Want to look smarter than you really are? Consider the immortal words of The Wizard of Oz, “Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”
Okay, you may already have a diploma. That’s not really the point. The point is that, to a certain degree, when it comes to smarts, you can totally fake it. We all know morons with degrees and geniuses who dropped out of high school (right?).
I’m not saying that you can disguise being a complete idiot, or that you won’t be found out eventually if you pretend to be something you’re not. But if you simply want to put your best foot forward and make a solid, brainy impression at a job interview or networking event, there are ways to do that. Here are 10 tips and tricks to make yourself appear smarter, according to science, the internet and common sense.
Cover up: A study published in 2010 found that folks who flaunt skin and are perceived as “a body” are judged more harshly on aspects that usually count in the job hunt. Researchers wrote that “focusing on someone’s body reduces perceptions of agency (self-control and action) but increases perceptions of experience (emotion and sensation),” and that “In six studies … we show that taking off a sweater – or otherwise
revealing flesh – can significantly change the way a mind is perceived.” You’re usually more likely to get hired for action than emotion. Keep the sweater.
Wear glasses: People think they make you look smarter, probably because of the idea that reading a lot ruins eyesight. The UK telegraph reported, “A third of British adults think glasses make someone look more professional and 43 per cent think glasses make people look more intelligent, according to the research.”
Wear high heels: Taller people make more money and, according to one Australian study, “are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful.” The author said, “Our estimates suggest that if the average man of about 178 centimeters [5 feet 10 inches] gains an additional five centimeters [2 inches] in height, he would be able to earn an extra $950 per year.” Other studies back this up and list the numbers even higher. One researcher estimated that, over an entire career, the advantages of height could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Men can try lifts. No, seriously. Why not?
Sit up straight. Those who maintain good posture are said to be perceived as smarter than slouchers. Sitting up straight will also make you believe your own hype, says one study. Science Daily reported: “Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.” And we all know how hard it can be to convince ourselves sometimes, let alone other people. Throw those shoulders back! Raise that chin! Say it like you mean it.
Make eye contact. Look people in the eye and apparently, they will think you’re smart. But don’t overdo it. Then they’ll just think you’re creepy and that will have the opposite effect of the one you want.
Learn to speak properly. Don’t say “um” and “uh” and, for Pete’s sake eradicate “like” and “y’know” from your speech patterns. Get from point A to point B in your sentence without making unnecessary noises. And don’t use “like” instead of “said.” Steve Jobs wasn’t like, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” He said it. But don’t quote Steve Jobs.
Dye your hair brown. Brunettes are perceived as smarter than blondes and redheads, by men anyway. So says a 2005 study. “Brunettes were described as intelligent by 81 per cent of respondents, while 67 per cent of men described them as independent and self-sufficient. Two-thirds of the respondents (62 per cent) said the brunette women appeared stable and competent. The blonde model was described as needy and lacking in independence by 40 per cent of the men questioned.”
Go with the flow. By this I mean move at the same speed as other people. Don’t dawdle or rush. Interestingly, a study found that those who moved at the same speed as other humans, rather than faster or slower, “were ascribed greater intelligence, competence and mind.”
Stay up on current events. Read the news every day so you know what’s going on in the world. If someone tries to make small talk by referencing the latest election results or Oscar winners, you don’t want to be caught short. In an interview setting, keep any potentially controversial opinions to yourself, though, unless they’re more important to you than paying the bills.
Know when to shut it. People who talk too much often wind up revealing how dumb they are. Yes, in an interview, you need to talk, but don’t ramble because you’re nervous. In a social or networking situation, pay attention to what’s coming out of your mouth and watch people’s faces to gauge their reactions. When in doubt, don’t keep talking, stop talking, and ask a question of your own to give someone else a chance.
I bet you feel smarter already.
Follow Elizabeth Bromstein on Twitter @missbromstein.