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A guide to being your smartest self

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(Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

(Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

Next time you listen to someone speak, count the number of “likes” and “ums” they say.

This is something I’ve been working on myself and it is a difficult habit to break. I remember listening to a Miley Cyrus interview a while back and she said “like” every few words. She just sounded dumb.

The most common misusage of the word “like” that I’ve observed is while explaining a conversation: “He was like… and then she was like…” My mother always asks me, “Was he like that? Or did he say that?”

But as students head to interviews for summer internships and other employment opportunities for the upcoming year, it is important to recognize the phrases that make you sound less smart than you actually are, and know the ways to outdo your competitors for the job.

“While trying to look intelligent, a lot of people do things that make them look dumb,” said Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal article, “How to Look Smarter.”

“The cues people look for in assessing each other’s intelligence are simple. But they aren’t always easy to pull off under pressure,” Shellenbarger said.

Unfortunately, uncomfortable situations are also one of the more common times to say “like” or “um.” According to Shellenbarger, positive cues “…include showing self-confidence, speaking clearly and smoothly and responding thoughtfully to what others are saying, research shows.”

I’ve found that to consciously not say these unimportant filler words, I need to really think when I’m speaking, which sometimes distracts me even more. It’s harder to notice yourself, but when I speak to others who say these words a lot, it is frustrating to listen to and they don’t sound as smart as they truly are.

Regardless of what comes out of your mouth, body language and physical being are extremely important factors in how someone perceives you.

“One of the strongest and most accurate signs of intelligence is looking at others when you are speaking to them,” said Nora A. Murphy, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, in the article. Put away that phone, be in the moment and show respect to the one who is actually with you. The person miles away can wait.

Shellenbarger’s article features a Venn diagram that outlines the behaviors people use to try to look smart in the left circle, behaviors others look for when judging who is smart in the right circle and the behaviors that people use that actually make them look intelligent in the overlapping section. I found this to be helpful in recognizing what I do and how I should adjust my behaviors accordingly.

In terms of facial expressions, people try to put on a serious face, but others look for a self-confident expression.

While the look of confidence varies between different people, looking at others while speaking is the best behavior to display. In all of my interviews, I am not afraid to smile – in fact, I never hold myself back from doing so.

I show my true self and I think that is what employers want to see. I wouldn’t want to show a fake version of myself because if I get the job, I want to make sure that I would feel comfortable in the workplace ahead of time. Part of the hiring process is for the employer to judge if you would fit in there.

Fidgeting is a common nervous habit. People try to hold their hands and arms still, but while judging others, people look for nodding and gesturing as responses in conversations. Sitting up straight, to me, shows confidence, but hand gestures and nodding really show engagement. It is important to show that you are interested in the conversation.

Other behaviors people utilize to try to appear smarter include using big words and complex sentences. This backfires, however, when you use them incorrectly.

Also, moving faster than others, such as while walking to a coffee date or down the hallway, could be a red flag for improper dominance or power. It’s most respectful to walk together, with a slight lead in favor of the person who knows where they are going.

Additional behaviors others look for when judging someone’s intelligence include speaking in a pleasant, expressive voice and using clear language. Essentially, showing you are a good person is attractive to others.

The last two behaviors highlighted in the article are using a middle initial and wearing glasses. These are trivial to me.

They are more about the visual first impressions, which yes, are important. You never get a chance at a second first impression. But I don’t wear glasses and I rarely use my middle initial and I still landed a competitive job for next year.

From my experience in interviews, I’ve found that being the most personable version of myself is the most beneficial. Why would I want to pretend to be someone I’m not?

In the end, you’re the best at being yourself.

Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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