posted by Joe Anaya on September 10th, 2012

Recently, there was a story about a U.S. Circuit Court upholding the right of the New London, New York police department to NOT hire a man because he was too smart. This police force likes their officers to be only slightly smarter than the general public, with IQs roughly in the 104 range. This gentleman’s score was more like 125. Too smart for them.

Questions about why a town wouldn’t want smart police officers aside, what is the interview process like in this police station? I know they give you some sort of IQ test but are there trick questions trying to get you to reveal how smart you really are? Do they ask you if you enjoy foreign films? How much math did you take in college? All ways to ascertain if you’re a slightly above average fit. Similar to how they ask what year you graduated, because they aren’t allowed to ask how old you are. Whatever happened to the old standby interview questions, “What is your worst attribute?” Brilliantly answered as, “I’d have to say it’s that I’m a workaholic.” Or, “Describe yourself in one word.” Here’s a hint, don’t use “intelligent” if applying to the New London police.

Before the days of strict interpretation of discrimination laws and overly protective Human Resource departments, I had a few interviews with unusual questions. Once I was asked, “How do you organize your sock drawer?” Odd: but as I explained my system of everyday socks in front horizontally, dress socks vertically in the back, sports socks on the left with clean socks being added to the right side, and singles left flat on top until a mate could be found, the interviewer acknowledged, “Wow, that’s complicated. I like this question.”

I have given a few interviews for various positions. I would often asked odd questions with no real right or wrong answer simply to see if the candidate could think on their feet or get a sense of their personality. “Ketchup or mustard? And why?” was one I used a lot. “Which Wizard of Oz character is your favorite?” was one that started a lot of interesting conversations. (BTW, mine is the Tinman. He was a man of action.) I’d bet you could do a whole psych thesis on what it means if your favorite character is Dorthy or the Scarecrow.

My brother-in-law is an engineer and whenever he has to interview potential employees, he asks, “Why is a manhole cover round?” While they’re trying to come up with a reasonable answer, he’s examining their logic skills, their ability to evaluate unknown situations, and their ability to think outside of their comfort zone. All of which are very useful bits of insight into a potential engineer. (BTW: They are round because it’s the only shape that won’t fall into a hole, no matter what angle you drop the cover.)

I’m sure somewhere an HR executive is having a coronary and making new rules about questions you CAN’T ask. Or, they’re working out how to get the info they want without asking questions that get them into trouble, like “How smart are you?” But you’d think some one who’s intelligent and really wanted to be a police officer would figure out how to outsmart the tests. Or better yet, they could turn to a life of crime knowing they won’t be caught by the marginally-above-average-intelligence police force.

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