Could Your SAT Scores Stop You From Getting a Job?

Could my teenage a-hole self really come back to haunt me?
Publish date:
March 7, 2014
career, school, SAT, testing

Up until high school, I loved taking standardized tests. Really, I thought they were kind of fun. In elementary and middle school, while my peers and teachers would groan when state testing time would roll around, I secretly got a little excited.

"You were such a weird kid," my mom often likes to point out in her British-Chinese accent. When she says it, it sounds almost elegant.

I loved the straightforwardness of the questions, the methodical filling in of the little dots, the freshly sharpened #2 pencils, the crisp new test booklets. I loved that Math and Science were put on hold for a day or two or three while testing was taking place. I loved the mandatory breaks.

It also helped that without even trying, I always did exceptionally well on standardized tests.

Until I had to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Tests, or PSAT's, in my junior year of high school.

I don't know if it was ego or if I was just completely oblivious -- probably both -- but I figured this was just one more standardized test I'd do brilliantly at. I already saw it playing out in my head: I'd wow my teachers who gave me C's, gain the admiration of my Ivy League-attending family members and go on to an "impressive but fun" college.

Yep, I fully expected to kick the PSAT's ass.

NOPE. Instead of the perfect or near-perfect score I expected, I tested in the very bottom percentage of my class.

I cried from shock. This was supposed to be my thing. Sure I didn't make the best grades, but I'd always held out the belief that my intelligence was best measured in the application of standardized tests! I was supposed to pull an SAT-rabbit out of my hat. Ta-da!

I'd always relished the idea of being one of "those" kids who was BA-RILLIANT, but understimulated in the pointless halls of academia. Now I had no excuse. My parents freaked out, I freaked out, and my friends talked about National Merit Scholarships. Damn.

Thus began my battle with the SATs. I think I took them five or six times, each time getting marginally better, but never closing in on the excellent score that would allow the fancy colleges I dreamed of to look past my terrible grades. Plus, ya know, I took them five or six times, which I've been told colleges notice.

Utter terror filled me during my college application process. I had the lamest stress dreams ever about getting to the test site and ONLY HAVING PENS or having to do the math section on an abacus.

The SATs were confidence-shattering for me. For the first time, I started to believe that I actually was the dumb kid in the family. My half-sister went to an Ivy League university on practically a full ride, all my cousins went to similarly elite institutions and three of the women in my family were honored as Hong Kong's biggest academic brains EVER. I had a great pedigree! When were my genes going to kick in?

The PSATs and the SATs forced me to take a hard, realistic look at myself and get over the ego I had been using as a magic feather for so long. I had to grow up a little bit.

I've since moved past high school and the SATs, as most people hopefully do. I know I'm good enough and smart enough now. My stress dreams consist of much more normal and exciting things like "OH GOD I've put on too many underpants!" or "I accidentally married Conan O'Brien AND my husband."

Then I saw that some human resources departments are considering SAT scores in hiring, and my brain was all: "Nooooooooooooooo."

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.

In the coming year I am potentially going to be applying for jobs at some relatively large companies in such major cities as Los Angeles or Dallas, and the idea of my SAT scores coming into play, however unlikely, churns my stomach.

As a 32 year-old woman, I am so far removed from my high-school self that any correlation between how I performed THEN versus how I perform NOW seems absurd. Would I ever have secured a job after grad school if my SAT and high-school performances were part of the package?

I recently made it pretty far in the application process for a departmental director position on the mainland (I'm purposely keeping it vague, as they may still be looking for someone to fill the position). Though I didn't end up getting the job for reasons I assume had to do with my inexperience in certain aspects of the job, I probably wouldn't even have made it even to the interview stage if my SAT scores were taken into consideration. Scores that in no way speak to my ability to lead a team or shape a program.

Could my teenage a-hole self really come back to haunt me? The kid whose plan to graduate high school and attend college was essentially "use trickery"?

Not to mention that it has been noted that the SATs are potentially racially and economically skewed. Could this practice make the American workplace that much more unequal?

Have any of you ever had your high school academic performance come back to haunt you? Do you think the SATs or any such tests have a place on a job application? How much smarter and savvier are you now than when you were in high school? I'd be willing to wager TONS.