A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch




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Back in time

by Douglas E. Welch

June 4, 1999

In the old days (which in the computer world means 5-6 years ago) the main information an employer requested from you was your resume and an interview. Today it seems that employers want to know more and more about you from further and further in your past. I find this a disturbing trend; one that threatens to make every minor indiscretion of college and high school impact our ability to be employed as adults.

Testing for success?

In a recent article in Businessweek magazine (Nailed to the boards again, May 24, 1999, p6) I came across the claim that many companies are now requesting SAT scores from their applicants in an effort to divine information about who might be best suited for a particular job. It seems odd to me that employers would be searching for information in a standardized test that was taken before a person's higher education had even been started, let alone completed.

SAT scores have faced a growing battle from a wide variety of groups who complain that the testing discriminates against many types of people who are outside the "traditional" education structure. It seems even more odd that employers would be increasing the use of SAT scores when the tests themselves are coming under attack.

While my own SAT scores were high enough to get me into college I am certainly more knowledgeable and more responsible today than my SAT scores might have indicated 17 years ago. It is true that someone of my age probably wouldn't be asked for these scores today (even if I could find them), but even recent college graduates might find that they have changed in ways that aren't reflected in their college entrance scores. College is the time when we begin to develop our adult sensibilities and personalities. We are often quite different people when we complete the rigors of a college degree. This makes me question the validity of using such results as an indicator of more than the quality of your high school education. Once again it seems that we are looking for the easy way out and hoping to find it in some scientific metric with questionable usefulness.

Your permanent record

The impact of using SAT scores could be wide ranging if more and more companies begin relying on them. Will your lack of interest or engagement in high school haunt you for the rest of your life? Current information is always the most useful. It seems ludicrous that employers would make important decisions based on data that is at least 4 years old, if not older. While I am sure that employers don't rely solely on SAT scores, their use at all makes me suspicious of the entire hiring process. What is next; interviews of your elementary and high school friends to see if you exhibited any anti-social behavior in second grade? Sometimes we need to take policies to their most ludicrous end to see how flawed they are.

A growing trend

I believe the use of SAT scores is just another extension of the current certification trend in high tech careers. Companies are looking for some foolproof metric that will tell them when a candidate fits into their organization and has the seeming guarantee of being the perfect employee. Unfortunately, this utopian world doesn't exist. There are too many variables in both people and companies to allow for such a simplistic response. Companies need to remember that we are effected by our surroundings. The perfect employee can be quickly destroyed by a bad work environment and a bad employee can ruin a good work environment. Employment is an on-going relationship and requires constant adjustment on all sides.

CNE's, MSCE's and other certifications can be just as damaging if used in improper ways. While they can be an indicator of what people know, they show little about the employees personality, troubleshooting skills, people skills or overall work ethics.

Relying on any one certification, test score or other indictor is foolhardy for everyone involved. The next time someone asks you for a particular piece of information be sure to ask them what other factors they are taking into account. You owe it to yourself to make sure they see a balanced picture and not just a series of numbers to be typed into a spreadsheet. Life is too complex to be boiled down to 1, 2 or even 100 indicators. It is an intimate dance where every dancer's move effects the others in ways that are so complex as to be unknowable.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com