When it comes to evaluating people, whether job applicants or potential investment partners, would you rather know how they did on a written test 15 years ago or whether they are trustworthy and good at their job today?SAT scores.jpg

Both would be nice, but while the test results may be less valuable information, they can be cheap to come by (just require that applicants report it). Interviews with former colleagues take time, and time is money.

There was quite a buzz this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that employers are asking for scores from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) years after job applicants took them. Companies such as Goldman Sachs, Bain and McKinsey ask college recruits for the scores too, according to the Journal.

While the amount of information a SAT score reveals about a person years later is highly limited, we are big believers in digging deeply into a person’s past in other ways.

Some of the information about people that is the most valuable is not available on any database or score sheet. Instead, it’s what other people have to say about them. We’ve been saying this for some time, in posts you can find here.

Digging deeply means interviewing people who may not have been submitted as references. Sometimes we find that people omit entire past jobs from resumes, and it’s people at those omitted employers we are often most eager to talk to. What happened at this job? Why did the candidate leave? Was it just a bad fit or was the person told to resign because of a dismissible offense everyone preferred to keep quiet about?

One irony about the continued relevance to many of old test scores is the simultaneous trend across the U.S. (and inspired in Europe) typified by “Ban the Box” laws such as the one just passed in San Francisco. These laws tend to restrict the amount of criminal background reporting prospective employers are allowed to conduct on job applicants. We’re written extensively about the “Right to Be Forgotten,” most recently in ALM’s Employment Law Strategist available here.

Clearly, the SAT story shows that there is a hunger among employers to know more than they are getting from once-over-lightly interviews of job applicants. Those same employers therefore would logically want a way around a ban the box law.

Interviews with people who have known or worked with an applicant can work wonders in both cases.