Branded With the Numbers

Since it remains in most lines of work a buyer’s market for talent, it’s not surprising many employers have felt free to indulge tendencies to be irrationally picky (which may just be another word for artibrary). In my own shrunken profession, that’s meant, among other things, that internet-based writing gigs are (with the blessed exception of PA, with its tradition of telecommuting bloggers) about as location-bound as they were when writers were pounding away on Underwoods in a bullpen.

But a hiring criterion that surprised me today was highlighted by Melissa Korn at the Wall Street Journal:

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.

What makes that odd is that colleges are relying less and less on SAT scores for admissions decisions. It may come as a shock to some young professionals who didn’t take the SAT a second time because they got into their college of choice without even submitting scores that those numbers could stay with them for life.

It makes me wonder about other “objective” measurements applied to people relatively early in life. When I was in law school, one’s class standing became an integral part of your identity; it wouldn’t have surprised me had the school required we paint that number on our foreheads to maintain the strictest social hierarchy possible. From the day I graduated, nobody ever expressed curiosity about my class standing (or for that matter, my SAT, GRE and LSAT scores) ever again. Maybe that’s changed.

It’s interesting to speculate if this kind of data used in hiring decision–not to mention job qualifications like willingness to live and work in close proximity to The Big Boss even in occupations involving highly independent skills and production-measured expectations–would survive the kind of tight labor markets we had (at least for some types of work) in the late 1990s. We can only hope to live long enough to find out.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.