Answer by Patrick Mathieson, VC at Toba Capital, on Quora

Speaking from experience as an occasional corporate recruiter (have reviewed ~500 resumes and conducted ~50 interviews in the past year), seeing Mensa listed on a resume tends to give me a slightly negative impression of the candidate. Reasons why:

  • Listing Mensa membership means that you did the following: decided that you want to be a part of Mensa; applied to Mensa; took and passed an intelligence test to get into the organization; then went back and listed it on your resume. Each of the steps I just listed suggests a deliberate effort to get other people to believe that you’re a smart person. I’m not interested in hiring people who are overly concerned with how others perceive them. People who do a lot of posturing tend to have less success in group settings, in my experience.
  • There are much better ways to demonstrate intelligence than through membership in an intelligence society. Show me that you have used critical thinking to advance a project; show me that you can work well with others (emotional intelligence). To a lesser extent, you can demonstrate this through your GPA.
  • Adding to that previous point, I want to see activities and experiences that have to do with adding value. I.E., you worked on a project that was beneficial to your employer/peer group/university/etc. Obtaining a high-IQ certificate doesn’t do anything to help anybody but yourself. Now, you could convince me that you joined Mensa in order to identify other smart people that you subsequently recruited for a project that actually accomplished something. Do I ever see that on resumes or cover letters? No.

I definitely can’t speak for everybody, and I can absolutely imagine certain recruiters really appreciating membership in Mensa (quant jobs perhaps), but my personal take is that it’s a net detractor on a resume. Given the myriad ways that smart people can demonstrate aptitude on a resume, it just feels like an easy way for underachievers to earn cach for their raw intelligence despite their inability to harness it productively.

It should be noted that this is way, way, way down on the list of things that I care about while hiring. I have never decided for or against interviewing somebody (or for or against hiring somebody) based on seeing Mensa membership on a resume. There are no legions of Mensans whom I have screwed out of job opportunities based on this one criterion.

Joining Mensa and listing Mensa as a job qualification are different things. I think joining Mensa can be great and I have no beef with that at all. But I disagree that it is a credential for most jobs (more pointedly: I disagree that the ability to perform well on logic puzzles correlates well with job performance in and of itself), and seeing it put forth by applicants as a job credential causes me to question the applicant’s judgment in a very minor and barely significant way.

Some people might think that I’m being critical of “smart” people. This has nothing to do with “smart” people. It has to do with people who perform highly on IQ tests — which is not the same as being “smart”.

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Published on: Aug 11, 2015