Bryan Caplan  

Why Applicants Don't Volunteer Their Test Scores: Abigail's Insight

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EconLog reader Abigail Haddad sent me an interesting email.  I'm reprinting it in full with her permission:

Hi Bryan,

I commented on "Why don't applicants volunteer their test scores?" last year and suggested that there was a verification problem, since employers can't get official score reports. According to a Chronicle of Higher Ed article on how job applicants are submitting GRE scores, that's no longer the case for that test: ETS is making official score reports available to businesses on a trial basis.

It's interesting that, even though ETS says that a significant percentage of large employers consider test scores, none of the employers interviewed say that they would use test scores in a significant way (except for the one who says that he would not hire anyone who submitted GRE scores). Even Goldman Sachs, which requests scores, only says that "recruiters may consider any test scores provided," but that it's not a major factor.


If requesting scores survives legal scrutiny for a few years, I expect the practice to spread.  Volunteering your test scores signals low conformity and/or low social intelligence.  But if an employer requests scores, this bad signal goes away. 

You could reply that only non-conformists would submit to such a request, but that seems plainly wrong.  Conformist job seekers already submit to a wide range of odd and even degrading employer requests.  One more won't make any difference.

COMMENTS (10 to date)
SB7 writes:

One data point for you: several hours ago I submitted a resume to Applied Predictive Technologies, the consulting firm founded by Jim Manzi. There was a space on their form specifically for test scores. (I can't remember if it was SAT or GRE or either that they asked for.) So that's at least one employer who wants to know. I can't recall if it appeared in the their general resume submission area, or the one you go to for submitting answers to their recruiting puzzles.

I'm considering a strategy of posting my GRE scores on my website with my resume, but linking to this post and your prior one. Do you think that would signal my awareness of the potential low conformity signal, and thereby supersede it?

Eric Falkenstein writes:

No corporation would say they used scores "in a significant way" because this would open them up to a discrimination lawsuit. As GRE scores have disparate impact(ie, not all ethnicity/genders do the same), since Griggs V Duke power, this is considered discriminatory unless the score can be proven to be job-related.

Pat writes:

I would've liked to include my GMAT score on resumes and applications but it would only invite questions why my grades weren't better. It would signal that I might not be as conscientious, when really, I think I'm just good at standardized tests.

The people with high GMATs that also have high GPAs could just include their impressive GPA and let the prospective employer infer that they have a high IQ.

Michael DE writes:

I think this is unlikely to change the US hiring process much. I live in a country where most people put their high school grades on their CV for at least their first job. Graduate schemes at major companies also request them and filter out applicants with grades below a certain value, usually automatically without a human ever reading the application.

But unless you get filtered right at the start the final decision still comes down to an interview and other subjective factors.

Richard writes:
I'm considering a strategy of posting my GRE scores on my website with my resume, but linking to this post and your prior one. Do you think that would signal my awareness of the potential low conformity signal, and thereby supersede it?

Seems a high risk/high reward strategy. It shows social awareness and a sense of humor, but in a way may signal one as even weirder because you know something is unacceptable but do it anyway. Pointing out a faux pas can diffuse the weirdness of it or make it worse.

Anthony writes:

@Eric: Only a couple of public sector employers (police and fire departments) are reliably pursued for using disparate-impact-producing criteria in hiring. When this happens, it's not just the use of standardized tests that's challenged, it's also the use of educational credentials, which of course also produce disparate impact. This is probably why you can become a policeman in LA with a GED. By contrast, in the private sector, the military, academia, and the public school system, employers use disparate-impact-producing hiring criteria all the time and quite openly, without having to prove that those criteria are job-related. For instance, I'm sure Goldman would be willing to volunteer that they require college degrees for their professional jobs and that they recruit heavily from elite universities. So I don't think the hesitation to say that they use these tests comes from any legal fears.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

@Anthony: Private firms abandoned standardized tests after Griggs, unlike many civil service jobs like firemen, and recent cases are getting rid of those tests now. Carter got rid of the federal civil service tests in Jan 1981 per Griggs. Most young 'knowledge workers' are tested with ad hoc IQ questions (the famous Google or Microsoft interview questions), so clearly firms want to measure IQ, but they don't formalize this because they need to be lawsuit-proof: don't write anything down.

Discriminating based on elite colleges is still OK, because presumably Harvard et al don't discriminate against gender/ethnicity, but it's a good initial IQ filter, but if your company doesn't have an average wage of $400k and you still want smart workers, you can't use the Ivy League as your initial filter, and so a standardized test would be quite useful.

Anthony writes:

@Eric: Using an educational credential is suspect if you're in a field in which anyone cares about disparate impact: Griggs, of course, involved both the use of high school diplomas and IQ tests. But if you're in a field in which they don't, you can do whatever you want. This is quite formalized and open. For instance, tests to teach in the public school system cause significant disparate impact. So does the test to enlist in the military. The question of whether Harvard discriminates is not relevant legally - the questions are, does recruiting from Harvard create disparate impact (yes) and is there a business case for doing so (perhaps, but Goldman is never going to be asked to show it in court, just as they wouldn't be asked to show that using the GRE is relevant.)

Lemmy Caution writes:

Anthony is right. No one is going to bust Goldman Sachs for requiring gre scores.

Duke power instituted the IQ tests the day after the civil rights act became effective. They were actually trying to avoid hiring blacks. There is no way the supreme court could have ruled any other way.

Most companies don't care about your sat/gre scores. Maybe software companies would like to filter on IQ, but maybe not. A lot of Google or Microsoft interview questions are programing questions. They aren't the more famous ones since the public is more interested in the brain teasers.

Further, graduates of elite schools who make the most money are not the ones with the highest SAT scores. For a given school, earnings peak at an SAT score of 1100. A lot of companies are looking for smart enough graduates who are hard working.

Mark V Anderson writes:

No, Anthony is wrong. All companies are extremely paranoid about disparate impact. I myself had this issue about 10 years ago when I made up my own Excel test for applicants for an Accounting job. HR wouldn't allow me to give this test, because of the issue of disparate impact. HR told me to instead ask the applicant what they knew. As Eric, said, don't write anything down.

The firm I worked for was a medium sized company that had no in-house lawyers. The bigger firms are more lawyered-up and so even more paranoid.

It is possible that Bryan is right that asking for test scores will become more prevalent in future years if there is little litigation, but I think it will be very slow. Every labor lawyer in the country will warn you about using tests for hiring. There is definitely a benefit to doing it, because you can hire smarter people, but there will be a lot of resistance.

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