High Test Score Proves His Failing
Robert Jordan is a little too smart for his own good.
He took an exam to become a New London police officer but wasn’t called back for an interview because he scored too high.
Yes, that’s right, too high.
He recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination based on intelligence.
“I know I would be a good cop, but I had the misfortune of selecting too many correct answers,” said Jordan, 46. “What kind of a message does this send to children? Study hard, but not too hard?”
Deputy Police Chief William C. Gavitt and the city’s attorney, Ralph J. Monaco, said candidates who score too high could get bored with police work and leave not long after undergoing academy training that costs about $25,000.
“We are looking for bright people,” Monaco said, “but we’re not looking for people that are so bright to an extent that they’re not going to be challenged by the job.”
The intelligence exam, developed by Wonderlic Personnel Test Inc. of Libertyville, Ill., is widely used among employers, including some Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of police departments. Each year, it is given to nearly 3 million people nationwide.
Wonderlic said New London is not alone in screening out potential employees deemed too smart, but it wouldn’t identify any of those employers. If there are any, they are not exactly coming forward to say they don’t hire smart people.
At McDonald’s Corp., which does not use an intelligence test, many executives started out flipping burgers, spokeswoman Malesia Webb-Dunn said. “A college education certainly isn’t a hindrance,” she said.
At Latella’s Carting Co., a Connecticut trash hauler, supervisor Lisa Latella said, “To be very honest, we would hire anyone.” But she said a college-educated person would probably want a higher salary than the company could offer.
New London hot dog vendor Murray Zionts, 42, has two years of college credits but said she’s not bored with her job. “You have a lot of interaction with people,” she said with a smile. As for hiring someone with a college degree, she said: “I don’t care if they’re a professor. If they want to come work for me, that’s fine.”
But New London shoe salesman Charlie Dailey, 38, who spent one year at college, said he sometimes feels overqualified. “The little guys never get the credit,” he said. “It’s the managers who get all the credit.”
Jordan, who sells insurance and is a part-time security guard, has a bachelor’s degree in literature from a correspondence college and was admitted to law school at Quinnipiac College in Hamden but dropped out after a year.
He scored a 33 on the test, which measures a person’s ability to learn and to solve problems. (Two other applicants who scored even higher were also rejected.)
Jordan’s score gave him the equivalent of an IQ of 125. Such a score would be expected of a chemist, electrical engineer, administrator or computer programmer, said Charles F. Wonderlic, president of the test company.
The average score nationally for police officers as well as general office workers, bank tellers and salespeople, is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104. New London police interviewed only those candidates who scored 20 to 27.
In contrast, the neighboring community of Groton uses the exam only to screen out those who test low in intelligence.
“I go for the highest score on the Wonderlic that I can get,” said Police Chief Wilfred Blanchette Jr. “My instructions are, ‘You give me a list of people who are above this number.’ Let me figure out if they’re going to get bored or not.”
Experts in the field of industrial psychology said that studies on job satisfaction do not support New London’s policy.
“If we make it a practice of ruling out people based on superior intellectual abilities, we may be eliminating people who would become our police chiefs,” said Robin Inwald, director of Hilson Research in New York, one of the nation’s leading test developers for law enforcement agencies.
Frank J. Landy, author of the book “Psychology of Work Behavior,” said job satisfaction is determined not just by how challenging the work is but by factors such as salary, recognition and relationships with co-workers.
“The notion that the individual is too bright is goofy,” he said.
On the streets of New London, the case has been a little embarrassing for members of the police force.
“There have been jokes about it, but we’re intelligent enough to overlook that,” Patrolman John Clark said. “The city should feel safe. The people of New London respect us because we’ve proven ourselves over the years.”
This week, a man walked up to a patrolman on the street with an outstretched hand and said: “I’m proud to know you’re dumb enough to be a police officer.”
The man, who would not identify himself, said he was only kidding. Many citizens are questioning the hiring policy, though.
“A policeman’s job is not the easiest job. They have to be able to think. I’d rather have a person who scored higher on the test,” said Jim Rondeau, an insurance claims manager.