Career Center Blog

January 17, 2013

How to appear smarter than you really are


Wouldn't you like to be smarter? Even if you are already super-smart, you probably wouldn't mind goosing the old IQ a few points. Or at least making it look that way.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you do anything ridiculous, like going out and buying a pair of nerdy eyeglasses. (Unless you really need eyeglasses.) And I'm not suggesting that you fake competence, or behave in any way that is sneaky or underhanded or dishonest.

The way to look smarter than you really are is not only simple, but straightforward.

Talk more.

You may be just about ready to quote that old proverb: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt."

But you know what? In the workplace, and that's what we're talking about here, people who speak up more often are viewed as more instrumental to the group's overall success. That's because talkative people are perceived as dominant people. What's more, for better or for worse, dominant people are perceived as competent people.

In fact, it's actually possible to be smart without appearing to be smart. Sad, isn't it?

Once we accept that a certain amount of success is based more on style than on substance, we can start to make this little quirk work for us. Of course -- and this should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway -- the key is to talk in an intelligent manner. Offer useful feedback! Pose pertinent questions! Invite group dialogue!

Heck, you can even admit total ignorance if you clearly demonstrate that your objective is the success of your team and your organization. The simple act of contributing is what establishes you as a player.

The result is that your bosses will perceive you as a leader and your job will be more secure. Even naturally shy types (like me and, maybe, you) can see the advantage of that.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

Read more


| Leave a comment

How ironic for an article like this to appear on the same day that Lance Armstrong comes clean about his cheating in cycling. If truth caught up with someone as powerful as him, I'm sure it'll catch up with you too.

Of course, what the author says about people mistaking talkativeness / dominance for actual competence is true. But that's just one of the many things wrong with this world. You should look into ways by which you can contribute to making those things right, not take advantage of them for personal gain. Because even if you "make it", you'll be making it in a phony, dysfunctional world, and you'll never be really happy with that kind of success.

But of course, I'm not from the US. To the readers of this newspaper, the idea that "winning the game" isn't all that matters in life must seem delusional.

wow. as someone who doesn't have to resort to tricks on how to appear smart, i offer the following suggestions. talk confidently but not arogantly about what you do know, ask questions about what you don't know, and quickly admit when you are wrong. and don't ever, ever, bullshit me.
smart people become smart because they cultivate a habit of learning.

Leave a comment

Follow NWjobs: Twitter Facebook LinkedIn


More posts


Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


See all topics

Subscribe to NWjobs

Career Center Blog Events