What's black and white and irrelevant all over again? In the case of some job candidates, it's their SAT scores, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Everybody knows the trouble with standardized testing. Not everybody tests well. Some people have different strengths than others. And the ability to pass a test says jack about work ethic and cultural fit.

That's not just me talking, and it's not even just about business. Increasingly, higher education feels the same way. More than 800 accredited colleges and universities in the United States no longer require SAT scores, including some of the top schools in the country.

So why, why, why are companies asking candidates--and in some cases, senior management candidates--for some abstract look at their intelligence levels when they were 18-years-old? Even the College Board, which administers the test, says SAT scores are predictive of only first-year college success, the Journal reports.

What's more, even some candidates recognize the tactic is BS. See this quote from the article: "For me, it was great," a McKinsey employee said. "I test much better than I am intelligent."

The article gives some of the companies who value the scores the chance to defend themselves. Those defenses range from a need for a data set for first-time employees to an emphasis on the value of a math score for finance positions.

But a point further in the article really undoes any of the logic, in my opinion. Quoting from the Journal:

Asking for SAT scores may turn off candidates, too. [Stephen Robert] Morse, now head of marketing and communications at freelance marketplace SkillBridge, said a firm's request for test scores "made me a little bit skeptical of wanting to work with them," despite scoring "in the 1450 range" on the 1600-point test. "I don't see why it's relevant," he said.

The potential benefits of seeing a candidates' SAT scores, which I'm extremely skeptical of in the first place, is entirely undermined if it has the potential to rub candidates the wrong way--an idea I'm a lot less skeptical of.

A negative candidate experience can only hurt a company. It's not just a kumbaya idea of treating people nicely. When candidates have a bad time interviewing for your company, it can have a serious effect on how you're perceived. And not just in the job market--9 percent of disgruntled candidates will tell others to not even purchase products from the offending company.

That's not to say every candidate experience has to be just peachy. As a manager, you have every right to figure out how candidates fit at your company, by whichever means you deem appropriate. But if you're thinking of asking about SAT scores, you should really consider whether they're actually going to tell you anything about that fit in the first place--and even if they do, whether it's worth the raised eyebrows you're sure to draw from the candidate in question.

Published on: Feb 27, 2014