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Would Thomas Edison hire you?

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Thomas Edison wanted smart, practical men to help run his empire of inventiveness. (As far as we know, he never hired a woman.) So, he devised a test to measure each applicant’s breadth of reading and knowledge.

Men who’d graduated from top colleges had to answer questions such as:
  • Why is cast iron called “pig iron?”
  • What place is the greatest distance below sea level?
  • What city in the United States leads in making laundry machines?
They had two hours to answer 150 questions. Most applicants failed.

“Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant,” Edison told The New York Times in 1921. “They don’t seem to know anything.”

But the newspaper’s editors described giving educated men a test of basic knowledge as insulting and arrogant. “Why should a dreamy young college graduate need to know how glass is made, or where sulfur was mined, or who invented the cotton gin?” they asked.

Evidently, somebody valued practical knowledge. Edison’s exam became the prototype for a host of job-screening tools as the century unfolded, helping bosses find new hires who could make common-sense decisions on the spot.

To take the test, go to www.nps.gov/edis/edifun/quiz/quizhome.htm. The online version uses Edison’s actual questions but gives modern test-takers an advantage with multiple-choice answers.

If you fail, don’t despair: Edison’s son flunked it, and he’d earned a physics degree from MIT.

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