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These... honestly aren't that bad. Not that I know all of them, but many of them, totally. And those that I don't are pretty context dependent, particularly those about sectors of the economy that have been de-emphasized or historical tidbits that have been de-emphasized.

Replace "what city produces the most laundry machines" with "which American city is known for producing cars" and "from where domestically do we get sardines" with "what part of the United States is known for producing wine"?

Note also that there are some ostensibly hard questions that seem blindingly obvious to people here now: "Where is Korea?"




Why are any of these good interview questions?


They aren't good questions for, say, a software engineer, but they might be useful for executives, which is how the Times article says they were used. If you're going to be analyzing potential business opportunities you probably should have a sense of different markets, their size, their relative strengths and weaknesses, etc. You should probably have a basic idea of where we get products and materials from and a basic sense of what different types of materials do. In our post-industrial society we don't care so much about sulphur and rubber and borax, but would you hire a tech executive who didn't know where electronics are manufactured? Would you hire someone who couldn't identify the regions of the US where the tech industry has a large presence? Would you hire someone who couldn't identify "six big businessmen in the United States"? If you can't answer these questions than you don't know anything about the industry and you probably aren't curious or engaged enough to keep yourself well informed.

If we updated this list to include things that are relevant to today's world, I would expect that a well-educated, well-informed person would be able to answer most of these questions.


I can see general knowledge type of questions useful for several reasons in the time Edison lived:

a) How good is the candidate at saying 'I don't know'?

b) Can the candidate handle repeated failures i.e., a string of "I don't know"?

c) Can they BS? Instead of leaving a blank, can they BS about something tangential?

d) Building hype around Edison. Imagine if the smartest person in your town failed to get hired. In the days of telegraph, the word of mouth would be 'only the best and brightest can become inspectors at Edison's factories.'

e) Head fake. Perhaps Edison really judged the candidates in some other way but made a big show of 'ignorant college grad' to prevent people from gaming the interview.

f) Make people that pass the test feel privileged. Its a common recruiting tool.

I think Edison was a good at spotting and using talent (yeah, using) for his own ends. I give him the benefit of the doubt on the interview process.


Perhaps if you are going to run an international business that may be interested in expanding to the Pacific countries, having employees that can physically locate Korea might be important. Apparently he couldn't "just assume" that every college graduate had ever spent time curiously inspecting a globe and developing a general knowledge of different parts of the world.


Never said they were good interview questions, but the implication elsewhere has been "these are impossible to know the answers to!"


because he knew the answers to them.




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