mensa on my mind (and resume)

I was talking to a recruiter the other day (I’ve been contacted a whole lot lately for some reason) and she asked about the reference to “mensa” in my extracurricular/other section.  I’m not even 100% sure why I put that there – I haven’t updated that section in a while.  I asked her if it sent the wrong message – like “I’m so smart” or something like that.  She didn’t really have a solid answer, just repeated the question about why I’d put that on there.

So I’ll throw this question out to y’all.  If you were interviewing someone and saw “mensa” on the resume, would you discard it?  Would you think the candidate was being a show-off or had an inflated ego?  After thinking it through a bit, I think my original reasoning was to hopefully demonstrate that I had some level of raw capability such that if I was thrown a new technology I’d be able to pick it up pretty quickly.  Now, I’m not saying I can pick up *any* technology under the sun in 10 minutes, but I’m usually able to pick up the basics and then some of most tasks/situations/technologies pretty quickly.

When putting things on a resume, should you only put *accomplishments* that indicated a great deal of effort went in to them?  Maybe that’s what I was leaning towards, but I’m talking myself out of it now.  Some people might pass the bar in one attempt, and others make take 3 attempts.  One might argue that “3 timer” had to put more effort in to it, but in that case indicating effort – “I took it 3 times” – probably doesn’t look very good to some people (tho it might indicate a stick-to-it-iveness they admire).

I think I’ll keep it on there, although it’s one of those things that, to me, really isn’t an ‘accomplishment’ – it just is.  I mean, filling out the form was an accomplishment, and them cashing my membership check was an accomplishment, I guess.  ;)   But mostly it’s like being right-handed or brown-eyed or whatever.  It’s a biological trait, but it happens to be that this particular biological trait comes in handy in the tech field, much like being 6’9″ might come in handy in the NBA.  Being tall doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be a superstar basketball player, but it generally doesn’t hurt.  A friend of mine recently got his MS MVP certification.  I’m sure he’ll be putting that on his resume, but it’s also something that he worked at and developed over a couple years.

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{ 25 comments to read ... please submit one more! }

  1. Well, let me turn the question to you: what do you hope to get by putting “Mensa” on your resume? What does it show/demonstrate that the rest of your stuff doesn’t?

    I’d leave off the “3 times”. That’s just more detail than anyone cares to pay attention to, and it’s an ambiguous message.

    If the reader has to think about an item on the resume to get value, the item needs to be clarified or dropped. Keeping in mind that most people reading your e-mail are just going to skim it, so you need to keep it terse and focused.

  2. Maybe I was unclear on the “3 times” – what I was meaning was that just because someone has achieved something doesn’t necessarily indicate an absolute level of effort. Someone passing the bar exam after 3 attempts may or may not have put in more effort than the person who passed the first time. I wasn’t saying I took a mensa test 3 times, if that’s how you’d read it. I agree, I’d leave it off as well if it took me 3 times to pass the bar. ;)

    I think I answered my own question, as the memory was somewhat hazy. By having it on there I’m using it as a way to demonstrate a level of intelligence that would indicate I am likely able to adapt to whatever technical situation someone would throw at me. Instead of just writing “fast learner” or something like that, acknowledging membership in Mensa should indicate a certain level of ability that goes beyond hard to measure claims of “hard worker” or “fast learner” or whatever.

    Does that make any more sense?

  3. I don’t see the harm in having it on there. It’s quite possible the recruiter didn’t know what Mensa ia – they aren’t always the sharpest crayons in the box, I’ve discovered. ;-)

    I see it as being akin to putting your IQ score on your resume. Granted it’s a bit unconventional, but guess what Mike – you are a bit unconventional too. :-) Sure, accomplishments speak louder, but most software companies like to hire really smart people (and then put them in positions with no authority – but I digress!).

    I say don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a bit. That’s what a resume is for!

  4. Thanks. I’m leaving it in for now. Hasn’t really caused me any harm, at least that I know about. Perhaps it’s turned some people off, but no one has ever contacted me to say “I’m not going to consider you because you have X on your resume.” I guess the same thing could happen over PHP or Perl or whatever anyway.

  5. My take on it is look at how you present it. I can tell you if I was in the 2% of the world population of smart people I’d put it on my resume. Big bold damn letters too. At the top and I’d use the blink tag on it with it scrolling across the page!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mensa is an organization so just list it in your organizational stuff.

    1. Salsa and Chips Eaters Club
    2. >blink<Mensa Organization>/Mensa<
    3. Grails Club Fan. Member ID: #1

    See my point?

  6. Maybe I should use a scrolling activex control? Or the snazzy “word reflected in a pool of water with live action rippling” java applet? ;)

    It is just listed in the organizational stuff. I have a list at the bottom of the resume of “extracurricular activities” – I list mensa, toastmasters, my podcast, and a few other things – no big deal. That’s why I was a bit initially concerned by her question about why I’d put it on there.


  7. Was just wondering if it’s still on your resume and if you’ve found it to be useful.

  8. Yes, it’s on there, and I can’t quite tell if it’s done any more harm than good. I get calls from recruiters about 1-2 times per month, and people call me up to do consulting gigs, so if they’re reading it, it’s not a total turn off. is where it lives right now if you want to have a look – it’s towards the bottom.

  9. I kind of sneer, when I see Mensa on a resume, perhaps even more than I sneer at GRE or SAT scores, but not as greatly as I sneer at IQ scores. It really doesn’t demonstrate anything positive. The world is full of very unaccomplished people who started out with high IQ’s, and no, I’m not some dolt – most test scores I see are far lower than mine, especially the IQ scores. I started out smart and I did something with it. It usually reminds me of those people who like to tell you how smart they were in High School 10 years after the fact. Those things that I did are what matter on a resume. I wouldn’t throw around my IQ scores, unless I got hideously drunk and surly, and even then, I would throw my accomplishments at them first, and then call them short, and then take a swing at them, before I even got to a questionable quantification of intelligence. Unless you want to work for idiots who are impressed by non-essentials, leave it out.

  10. This is a real struggle for me. Having graduated college recently with little to no experience (yeah i know, not very brilliant of me) I’ve been tempted to include my TNS membership in desperation, but with so little else on my resume I fear how it would look to employers. Though I agree that such societies of “geniuses” playing grabass are trivial, I have a relaxed outlook compared to some of the responses (I would probably opt out of striking an employer). Regardless of viewpoint, this is definitely a cute outlook: “I kind of sneer, when I see Mensa on a resume, perhaps even more than I sneer at GRE or SAT scores, but not as greatly as I sneer at IQ scores.”

  11. You can guess how I got here, I guess–Googling for opinions on whether my GRE score belongs on my CV. The verdict seems ambivalent.

    Obviously, I don’t know the answer. But a shade of nuance might be warranted. I suspect Mensa is a turnoff for at least some employers, because, fairly or not, it has connotations of self-indulgence, arrogance and affirmation-seeking. A good GRE or SAT score probably lacks these connotations, since so many people take these tests, but it says much the same thing about your intelligence. So I’d sooner mention test scores than Mensa membership, unless you happen to know the HR director is a Mensan or something. That way, employers who are looking for this kind of thing find it, while those who’re turned off by it just dismiss it instead of trashing your resume over it.

  12. The fact that you have *taken* the GRE leads me to believe you’re a bit biased as to how people will view GRE scores. Depending on the people reading your resume, they may react favorably (because it’s a requirement for your chosen career) or they may consider you a pompous twit who’s full of himself for even thinking anyone cares about the GRE scores.

    People will end up looking for almost any excuse for filtering out a resume, especially the ‘HR’ side of the fence (this has been my experience, at any rate). I’ve given up caring, honestly, mostly because I’m not in a position where I’m looking to be employed. I have a set of clients that I provide service to, and I have some publishing properties I nurture. If I ever get to the point where I’m specifically pounding the pavement trying to get hired somewhere, I *might* have a different view, but I don’t think I will. If someone will get that bent out of shape over seeing the word “mensa” (or “GRE”) on a resume, how on earth will they react if I say the ‘wrong’ thing in an interview, or worse yet, on the job?

    Good luck with your GRE scores :)

  13. First of all. Of course you should put mensa on your resume. That is, if you are in fact a member.

    I go through hundreds of resumes. Some of them say mensa. My problem is; I cannot confirm their membership. If I cannot confirm it, then I will most likely discard that portion of the information.

    Is there a search-able database of mensa members somewhere?

  14. Interesting perspective. To be honest, I let my membership lapse. To me it was enough to state that I was a member, indicating I was ‘accepted’. For me it’s not providing any ongoing benefits (networking, social, etc) in my neck of the woods, so I stopped paying my dues. I don’t know of any way to publicly validate membership, except perhaps asking for documentation from Mensa (you get a welcome pack when you’re first admitted).

  15. @ higher_hiring,

    There is a search-able database of current members on the American Mensa website, but it is only available to members (log-in required). However, if the applicant were to supply you with their membership number you could probably verify over the telephone by calling the national office in Texas at (817) 607-0060 ex.199.
    A Mensa membership number is not a “password”, (nor does it serve as one). Rather, it’s more like a user-name or a checking account number (essentially useless without the accompanying password). However, since each nine digit number is unique to the individual and can never be changed, whether or not the applicant would be willing to supply their membership number (I don’t see the harm really) I can’t say.

    Also, I read in a previous post something about “not taking the Mensa test” three different times. This is not possible anyway. Mensa has a very strict policy: One attempt at membership per person. You either get accepted (by scoring or by proving a score at or above the 98th percentile) or not. There are no second chances to “do better next time”.


    I have since learned that you probably could not verify a membership in the way I had speculated.
    However, all current members are allowed a “vanity” email address that routes directly through the International Mensa server. It will appear as
    Anyone that can receive mail at their Mensa vanity address (which must be under their real name) is a current member.

  17. Having been invited to join Mensa at age 12, I fail to see any use for it on a resume other smugness. Being in the top 2% intellectually tells me nothing about your work ethic, management abilites or technical expertise. It does tell me you think you are special based on the way you were born. As upper management, I can tell you that the people with the highest IQ’s aren’t neccessarily the highest achievers. Mensa on a resume would have the executives in my field laughing up their sleeves.

  18. Every single credible academic study that has been done on this subject shows “general cognitive ability” (as measured by standardized IQ tests) has the highest correlation with entry-level job performance (jobs that will require training after hire). The second highest correlation comes from work-sampling (in-basket exercises, etc). Resumes, interviews, and previous job experience all have woefully low correlations across a series of independent studies and meta-analyses (I will cite if anyone is interested).

    Numerous psychological studies have also shown that the attitude of most hiring managers (“I know intelligence when I see it!”) is just a toxic cocktail of behavioral biases. In fact, when I was pursuing my Bachelors in Psych, the example they used to exhibit confirmation bias and overconfidence bias was job interviewers! Most illuminating.

    Honestly, the body of evidence supporting the correlation between high IQ and job performance is overwhelming, and yet lay people continue to ignore it. There’s no studies yet as to why this is so, but my hypothesis would be that it’s an extension of the “just-world” phenomenon. People believe we live in a just world, and everybody’s talents are distributed in a more or less equal fashion. This sort of (wishful?) thinking commonly manifests in the compelling emotional argument that a person who is cognitively deficient can be just as successful in life as someone who exhibits high general intelligence, so long as they work hard. This is a great argument, until one considers the counterargument: but what if the person with higher intelligence is also an equally hard worker? Hmm…

    It truly baffles me sometimes to see statements from hiring managers like “IQ scores are out of place on a resume” when the vast majority of peer-reviewed academic studies on the subject prove that IQ has one of the highest correlations to job performance (so long as the score is legitimate, and not one you received from taking a Facebook quiz). Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be screening for? Seeing as how a significant portion of hiring managers have I/O psych backgrounds, you would think they would have at least a cursory knowledge of studies in this field. Yet, once again, the Dunning-Kruger effect wins the day.

  19. No, having a high IQ doesn’t *necessarily* mean that a person will be a good worker.

    The race does not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.

    But that’s the way to bet.

  20. I get sense that people just say experience, is more important then Mensa membership or IQ score, which obviously I understand. However for a recent graduate who has very little experience would’t IQ score be a best indicator for how well he will perform on a job.

    There is economic theory that school besides improving human capital acts as a sorting mechanism, meaning typically smartest people go to Ivy league, and average go to Community college… etc.. But this mechanism can make mistakes, can’t it? Wouldn’t IQ score show some true talent and ability to learn and grow?

  21. I get sense that people just say experience, is more important then Mensa membership or IQ score, which obviously I understand. However for a recent graduate who has very little experience would’t IQ score be a best indicator for how well he will perform on a job.

    There is economic theory that school besides improving human capital acts as a sorting mechanism, meaning typically smartest people go to Ivy league, and average go to Community college… etc.. But this mechanism can make mistakes, can’t it? Wouldn’t IQ score show some true talent and ability to learn and grow?

  22. I don’t think it’s the ‘best’ indicator, and some might argue it’s not even a ‘good’ one on the whole. It’s really going to depend on what sort of job situation you’ll be involved in.

  23. I’m reminded of a news article that my former best friend and I found funny. Apparently, the dumber you are, the more likely you are to over-rate your own ontelligence. More intelligent people realise their limitations, such as they are, more easily.

    I guess it comes down to communication. How do you get the message across to the employer about your ‘smarts’? Is it really the style of the message that’s supposedly off-putting, or is it the content?

    My father has worked to get where he is

  24. Ha ha! This is me struggling with new technology (my new phone).

    As I was saying, my father is not a member of Mensa, and probably would not try, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do well if he did. I reckon executives would need a reasonable level of latent talent in the IQ department in order to succeed.

  25. No offense to your father – I don’t know you or him – but I’ve met plenty of good ‘executives’ who weren’t particularly bright. They ‘executed’ well – but weren’t necessarily ‘smart’ in a raw intelligence standpoint. And that’s not bad, it’s just what it is. Everyone’s different.

    The older I get the more convinced I am that raw intelligence has less correlation with ‘success’ as measured in traditional means (accumulation of money and power/influence) than most people think.

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