{ 133 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It will only dismay you further. I sent a candidate a rejection email and got a response back telling me that his IQ was 139 and “that should warrant an interview.” Alas…

      1. Josh S.*

        The inappropriately snark-filled but appropriately deserved response is:

        “Your IQ is only 139? We only accept intelligent candidates. Please reapply if/when your membership in MENSA is confirmed.”

        1. Meaghan*

          This would be hilarious. I feel like I would have a lot of difficulty holding back from doing this kind of thing if I received that kind of stuff from candidates.

        2. Ali*

          Actually, 139 is probably a qualifying score for Mensa… They care about the percentile (98+), not the actual score. One of my siblings is a Mensa member and her score is 130-something. I believe she took the Stanford-Binet.

          1. Josh S.*

            IQ is based on standard deviation from the mean. An ‘average’ intelligence is 100. Every 15 points (in either direction) from that is considered 1 standard deviation. Nearly 70% of people have IQ between 85 and 115.

            That means if you have an IQ of 100, you are the 50th percentile.
            IQ = 115 means you are the 84th percentile
            IQ = 130 means you are the 97th percentile
            IQ = 145 means you are the 99th percentile

            I’ve heard the cutoff for MENSA is IQ 140, but I looked it up and it appears that with the preponderance and variance of IQ tests, they’ve changed it to simply say that the score has to be above the 98th percentile in a standardized test of intelligence.

            So, depending what test this guy took, you could be right. But I still like the a**hole response to an a**hole demand. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a manager?

  1. Ellen M.*

    LOL that would simplify hiring, wouldn’t it? Why bother with skills, strengths, education, character, experience, a resume, cover letter or interview, etc?

    Just send your test results!

    Now that’s brilliant!

  2. Richard*

    We got one once that just said “Gay!” Not compelling evidence that we made a wrong decision.

    1. Nyxalinth*

      Sounds to me like you made a very good decision! Says a lot about the client’s maturity level, amongst other stuff.

    2. Susan*

      Hehe, and I’ll bet that person was just whooping it up after sending that. At least you managed to dodge that bullet.

  3. noah sturdevant*

    I like the idea that any particular genetic trait should make you special. I have brown hair, so I demand you hire me!!

  4. Tech Chic(k)*

    Psht, 139? That’s nothing. Mine’s 182, I know it’s right ’cause the test was on IQTest.com.


    Was this a technical candidate? There are sadly a lot of people who think that if you work with computers and code you won’t also be working with humans and can therefore disregard interpersonal skills like tact and judgement.

  5. Michael C.*

    Is there ever a good way/time to contest a rejection notification? And what I mean is, is there ever a possibility to really get reconsidered for the position?

    1. Long Time Admin*

      What?? A hiring manager or HR person admitting they might have made a mistake??

      That would NEVER happen. Compelling, concrete, 100% verifiable evidence would still not be enough.

      Although they might weasel out with the most famous weasel phrase of all time: “mistakes were made”.

      1. fposte*

        Wait, what kind of mistake are you envisioning that would entitle a candidate to more anyway? I’m now picturing somebody running them over in the parking lot while saying “Mistakes were made.”

        Basically, the problem with contesting a rejection isn’t that hiring managers are jerks, it’s that they’re not jerks enough to fire the person they just hired instead of you. Even if they knocked a candidate out of the running for an incorrect reason, that doesn’t mean the hire that happened was an actual mistake, and the hire that happened is what such a contest is attempting to undo.

      2. jmkenrick*

        I don’t understand how ‘mistakes were made’ is a weasel phrase. I mean, that’s sometimes true, isn’t it?

        1. fposte*

          It’s a now famous cliche of evasion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-apology_apology

          It tends to turn up in situations where somebody’s desperately trying to avoid actually owning up to responsibility for making the mistake–after all, “mistakes were made” could be said by a passerby as much as the perpetrator. “I made a mistake” is a lot harder–and gutsier–to say. (Kind of like the difference between “I’m sorry if you took it wrong” and “I’m sorry I made a jackass comment.”

          1. A Bug!*

            Well, that’s a much better answer than mine.

            I guess I should stop leaving my response window open for half an hour.

            1. jmkenrick*

              Both perfect responses. Ok, I totally take your point.

              Making a mental note to never use that phrase (unless of course, I decide to go into politics…)

        2. A Bug!*

          It’s because the passive wording of the phrase is not actually an admission of responsibility for the mistakes that were made.

          “Mistakes were made… I’m not saying by whom, but they were made, so I guess we’d better deal with them.”

      3. HR Gorilla*

        Ouch. This pains me, so much, to read…I feel like I admit mistakes left and right, sometimes. Are HR peeps really so bad out there? Good thing I’m awesome. ;)

    2. Joey*

      Nope. Anytime you contest it it’s going to come off as argumentative and naive. Better to pack up and move on. In essence you’re trying to argue that you’re better qualified to decide who should be hired.

      1. KellyK*

        I don’t think contesting it would ever be successful (or a good idea, for the reasons fposte mentioned), but I think you could politely correct them if a blatant error was obvious. I do think you’d need to make it clear that you’re not saying that they should rescind their offer to the other person and hire you, because that’s pretty entitled and clueless.

        ****Totally Fictitious Example

        Dear KellyK
        Thank you very much for applying for the Mid-Level Basketweaver position at XYZ tech. Unfortunately, we really need someone with a master’s degree for this position, and have therefore chosen another candidate. We wish you the best of luck in your job search and will keep your resume on file, and will let you know if we have other openings that would fit your qualifications.
        Jane Smith

        [skip past the part where I swear at my computer about how I actually do have my master’s, make sure I sent them a correct resume, find that I did, and swear some more]

        Dear Ms. Smith,

        First of all, thank you very much for contacting me so quickly to let me know the results of the hiring process. I definitely appreciate being kept in the loop. Secondly, your email referred to a lack of a master’s degree as the reason for your decision. I do have a master’s degree in English, as listed on my resume. Since you mentioned that you would be keeping my resume on file for other potential opportunities, I wanted to make sure you had the correct information. If another opportunity in the Basketweaving department comes up, I would definitely be interested.

        In a situation *that* blatant, I’d feel like I really needed to say “wait a sec” and very politely correct the mistake. I wouldn’t expect anything to come of it, but how much would you kick yourself if you got passed over because of a mistake, didn’t say anything, and it turned out that their first choice had another offer and turned them down?

        1. A Second Heather*

          People are so smart on this blog. I can learn so much here. Thanks for that answer Kelly, I may use that diplomacy one day in a future situation.

        2. Michael C.*

          This would be much better a response than the hissyfit I stir whenever rejected. Thanks!

        3. Charles*

          HA! That’s not fiction.

          I actually have run into that and did exactly that; except the part about swearing at the computer as this was an in-person interview. After I politely pointed out that I do, in fact, have the required master’s degree – the interviewer stuttered (not a speech problem with her it was just that she was left speechless) and eventually muttered that they would “be in touch.”

          1. KellyK*

            That really happened to you? That’s hilarious (that it matches my hypothetical…the fact that it happened sucks). But did you get the job?

  6. HRanon*

    Totally off topic- but is the current 210 comments on the previous post a record? I am always fascinated to see what generates such extensive discussion and others, not so much.

        1. fposte*

          Closer to 400 now.

          I think the pantyhose could have exceeded them all if AAM hadn’t shut that one down.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I’m so glad someone did the look-up for me. :) I knew there was one with 300+ comments, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    Gah….I got rejected in person once by one of those personality tests, and politely said I thought I would do well in the job despite a formulated test. I got the job. It didn’t last, not because I couldn’t do it, but because the manager screamed horribly at me on my third day for something trivial. I decided I would then reject them. So I nicely said I didn’t think it was a good fit after all, and I was going to be leaving. The manager’s husband tried desperately to keep me but no way was I going to stay after that.

    Sometimes getting rejected is the best thing that can happen.

    1. Anon.*

      “Sometimes getting rejected is the best thing that can happen”

      Thanks for that reminder! You are now imortalized on my March 2012 monthly planner. I will try keep it in mind as it has been (in 20/20 hindsight) true more often than not.

    2. Dan Ruiz*

      “Sometimes getting rejected is the best thing that can happen”

      Yup, that just happened to me last year. I was rejected last fall for a job that I could do in my sleep. It was an internal transfer but there were “personality issues” and I was rejected for an external candidate with less experience.

      I was really upset because I expected to lose my position by the end of the year. Fortunately, another job opened up in December and I got that. It’s the best job ever!

      So, that initial rejection was a blessing in disguise :-)


  8. Anonymous*

    I don’t know how anybody could take an IQ test (and the resulting score) seriously. Many people will live for 80 years and spend the entire time learning. Is it really possible to summarize the extend and depth of a person’s knowledge in a single test? Could it ever been seen as truly objective considering all the different kinds of intelligence that exist?

    To me, these tests bear a resemblance to a mouse finding a piece of cheese in the maze. The fastest mouse is presumably the most intelligent, but what about the mouse that realizes that it is running in a maze and tries to crawl out? Maybe it doesn’t want cheese… maybe it wants berries. Does that make the mouse stupid?

    1. Henning Makholm*

      Well, not to defend mindless use of IQ tests in hiring (whether by employers or by candidates), but they are not meant to “summarize the extend and depth of a person’s knowledge”. In fact they are supposed to be independent of what one knows, and serious test designers spend quite a bit of effort trying to make them so — though with debatable success. There are plenty of smart people who think that the ideal of measuring raw intelligence, untainted by any prior knowledge effects, is not only hard but in principle impossible. However, to the extent that an IQ test succeeds in not measuring knowledge, criticizing it for not being something it has worked hard to avoid being seems to miss the mark.

    2. Rana*

      The best explanation I’ve heard for what IQ tests are best at measuring is the brain equivalent of processing speed. Basically, if you’re more intelligent, you can, in theory, process more information more rapidly.

      Note thought that this says nothing about what a person chooses to use that processing power for. You can be very intelligent and still be quite ignorant, if you don’t actually put any information into your brain for that processor to work with.

  9. Guy*

    He should be happy he’s even getting the courtesy of a rejection email before an interview. Most places don’t even do that much.

    Heck at place I interviewed (and just getting that took three separate emails), after a generally positive interview, gave me a sample letter to send them so I can move to the second interview. After sending that email and another follow up email just basically asking to confirm that they saw the email went completely unanswered. After a few weeks I saw the job reposted on craigslist. Talk about professionalism.

  10. Kelly O*

    So what I’m hearing is, arguing that I was the Most Valuable Player in the 1996 Community College Scholar’s Bowl Tournament will NOT make them reconsider?


  11. Tater B.*

    LOL….for those of us who have been searching the job market for awhile, I think we’ve all been at that point where we felt like firing off a nasty reply to a rejection e-mail.

    Mine came a few months ago. The job was great and I felt like I’d be a good fit with the company. I submitted my writing samples and I even heard from my references how impressed they were with me.

    So I waited…and waited….and waited. Finally, I got up the nerve to send a follow-up e-mail asking about the job status.

    “It was a difficult decision, but we decided to hire someone else. We’d like to keep your name on file to do some freelancing for us in the future. Good luck in your job search!”

    Oh, I typed out a doozy of a response. I told her where she could go and what she could do with her exclamation point. And then I deleted it and moved on with my job search.

    Sometimes, as someone upthread mentioned, you have to realize the rejection is for a reason. Even though I built this job up as “perfect” in my mind, it wasn’t. Not for me. During the interview, the boss mentioned that all employees were hourly, because they wanted to compensate fairly for the 60-80 hour work weeks.

    60-80 hours? And miss my Real Housewives shows? No thanks.

  12. Long Time Admin*

    “During the interview, the boss mentioned that all employees were hourly, because they wanted to compensate fairly for the 60-80 hour work weeks.”

    O Lord, someone actually said that?? Usually they want to screw you over for more than 40-45 hours a week.

    Yes, count yourself lucky on that one!

  13. Anonymous*

    This sounds like something my co-worker would send as a rejection rebuttal. Just cause you’re “smart” doesn’t mean you’re competent.

  14. Joey*

    How about some context? Entry level, professional? Young, old?

    Do you ever get girls doing this?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Professional, not entry-level. And interestingly, I cannot think of a single time that an inappropriate response to a rejection has come from a woman — all the ones I recall were from men. What do you make of that?

      1. Joey*

        Same here. I bet it’s closely related to the tendency of women to negotiate salary at a lower rate than men. So could it be that men think its evidence of positive traits while women associate it with negative ones?

  15. A Second Heather*

    Hi Alison,

    I’m curious: have you or are you planning on responding to this person, giving them advice on how it is a bad way to handle a rejection letter etc.?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          With this type of post, I often hold the post for a while, so that some time passes between “the offense” and my writing about it, in the hopes of making the connection less clear if something like that were to happen!

          1. A Second Heather*

            haha that’s probably difficult when someone does something you are dying to write about, but very smart :-)

  16. mh_76*

    …yet more proof that IQ and EQ are different… but I do wonder if he wasn’t quoting the results from one of those freebie online IQ tests because can’t imagine someone who is supposedly that smart being that foolish.

    Hmmm…new entry for my own resume…~140ish IQ… **kidding** …about putting it on my resume etc. I’d never even mention it in the job search process! The actual # varies a bit depending on the test, day, examiner, and a whole bunch of other variables. I haven’t tried for MENSA…they have insanely advanced math on the test (or so I’ve heard) and I had very bad teachers after Algebra-1.didn’t take calc., which I think is on the tests…even shows up on IQ tests.

    If the guy’s IQ is actually 139, it sounds like that it’s all he brings to the table…and if his smarts are just book-smarts and not practical smarts, then his IQ is effectively zero. Regardless, I’d never want to associate with him, never mind have him in my workplace! Ugh!

    1. mh_76*

      (seems that my computer keyboard dropped a word. One of the mistakes should should “…because I can’t imagine…”)

    2. mh_76*

      (To quote Homer, “D’Oh!” I think I’ll stop nit-picking over the mistakes in my comments now.)

      1. mh_76*

        I agree with your response on both – it would definitely be pretentious to put either on a resume. I was joking about adding it to the res. but joking is hard to relay in type.
        [I’m not in mensa but have in the past considered trying for it]

  17. Chris*

    I disagree…people with book smarts are, in my opinion, than people with “other kinds” of smarts. I’m actually not sure what other kinds of smarts there are. I guess there are things like “emotionally smart” and “street smart” made up by people who aren’t book smart to make themselves feel better.
    If someone certifiably has an IQ that high, that alone should warrant an interview. This means they have exceptional critical thinking skills and probably near total recall (HR managers do like exceptional critical thinking skills and near total recall right?) Even if they are just applying for an admin position, they will probably find a way to streamline the work and triple the productivity of the previous occupant of the position.
    Bite your tongue and call her back. Since when is extremely intelligent employees a bad thing?

    1. Chris*

      *I disagree…people with book smarts are, in my opinion, smarter than people with “other kinds” of smarts. <- this is what that sentence should read. My tablet doesn't like this blog format and doesn't let me see the words before I submit them – sorry!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not going to call him back because he’s not qualified for the job.

      And if he WERE qualified for the job, his email would have indicated that he lacked common sense, and that itself would be disqualifying.

      I judge critical thinking skills the same way that other smart hiring managers judge it: by reading the person’s materials and talking to them. It comes out really easily there. No test required.

    3. A Second Heather*

      Chris, as someone who works with a bunch of brilliant, extremely socially awkward scientists (some, I’d venture to say, that are borderline autistic, however I am in no way qualified to diagnose these things), it depends entirely on the field. Looking at IQ alone is extremely narrow-minded, imo. Even if you’re going to look at things from an academic standpoint, slackers can have sky-high IQs, would this make them a good employee? Probably not. Similarly, if it is a specialized technical field, a high IQ in the areas applicable to the job might help, but that is far from the big picture. Many of the scientists I work with would definitely not do well in a job more heavily dependent on interpersonal skills. It’s the overall spectrum of skills necessary for the position.

    4. Anonymous*

      In my (admittedly limited) experience, people who are smart do not burden people with examples of how smart they are. Indeed, if you try to get them to talk about their achievements, they are more likely to tell you about all the stupid mistakes they made along the way. A couple of quotes on related topics:

      EDUCATION, n.
      That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
      A. Bierce


      The problem with the world today is that the foolish are cocksure and the wise are full of doubt
      B. Russell

      And if you require some evidence to back it up, this article makes a good read.

    5. fposte*

      I work at a top research university. Pretty much everybody’s IQ is high around here, but critical thinking skills and memory vary wildly from individual to individual. (Total recall, by the way, isn’t really all that significant these days anyway–it just saves your fingers the effort of looking stuff up.) There are some people here who’d be great admins and some I’d never bother to interview, though they’re very good at what they actually do, because they’d be horrible admins (and most of them will freely tell you that).

      If being smart wasn’t even enough to ensure this individual can deal with hiring process without deviating problematically, it’s sure no guarantee he can do the job.

    6. mh_76*

      What good are book-smarts if the person doesn’t have the practical smarts to know how to utilize his/her intellect in real-life situations?

  18. Chris*

    I guess I just don’t see why send a “please reconsider” email pointing out one’s extreme intelligence as a reason to do that is non-nonsensical.

    Someone with a low IQ and excellent people skills can be a slacker too. I would expect that “slacker-dom” is randomly distributed across the entire labor market population. I don’t think a person who is a slacker would make a good employee – no. But I also have no reason to believe that slackers are over represented in the high IQ population. Nor is there any reason to believe that people with high IQs are better suited somehow to a technical field, may be somewhere on the autism spectrum and can’t work with people. There are many people with extremely high IQs that are excellent at working with people. But of course knowing someone is quantifiably smart means they MUST be wearing a pocket protector and arguing about the most efficient means to reduce equations. That’s just the way things are!

    If engaging in heuristical thinking is a job requirement, then its possible you wouldn’t want to hire someone who is extremely intelligent.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Strong intelligence and critical thinking skills are a requirement for the position. However, there are plenty of other requirements as well (as is true for most jobs), and he lacks some of those, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to reconsider him.

      Furthermore, if I thought he was a strong enough candidate to invite for an interview, I would have done that originally. His simply announcing “but I’m smart!” isn’t going to change my mind that he’s not a strong candidate — why on earth would it? Hiring is about so many factors, like experience, skills, and track record of achievement; intelligence is only one factor. A candidate who doesn’t understand that is signaling that he doesn’t understand some pretty basic things.

      1. Anonymous*

        The reply only made him sound like a brat, period. At this point in my job search, I’d be happy to get so much as a mass Bcc’d rejection email just to know there’s somebody out there. (Yes, I know that sending rejection emails is not feasible for most HR departments.)

        1. Anonymous*

          Going off on a slight tanget:

          Yes, I know that sending rejection emails is not feasible for most HR departments

          Actually, that’s not true – it’s a trivially simple thing to do. When that point of view has been raised here in the past, those promulgating it have generally spent longer constructing their arguments as to why they don’t have the time than it would actually take to send the aforementioned emails.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, I will never buy it when an employer claims that sending rejections takes too long. It takes seconds (and if you’re using an automated applicant processing system, it takes one click).

  19. A Second Heather*

    No, not all people with high IQs are stereotypical asocial “nerds” hence why I said “some” and not “all” of my co-workers. No, not all slackers have high IQs. Yes people with low IQs can be slackers too. I cringe at having to point out that I know this, but I will. The reason I used the example of the scientists I work with was to illustrate the point that IQ cannot be used to determine the whole picture of someone’s value as a worker or their qualifications. I think you missed the point. This is not a case of discriminating against intelligent people. This is a case where someone’s “whole picture” was found to be less than what the job required, a decision was based on that and then someone came back and tried to say “My IQ should trump all that” basically. This action itself, as AAM pointed out previously, demonstrated a lack of judgement in addition to the fact that the person was already not qualified for the job. I wasn’t stereotyping slackers and their distribution across demographics based on IQs or whatever else you said above.

    1. Chris*

      Actually, you said “it depends entirely on the field.” And the extrapolation with the autistic scientists seemed to insinuate a form of statistical discrimination/stereotyping.

      I’m not saying hiring on IQ alone is exactly the right thing to do. If the guy has a high IQ and a rap sheet, obviously you don’t call him. I only said that pointing out one’s intelligence in asking a hiring manager to reconsider your rejection is not nearly as silly as most are making it out to be. Everyone is poo-pooing this guy. And taking my point of view like its totally stupid.

      I get there are “other qualifications.” I do. I would laugh if someone said “but I’m a ‘team player'” or some other non-quantifiable junk. But if someone can prove they have a 140 IQ and are, in fact, in the 99th percentile of the population THAT is so obviously going to make me take a second look. We’re talking more than 3 standard deviations from the mean. Do you have any idea how rare that is? And they want to work for you? AND you won’t even TALK to them? A person with that kind of intelligence can learn what ever skills you need, and then reinvent or innovate new ones that can give you a competitive advantage within a couple months! I don’t want to hire the guy who had to struggle through a community college class on Excel so he can put “Excel” on his resume. I want the guy that can pick up an Excel book and be running linear regressions and coding VBAs and within 60 days.

      There is a recruiting school of thought that does give priority to highly intelligent people. Wall Street for example gives tests like this to analyst recruits. You can be a PhD in the hard or social sciences, never taking a finance class in your career and get recruited by Wall Street. Learning finance is just a formality. Intelligence turns out to be a very good proxy for learning new skills and, in turn, improving them. If you turn out to unmanageable or a slacker, they don’t bump you to associate and you are gone. But they insure they everyone at the associate level has a very high IQ.

      I just find it amazing that its being talked about as some kind of big laugh – like the lady with the cleavage tattoo.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is not a job that someone can pick up in a few months. This is a job that requires very specific experience and approach, and he has neither. There are lots of jobs like that; this isn’t that unusual in being one.

        You can’t really seriously think that simply having a high IQ is enough to take a second look at someone unqualified. I have a high IQ and there are tons of jobs I would suck at.

      2. A Second Heather*

        No Chris I was commenting from my personal frame of reference and experience, not stereotyping. Just so happens I work with a bunch of scientists who I think illustrate the point well, so I thought “Hey, that might be a cool thing to write about” and did. I’m close to just insinuating that you might have issues with this and I know AAM does not like personal attacks nor do I enjoy making them, so I’m just going to leave with: you don’t get it. And that’s OK.

        1. A Second Heather*

          PS: because I can’t help myself: the love of my life is a scientist and he doesn’t wear a pocket protector or have tape on his glasses…who knew?

          1. Chris*

            Yeah. I guess I really don’t get it. And that’s ok.

            My experience in hiring has been the complete opposite. Just totally 180 degrees. And I was hiring for one of those “unique, not anyone can learn in a few months” too. Very multidisciplinary…corporate intelligence analysts basically. One of the best hires I ever made was PhD in chemistry who couldn’t read a financial statement but the intelligence just dripped off his resume. He’s basically on his way to thought leader in the field now. That’s an extreme example…but still.

            Geesh, I didn’t mean to ruffle anyone. But I really, totally just do not get it. I’ve never told anyone my IQ per se but I do put in cover letters that I’m extremely intelligent. And I get a high response/interview rate and have even had two offers – but I’m content consulting until I find the right spot. But there have been a couple places where I thought the fit was very good and didnt get an offer. I’ve always put my birthdate/age public on social media for employers to see because I’m way younger than my resume would suggest (by graduation dates for both undergrad and receiving an MA.) But now I’m wondering if certain people see me as only as that and nothing else….its actually quite demoralizing.

            1. A Second Heather*

              I know you didn’t mean to ruffle feathers, I was just becoming frustrated because I felt like you were not actually reading what I was writing but skimming and making assumptions. That may well not have been the case. No doubt having great credentials and displaying intelligence in how you present your reume etc (as fposte said) are assets. That does not seem to be the case though with AAM’s applicant. He obviously did not demonstrate his IQ in how he presented himself during the application process. And you cannot then expect your IQ number to compensate or buy you prestige when you have already been rejected at the application stage. To honest, I don’t even know my own IQ so the idea of using it in applying for a job seems very silly to me. I have a pretty major bias toward the value in how someone has taken that intelligence and applied it to their life and if they haven’t developed it or fleshed it out into added value for a hiring manager, then it really means absolutely nothing. That’s just an opinion.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I would recommend letting your intelligence speak for itself through your cover letter and resume and accomplishments — like that old advice to show, don’t tell.
              As an intelligent person, you must know that you can judge how intelligent other people are by how they speak and write and what they’ve achieved — trust that other smart people (who are the ones you want to work for) will see that in you.

            3. fposte*

              There’s no question that being really smart *can* give you an advantage. I don’t think anybody’s saying it doesn’t. But smart is having a good tool in the chest; work–and life–is about what you do with the tools, not simply about having them.

              If you’re smart in a way that “drips off your resume” (I like that phrase a lot), that right there is doing more with it than AAM’s applicant was. I think you’re also falling into a confirmation bias in forgetting that you may also have rejected people who had just as high an IQ as your success, but you didn’t know it, because they didn’t translate their intelligence into a good application (or email you afterwards to tell you their IQ).

              And yeah, I’d advise losing the intelligence claim in your cover letters; in general, it’s a misuse of space in a cover letter to say “I am [positive characteristic]” in general. They’re not going to take you at your word anyway, humans being the notoriously unreliable self-assessors that we are; tell them about what you did and where that’s taking you and how that can solve their problems, and they can quickly tell if you’re smart (or creative, or dedicated, or detail-oriented) in a way that’s going to be useful to them.

              1. Chris*

                Seriously? You don’t put personal characteristics in a cover letter? I’ve been going about this the wrong way. Even AAM’s “dream cover letter” has language like “I pride myself on..”, “My ability to…” etc. etc. The more I try to game the hiring system, the more confused I get. I was obviously very wrong on my perception of what makes a “good” worker – so maybe I should just give up and put it all in developing a consultancy.

                But here’s my question on self assement… if people in the lowest quartile have a tendency to overestimate their ability (as the study linked above states) then the information asymmetry (eg not actually knowing which quartile you are in) leads employers to think that by mentioning your ability you must (or very likely could) be in that lowest quartile? Not for nothing, but you CAN dispel the asymmetry with standardized scoring. Its really not THAT irrational if you think about it.

                We use standardized metrics for a lot of things. Credit scores, college entrances, bond ratings – I kind of wonder why there isn’t one widely used for “raw intelligence.” There’s GPA (which all analyst applications ask for) but GPA doesn’t control for grade inflation, or motivation. Would you rather have the person who graduates with a 3.8 by getting smashed the night before a matrix theory final and still get an A? Or would you rather have the guy with the 3.9 that had to scratch, bite, sweat and cry for every tenth of a point? The answer isn’t immediately clear.

                In the case of the chemistry Phd, we did have the benefit of being forwarded his CV instead of a resume. From that you can see the sheer speed of publication and the uniqueness of the research questions that showed a history of interesting tangential thinking. I know its possible a person with a higher (or as high) intelligence than E was rejected – but since I am guessing that he is in the 150-160 range, its highly statistically unlikely.

                But i must say there was yet another “intelligence isn’t good enough” post on another HR blog yesterday. The author posted a comment that immediately posited high IQ workers are anti-social, better off working alone. And she also linked to a previous article she wrote about someone with high IQ being on the autism spectrum. This further reinforces a negative stereotype of highly intelligence people. And I’m not trying to accuse the previous commentator of “going there.” But ancedatally it does seem to be a pattern that people immediately jump to “socially stunted” when discussing people like E in the IQ range he is in (the Daniel Goleman effect.) I’ve seen no research to suggest this though. I’ve only seen research linking low IQ to mental health problems such as social anxiety and depression in adults. But never high IQ. Its as if observational consensus is “be smart, but not TOO smart or do so at your own risk.”

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Chris, it goes back to “show, don’t tell.” It’s not usually convincing or compelling to say “I am smart,” “I am a good writer,” “I am a hard worker,” etc. — but it IS compelling to talk about things about yourself that SHOW those qualities. For instance, if you say “I’m really organized,” I may not believe you, but if you say “I color-code my CDs and alphabetize my spice rack,” I’m more likely to be sold.

            4. A Second Heather*

              Chris no one here is making the sweeping generalizations you just wrote out. I’m not sure how you got that from all this.

      3. fposte*

        You’re bypassing the whole correlation between application and performance. In a good search–which I’m pretty sure AAM runs–there’s a strong correlation. If he’s not smart enough to make his resume and cover letter show his superiority, he’s not smart enough for special consideration. The job isn’t taking IQ tests. It almost certainly is stuff that is a lot more like knowing how to correspond reasonably and effectively and to convey your strengths and character in a cover letter and resume–stuff at which he was less good at than other candidates.

        “I have a 1 zillion IQ” is no more use to me from a candidate than “I have a zillion dollars.” If you’re not spending it in a way that benefits my organization, I don’t care.

      4. Mel V.*

        The problem is that for 99% of jobs – even in the technical world – people skills are more important than sheer IQ. Someone can be smart as a whip and very knowledgeable, but if they’re a jerk or arrogant or otherwise can’t work with people they’re useless. This applicant’s response to rejection strongly indicates that he has poor people skills, thus confirming AAM’s original choice to drop him. That’s what makes it funny.

        My company recently got rid someone like that – good at what he did, but thought he was above everyone else and that his smarts entitled him to act like it. Challenging a decision by citing his IQ sounds exactly like something he would have done. His replacement isn’t as technically adept yet, but they’re learning well and the group as a whole is already far more functional without him.

      5. EngineerGirl*

        Boy Chris, I don’t think you get it. I’m a rocket scientist, and some of my projects are on display in the Air and Space Museum. You know what that demonstrates? I am old enough to have a project in a museum! Thats it. But I ain’t dumb.
        But you know what? IQ only indicates potential, not achievement. When I’m hiring I want to know what you’ve done with the hand you’ve been dealt. That will tell me far more than your so-called intelligence. “From everyone who has been given much, much is demanded”.I
        A high IQ can’t compensate for team spirit, a good personality, social acumen. It is just one factor.
        As on your cover letter, please take off the sentence that you are “highly intelligent”. First off, it is a non-quantitative evaluation. Second, it makes it look like you have no comm sense. If I recieve such a letter it would count against you.
        BTW- in my field an IQ of 140 is on the average-low side.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Loved it! I found the skits with the jet pack and the Very Big Rocket too. Thank you!

        1. Natalie*

          It would just kill me if I could literally tell people I was a rocket scientist. That is all.

        2. Chris*

          I used to represent/advocate for rocket scientists. If you’ve ever worked at an AAU university (as many rocket scientists who aren’t in defense have) I’ve probably worked for you.

          Highly intelligent = no common sense.
          Hard worker = total slacker.
          Tenacious = defeatist.
          The world of HR is starting to feel like an Orwell novel (not the one set in Burma.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m not sure where you’re getting this. I haven’t seen anyone make these types of assumptions. You sound like you have a pretty big chip on your shoulder, and I hope you’ll consider that with an open mind, because I have to think that it’s holding you back in some ways and making you less happy than you’d otherwise be.

          2. Anonymous*

            Chris, you are engaging in fallacy thinking and wrongful extrapolation. Here is where you are going wrong.
            Never just state something – show it. Don’t tell me that you are “highly intelligent”. To me, that is nothing more than blowing hot air. It is unverifiable and frankly, obnoxious. Instead, show me what you did with your intelligence. “I designed the Very Big Rocket in 6 months – 9 months ahead of schedule.” Well, now I’m really impressed.
            No one sais that Highly intelligent = no common sense. But putting a sentence like that on your resume demonstrates that you have none. Don’t do that.
            You’ve heard the phrase “show me the money”. Well, “Show me the accomplishments”. That will make me look. Believe me, if you accomplish great things people will figure out really fast that you are smart. You won’t need to tell them.

  20. A Second Heather*

    I didn’t see that AAM had already responded when I was writing my response and i think I basically just reiterated everything AAM said. Sorry for the redundancy.

  21. A Second Heather*

    Personally I think it’s pretty considerate that this person even got a rejection letter considering they hadn’t been invited for an interview.

    1. JT*

      Every person who applies for a job should get a rejection letter. Every piece of business correspondence should get a response. This is fundamental to good business practice.

  22. A Second Heather*

    I only ever expect “rejection correspondence” if have at least gotten to the interview stage. Anything else would be considered a bonus. I cannot even conceive of not getting to the interview stage, getting rejected then being all: “But I’m so gifted” (I’m not saying I’m gifted, just using that as an example.) I would think to myslef “how in the world could sending that not make me look like an idiot?”

  23. Anonymous*

    I used to manage the tour office at a University (a part of the marketing department) that employed part-time student tour guides. I once had a student come to my office after being rejected from the (very competitive) team telling me that I had to hire him because he had already told his mom and younger sister that he had been hired and they were expecting him to lead their tour when they visited the campus in two weeks.

    I also had a student come into the office and tell me that by not hiring him we had ruined his life and thrown his career plan completely off track. The student was upset to the point that a colleague felt the need to call in campus security to remove him. Two days later, the same student sent me a very polite email thanking me for the “chat” we had and attaching his resume incase anything opened up.

    It is very interesting how some people handle rejection…

    1. A Second Heather*

      That is probably the best reason I have ever heard for why someone should be hired: “My mom and sister are expecting this so you better make it happen!” haha

  24. Chris*

    I have no chip. I guess I just don’t understand. I really am completely confounded.

    A rocket scientist said that if they read my cover letter which highlights my self evaluation of my intelligence – they would read that as “no common sense.” And the whole discussion about people’s poor ability to self evaluate led to the very helpful advice about “showing, not telling.” Ok. I get that much. Solid.

    You said that if I told you I was organized, you may not take that at face value, you may not believe it. I have to SHOW I am organized by mentioning my CD collection.

    So, I’m assuming that if I SAY I’m a hard worker, a reader may not believe that I am a hard worker and choose to believe instead that I have below average worth ethic or at best, average work ethic. But if I SAY “I averaged 70 hours a week last year in a role responsible for last minute assignments,” that demonstrative self evaluation is more believable and makes the reader less likely to think – oh slightly below average or average work ethic? Right? Or no? The rocket scientist just said that if I SAY I’m intelligent, s/he will be inclined to believe I have no sense (which is pretty close to the exactly opposite of “intelligent.”)

    I’m trying to understand this. I am. I really would like to send out a ‘good’ cover letter. The worst part is, I really did pretty much cop my opening paragraph from the “best cover letter” example on this site. I just amended the “my biggest strengths” sentence to say “exceptionally intelligent, canny critical thought process, tenacious commitment to the inquiry and the team performing it.” It never, ever (and I do mean NEVER) dawned on me that a reader would look at the attributes an applicant chooses to highlight and think “eh, maybe – maybe not.” Lol.

    Its not the end of my world, seriously. I find it a mix of bizarre and humorous (like the Orwell novel) that that one’s self assessments, particularly of intelligence, garners such suspicion and negative reaction. I’ll probably just drop it out of my cover letter.

    If it comes off as a chip, I apologize. Its not meant that way. I have an intense fear and anxiety about working with people who need a lot of training, can’t figure things out on their own, need complex concepts walked through multiple times, have poor reading comprehension in their native language etc. I have had very bad experiences in the past, like to the point where I was coming home from both work and school in tears.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Again, it’s “show, don’t tell.” You may be all the things that your letter says you are. But sooooo many people claim to be those things when they are not that these types of self-assessments have become pretty useless to hiring managers. They want to see evidence of those traits, not just claims of having them, since it’s easy to make the claim and many people do without it being true. Does that make more sense?

    2. fposte*

      I can understand that, Chris. Maybe you want to think of it as being like a grammar or punctuation rule–it’s not about the logic, it’s about the convention.

      And maybe it could help if you think about the bigger picture of what the hiring manager sees. There’s nobody who’s going to write “I’m pretty stupid, but hire me,” right? And I, for instance, am hiring at a graduate school, so everybody had better be pretty freaking intelligent. Either way, an individual saying they’re intelligent doesn’t tell me about where they are in the group, because neither they nor I know the group. (I suppose you could look at this as everybody else having ruined it for you :-). ) Ultimately, your fluid use of “canny” and “tenacious” gives me more information about your intelligence than your claiming to be intelligent. I hire based on the person I *think* you are, not on the person you *say* you are (I bet some of those disappointing colleagues said they were great at stuff, after all).

      1. fposte*

        …and, ninthly–

        You’re clearly, looking at your posts, a facts and numbers person, so I think you’re struggling here with the ways qualitative language is different from quantitative, and even the way non-quantifiable qualities can give a candidate an advantage over somebody with objectively higher credentials. In sheer raw numbers, there are an awful lot of smart people in the world; you can get one who isn’t a jackass and who enables people to bring in more money/attract more clients/retain more staff/solve more problems than a higher-scoring person who’s a jerk who never shares.

  25. Trying to be nice...*

    It does come off as a chip. I’d be struggling to convince myself to employ you for a few reasons. I’ve tried to write this response a few times but I’m struggling to stick within the commenting guidelines and be nice!

    The short of it is that everything you have written here comes across as “I am a God, every business should feel honoured I’d consider working for Them!”. That can really put people off as they see the difficulties it could cause once you have the position.

    If you can provide examples of where it has helped you achieve sucess in the past “extreme intelligence” has a place. However using it as a reason that the interviewer is wrong and should reconsider is hugely indicative of the likelyhood of it being a future problem and they haven’t lost out by not employing you!

    1. Anonymous*

      I have to agree with this, and again, this is just constructive criticism, not a personal attack. Some of what you write comes off as condescending. It also kind of reminds me of the guy who didn’t want to work for the person who had a degree from a school they considered inferior. This is simply an encouragement to take a look at your writing and perhaps ask for feedback from friends about different ways it can be interpreted.

      By saying “show, don’t tell” AAM is encouraging something she encourages in all of her resume/cover letter posts – provide concrete examples and numbers to back up that you are what you say you are. As an example; I manage events, but I wouldn’t just write “has successfuly managed a number of events” – I would give numbers of attendees, budgets, and why they were successful.

  26. JobSeeker*

    Hi Ask a Manager!
    –when the hiring managers lie to applicants.
    I have a puzzling story and I would really like to get feedback on it.
    I found a great freelance job ad through my university careers page. It was for a mobile application start-up. The company listed their webpage and are a legit operation. They were hiring “Langauge X Translators”.
    I researched the company looking for details I can use in my application. I noticed that on their actual site they also advertised two other jobs that I would be a great fit for (all freelance and part-time, or at least no other details were given so I assumed that), content writer and editor.
    I did everything they asked for- including recording my voice and converting the recording into an mp3 which took several hours out of my day. I wrote a completely customized letter of intent claiming that I was a great fit for the company as I had the necessary skills to do the three jobs advertised, hoping that maybe they would recognize the efficiency of one person doing all three.
    I got back a very informal note from the founder of the company saying he;s forwarding my application to another staff member/hiring manager whom he CC’ed in that email. I didn’t hear back for over a week.
    So, I followed up with the staff member – with a very brief, formal note asking if they had a chance to look at my resume, and adding my LinkedIn profile link in case they needed more details about my previous positions.
    After a couple of days I got a bit of a generic sounding note from the hiring manager saying that they filled the position for “Language X Translator.” No mention of the other two positions I applied for. That already irked me because I knew it was a fib- I applied for the job approximately the day it was advertised and it was about a week and a half or two weeks that I got the rejection and I knew that was generally too fast to have made a decision but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and just accepted the answer graciously.
    That was around 3 weeks ago.
    I just ran into their new ad, placed two days ago, on another forum, asking for “Language X Translators”!!

    So, they blatantly lied, and now I know it. It ruins my image of this small company and I feel like teaching them a lesson on how to deal with applicants in a professional matter. I am not sour about the rejection- I just wish that they would have been ethical and honest. They could have just said “We feel that we will be talking further to the applicants that better matched our needs” or “we felt that your voice was not a good match for what we are looking for,” or something like that, if they didn’t like my application for some reason. So, the problem:
    -they lied
    -they didn’t address my application for those two other positions
    This makes them look lazy and unprofessional.
    I feel like responding to that staff member quoting the new ad, and saying something snarky like “I see that the “Language X Translator” position has not, in fact, been filled.” Or just reapply through this other forum. I’ll resist the urge though!
    But it would be great to see what you think of this and whether I could actually politely take up this issue with the company. Although now I don’t want to work for them.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, don’t do that. You never know when you’ll end up wanting a job there after all (circumstances change), or when you’ll run into one of these people somewhere else. There’s no point in burning a bridge.

      You also don’t know that they lied; it’s possible that they did fill it and the person didn’t work out.

      I’d just move on.

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