No matter the job at stake, you probably want your candidates to be literate. But what about geo-literacy? The mental map that comes in handy when someone mentions Syria or Iran or the Phillippines? How important is that?

About a year and a half ago, I applied for a job at a children's book publishing company. As part of the three-hour long interview, they gave me a software exam and two written exams. One was a three-page-long grammar quiz.  The other was a geography quiz. Straight up. A blank map of the world with a numbered list of 20 countries.

I didn't get the job, and I have no idea if I performed respectably on the map portion. Was that the kicker?

Geography Quiz

I just kept thinking... "Why is this important to this particular job? Am I going to be publishing books of maps? Am I going to be helping market books overseas? Am I going to be choosing culturally sensitive illustrations?"  It was distracting, and I wanted an explanation. I wanted to know, like a concerned college student, how much of it counted toward the final grade. Was there a cut-off? If a candidate labeled three countries incorrectly, were they axed from the running? Five? Ten? Maybe its sole purpose was to test my stamina. Perhaps it was a back-up tie-breaker in the case of two stellar candidates. Maybe the hiring manager had a personal vendetta against people who couldn't tell Brazil from Argentina -- or maybe she was secretly a Brit, smirking in superiority at the stack of failed tests littering her desk (Americans' failed map-skills, depicted in the image above, are famous by now. These were all completed by adults, by the way).

National Geographic, for one, thinks lots of jobs depend on geography, and they're unhappy that, of all the academic subjects Congress labeled "poor" in 2001, only geography failed to receive any federal funding. "We're seeing that the military is not able to find enough people who have the skills to do the logistics and planning that they need to do," said Daniel Edelson, VP of Education at the national Geographic Society. "We're seeing agriculture or in the oil business that they need to be taught at an advanced level the things that they should have been taught in school."

I don't want to get into an argument about what sort of basic knowledge should be taught throughout a child's education. But it got me thinking... what can you trust a candidate to know, and what must you see for yourself?

Tags: Industry, Geo-literacy, National Geographic, Daniel Edelson, Geography