“If I worried about appearances I wouldn’t be at Cubs games.”

– Billy Corgan

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES: During interviews and meetings, we all want to look intelligent, wise, knowing and capable. Consciously or subconsciously, we do things to help ourselves appear that way. Some work. Some don’t. Some backfire.

Do you know how you can manage the impression you give? You may be very surprised at what researchers have recently concluded.

LESSON TO LEARN: Psychologists study a lot of things about what makes people “tick.” I recently came across an article that summarizes the many tactics people use to make themselves look smart, some successfully, some pathetically. The findings, explained below, may surprise you.

The studies suggest three lessons to learn about creating a positive first impression of intelligence at interviews and meetings: First, you can’t fake being intelligent. Second, you can learn to act in an intelligent manner, and to avoid acting like a fool. And third, there are a few small things you can do can make a bit of a difference, too.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are what the psychologists who have studied “What makes people look smart” have concluded:

A. Behaviors People Mistakenly Use to Try to Look Smart, that Often Backfire:

1. Speaking or Writing with Long, Complicated Words and Sentences. Everyone has experienced people who do this, and everyone knows that it does not impress them. Rather, it seems kind of desperate. It’s a sure sign of insecurity. Notice that “pretend” and “pretention” are derived from the same linguistic root.

This is a sure sign of trying too hard. So how come people continue to do it? In the firmly-embedded estimation of the multitudes of the populace, such behavioral misadventure borders on inestimable prevarication. (Just kidding!)

2. Maintaining a Serious-Looking Facial Expression. Serious people are seriously smart, yes? Sorry, but that is wrong. Perhaps boring, perhaps asleep, but not necessarily smart. Keeping a serious expression on your face doesn’t invite social or intellectual exchanges, where intelligence is both illustrated and evaluated. Maintaining a constant serious expression actually tends to make people think of negativity and inflexibility.

3. Talking More and Faster Than Others. I was one of those kids in class who raised my hand to answer the question before the teacher finished asking it. It didn’t work for me then, and it surely doesn’t work now. The idea that “speed means smart” just doesn’t hold water. Instead, if often gives off the impression of a desire to appear to know it all, a tendency not to absorb ideas, and a habit of not learning from others. The same thing goes for talking too much: it is a definite sign of insecurity and low self-esteem. Slow down. Let others speak, too. Careful and deliberate interaction is a sure sign of smart. Those who only speak when they have something intelligent to say are listened to, with respect and with admiration.

4. Keeping Your Body “Dead” Still. Sure, you don’t want to fidget your way through an interview. That said, being a stone mountain is no better. Though some people think that “Still waters run deep,” most of us know that “Mannequins are dummies.” Reasonable degrees of movement show you’re alive, you are breathing, your blood is flowing, and thus your brain is working. Not moving generally expresses the opposite.

B. Behaviors That Surely Make You Seem Smart

5. Engagement in the conversation or meeting. If you engage with others in pleasant and intelligent conversation and interactions, chances are you have significant intelligence. It takes “smarts” to engage in artful conversational interplay, the sharing of thoughts. Some degree of “emotional intelligence” is necessary to a valuable interaction. Meaningful exchanges of ideas are among the surest signs of intelligence.

6. Using clear language. Clarity of expression is a sure sign of clarity of thought. What a delight it is to communicate with a person whose words and sentences show care and precision, and organization of thought. There is no doubt about it: those who are difficult to understand are not generally viewed as having great intelligence.

7. A sense of relaxed self-confidence. This is a hard trait to fake, probably because it can’t be faked. You can, though, help yourself act this way through preparation before interviews and meetings, practicing your pitch, and projecting that you are prepared and practiced.

8. It’s really good to ask good questions. Some people believe that you must know everything. Most people understand that those who claim to know it all actually don’t knew too much, at all. Inquiring, delving, admitting you are open to absorb new information and insight, is a wonderful way to appear intelligent, and be intelligent, too.

After the interview, you can still impress your interviewers. Use our Model Letter After Interview; with Later Follow Up. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

C. Small Things You Can Do That Enhance the Appearance of Intelligence

9. Looking at the other person when speaking. It seems that this suggests to people that you listen to what others are saying, you are thinking about what others are saying, and weighing what others are saying against your own thoughts. These are sure signs of intelligence. This is a tactic you can practice to perfection.

10. Standing or sitting up straight. This observation is derived, it seems, from the sense that people who stand up straight or sit up straight are more alert, more aware and better prepared to offer and received ideas, information and insights. Preparation for any human interaction does give the prepared person the edge.

11. Using a middle initial. This observation of psychologists may well be a remnant of the view that middle initials were historically used by those with higher social status and education. (If you view the bottom of this page, you will see that, as part of my copyright notice on this post, that I use my middle initial. I assure you I have no greater intelligence or higher social status than the average guy or gal; that’s for sure.) Still, using a middle initial does enhance the expectation that you are smart. Go figure.

12. Wearing glasses. I can only guess this suggests to others you have read so many books, you eventually learned something. I’ve worn glasses my entire life, and I’ve never seen it as proving my being smart. Who knows?

P.S.: Want to get comfortable with interviewing? Consider viewing our Sklover On Demand Video entitled “Interviewing – Your Three Objectives.” Just sit back, relax, watch and listen. To do so, just [click here.]

Help Yourself With These and Other
Unique JOB SEARCH Materials

Next Step 1: Letter to Friends, Family: Seeking a New Job
Reference 8: Request for Positive References to Former Managers & Colleagues
New Job 1: Cover Letter Submitting Your Resume
New Job 2: "Thank You" Letter after Job Interview
New Job 8: 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure
New Job 10: Model Response to Interview Asking Your Salary Expectations
New Job 21: 163-Point Master Guide and Checklist to Interviews

[ Click Here ] and Go to Sections "A, B and C"


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. Understanding what makes you look smart, and what makes you look “the opposite,” during interviews and meetings, is one small – but not insignificant – step in that path to job and career success.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

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Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the state of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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