Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Quantifying Quality

With all the talk of measuring success, assessments,and exit exams for college these days, I thought I'd share an experience with a corporate recruiter at the University of Michigan. I had one interview for a sales position with a large company that was especially memorable.

I arrived promptly at the designated office of a large corporation in a smart looking blue suit with a just pressed white blouse. (The required uniform for all college grads) After waiting a few minutes, I was called to a little office down the hall. Nervously, I walked in and sat down across from a manager for this company and handed him my resume. He quickly scanned over the paper and then asked what my GPA was without even looking up.

"3.0" I replied sheepishly.

"Not good enough, thank you for coming", he said, still looking at the papers before him.

Too stunned to speak, I just sat there for a few minutes. This obviously made him a little uncomfortable because he finally looked up and asked why I was still sitting there.

"Is that it? Is the interview over just like that?" I asked.

"Yes, your GPA is well below what we expect for new hires in computer science for our company. Have a good day." He looked back down at his papers.

Realizing I had lost all hope of a job, I decided I'd just tell him what I thought about his decision. After all I didn't get all dressed up in this suit just to get shown the door.

"Excuse me, but that would be a terrible mistake." I slowly heard myself say.

"You would be making a terrible mistake in not hiring me just because my GPA is a 3.0. I put myself through the University of Michigan, sometimes working three jobs, while taking a full load just to pay my bills. " I had his attention now so I just kept on going.

"Some of my classmates did much better in their coursework. That's obvious. But they've never held a job in their life because daddy always paid the bills. Well, my numbers may not be up to par but my work ethic far exceeds theirs. If you have any sense in the matter you'd reconsider my application." Scared stiff I stopped there.

He paused and then said, "Good point. I'll let you know."

I went on three more job interviews and they offered me a job.

What is the point.

Numbers can tell a part of the story but never the whole thing. And that is my big problem with standardized test scores.

We try to quantify something that cannot be quantified. A high test score does not predict future success and we shouldn't expect it to. Our society is so geared toward measurable results that just like the recruiter we miss the point of it all. In the end it is not just our children who suffer but society as a whole.

Oh, by the way, I turned down the job.

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