Gimmick Interview Questions Are Nothing New

Gimmicky interview questions (the “How many ping pong balls would fit in a school bus?” sort of thing) are super popular at companies like Google, Yelp, and more. But as this post from mental_floss shows, trick questions like this didn’t get their start with the tech boom.

No, Thomas Edison was also an asker of trick interview questions.

“To test the mental mettle of incoming job seekers, he administered to each a series of 150 questions, tailored to the position for which they were applying. Some were specific to the industry, while others were mysterious.” Out of 500 young men who took the test, only 35 got 90 percent or higher. According to Mental_Floss, some popular magazines started releasing “Edison pop quizzes” based on the questions he asked (Edison wouldn’t release his list to the press, so disgruntled test-takers leaked the questions they remembered).

Edison was a dropout but managed to self-educate himself, and according to some historians, had a chip on his shoulder about college-educated “‘sperts” ever since, so perhaps his test was devised as a subtle means of payback. Or perhaps it was the only way he could get through the applications of people begging to work in his lab. Five hundred applications for 35 slots is not nearly as big of an applicant-to-opening ratio as we have these days, but it’s a lot for one man to deal with.