes that some people are bad test takers, he continues to show clients candidates who don't meet the criteria but have other qualifications, he said.
"The SAT is an annoyance for us and an annoyance for our candidates; we believe there should be a balance," Denny said. He added that he'll often collect comments and information from candidates who don't meet the SAT criteria so that his clients will consider the candidate and reconsider their SAT threshold.
Some employers say they have no interest in seeing the SAT scores of applicants. The Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, a nonprofit social-services agency in Philadelphia, is looking for an educational testing consultant to provide test preparation for the SATs, among other tests, mainly to low-income youth. But Kristen Rantanen, the director of communications and public relations for the organization, said that an SAT score "is nothing we would ever ask or require of a candidate."
Kristin Carnahan, a College Board spokeswoman, said the organization has no way to confirm whether more companies are using the SAT because it typically sends scores directly to colleges, not to employers. But she said that it makes more sense for employers to base their decisions on grades, a more recent measure of a person's abilities. "There seem to be so many other measures that would be relevant for employers to use," she added.