I’m planning to write an offensive blog post today. I’ll stop for a moment here so you can leave.
I’m writing this because of something people have been saying to me a lot during my unemployment. They’re telling me that I will find a job easily because I am smart.
Now here’s the first offensive thing in my post: it’s true, I am smart. I’m actually Quite Smart. It is not polite to admit this, and of course in real life I don’t. But in order to write this post at all, I have to admit it, so I have. I am going to assume that everyone who is still reading is also Quite Smart, and will sympathize.
The point of admitting it is to say that being smart is not always a plus in a job hunt.
First off, people are more comfortable with other people who are about as smart as they are. That is the second offensive thing I plan to say. I realize that this argument has been used to support all kinds of discrimination. When people claim that they are just more comfortable with people of their own ethnic background, faith tradition, age, gender, or socioeconomic level, and that this is why they choose to work/worship/hang out with people like that, I think they should get over it. I tell them so, too.
But, you know, hanging out with people who are not as smart as you is a lot of extra effort.
Oh, not if you are in the majority and you let everything whiz past the others. I have had this experience from the other side, because I have frequently been the only English speaker in a gathering. Unless everyone else is speaking French, I am lost, and even then I am slow. When I am the lone American among foreigners, I try to watch the faces of the people and behave as though I am involved in the interaction in some way, and the foreigners typically give me occasional little pats or hugs to show that they recognize my presence. It’s like being a dog. If the Quite Smart people are the majority in a gathering and they have conversations or make plans without considering the others, it ends up being like that.
If you are not in the majority, you can end up seeming eccentric and scary. Or obnoxious. Or else just being desperately bored because things are going so slowly. I think this is mostly about speed of processing. If you are faster than the mainstream in a discussion, then you will feel like the dog on a walk with a slow owner — you get to the end of the leash and have to circle back or sit down and wait.
Since neither of these options is very good, people who are Quite Smart have to learn to interact well with those who are not. You have to be careful about your vocabulary. It isn’t possible to slow down the speed at which you think to match the others in the group, so you have to work extra at paying attention at the speed of the overall interaction, in spite of its being an uncomfortable speed. You have to watch out for topics that the others consider offensive, because if they talked about those things they would be trying to show off.
In fact, intellectual competitiveness can be a real, though brief, problem. It’s brief for me, I think, because I don’t compete, and in fact I really make an effort to accommodate. I assume that people who are smarter than I am do the same for me. If you have trouble with this on an ongoing basis, it is because you are competing. If you don’t compete, then the others can’t do so either, and will relax after a bit. Trust me on this.
I’ve seen this most with my kids’ dates. This is because they are in my home, and once we see that they are Quite Smart, we don’t bother to be careful. Often they have been the smartest person they know for much of their young lives. They come into our family and that is no longer the case. For some of them, they have been proud of being Quite Smart, and their first impulse is to compete.
Kind of an “Aha! Here is a foeman worthy of my steel!” moment. However, we are all Quite Smart chez fibermom, and we don’t compete. I don’t know what that feels like for them, but you can tell they are having to adjust. From the outside, they look like people who thought there was another step on the staircase, and then it turns out that there isn’t — not quite a stumble, but a little bit of uncertainty while they adjust.
Anyway, in a job hunt, you are up against the comfort level issue right away. It is highly likely that many of the people you interview with are not Quite Smart, and they are very likely to find you intimidating or odd.
This is easier for me now, because I look so harmless. I used to be both pretty and smart, and this can, frankly, create hostility. There were times when I interviewed with some guy and I could just tell that I was his chance to get back at all the girls who wouldn’t go out with him in school. Now, I am clearly someone’s mom, and not scary at all. So as long as I can keep from being obviously Quite Smart, I don’t end up seeming scary. Eventually, of course, I’ll relax and someone will notice that I am Quite Smart, but by then, they have gotten used to me and they don’t hold it against me.
In addition to the comfort level, which is probably the main issue in job interviews, there is also the qualifications issue.
The thing is, there are some jobs for which being smart is an advantage. Employers want Quite Smart people for these jobs. You can go right ahead and be obviously Quite Smart, and they will not mind, even if they themselves are not that smart. But for many, possibly most jobs, it is not an advantage.
What’s needed in many jobs is someone who will contentedly follow directions.
Really, I am very biddable. I follow directions cheerfully, and I have plenty of other things to think about if the work I am doing happens not to be particularly challenging. But a potential employer doesn’t want someone who is going to get bored. Or who is going to think of new and better ways to do things. Both those prospects sound dangerous in many work settings. They make you unpredictable, and predictability is more useful in most jobs than smartness.
I haven’t had a new job to apply to in a week now, so this is sort of a moot point. I have had plenty of work to do, and being smart is an advantage for this work, so I’m just sort of going ahead and considering the lilies of the field. I feel better, though, for having had a chance to make this offensive response to the “You won’t have any trouble…” comments. Now I just need to think of a response to those who say, “Oh, yes, that must be hard at your age.”