Global Mobility Managers, Talents: Displaying Intelligence Without Being Boastful

What do the Japanese and Americans have in common? In general, both don’t like to appear know-it-alls. But there’s a difference, of course. The Japanese rely on  teamwork and consensus. Americans appear only hesitant to display their intelligence for a moment but over time, know they have to speak up their minds. 

Talking about America as a country, it’s also where people acknowledge that intelligence is not the be-all and end-all. It allows for people to make room for self-improvement — and to keep trying. It’s a place for reinvention. 

Still, it pays to know who’s pulling your leg. As a global mobility manager steeped in the hiring process, one will encounter blowhards and overconfident careerists. But they need to be distinguished from the candidates who may not appear intelligent at first, as we form biases also based on looks or cultural background.

Asians, for instance, can initially appear incompetent based on one’s timid looks or halting communication style, but this can be attributed to a patriarchal upbringing or cultural comportment. Or they are just shy and introverted. Still others simply never gained enough confidence because of their poor background but have the intelligence to work competently. It’s a matter of bringing them out of their shells.

For global mobility managers not exposed to these diverse global talents  — quirks and all, Shane Parrish, the entrepreneur behind the Farnam Street blog, offered a list of helpful suggestions that he claims can “separate the copycats and mimics from  the real deal.” It’s good to know them but not rely on them, because one also needs to spot those who are just being modest about their capabilities.

Here they are: 

  1. Elon Musk on How to Tell if People Are Lying: “When I interview someone … [I] ask them to tell me about the problems they worked on and how they solved them. And if someone was really the person that solved it, they will be able to answer at multiple levels–they will be able to go down to the brass tacks. And if they weren’t, they’ll get stuck. And then you can say, ‘oh this person was not really the person who solved it because anyone who struggles hard with a problem never forgets it.'”
  2. Consider the time scales they operate under. The shorter the axis they work on, the more likely they are a mimic.
  3. They’re able to delay gratification (drugs, sex, etc.).
  4. They can simplify and deep dive.
  5. They have the ability to walk you through things step by step, without requiring great leaps.
  6. They spend a lot of time reading.
  7. Intelligent people normally get excited when you ask them why or how, whereas mimics normally get frustrated.
  8. Look at whom they hang around with.
  9. They can argue the other side of an idea better than the people who disagree with them.
  10. They know how to focus and typically create large chunks of time.
  11. They don’t waste a lot of time.
  12. They have failed.

The latter certainly begs for elaboration. When someone has failed, that means he or she underwent a learning process. They were brave enough to tackle something that didn’t quite work but which allowed them to learn many things they hopefully will not repeat. They learned self-sufficiency, discipline, how to build something, even how to talk to and convince people to work with them.

To add to Parrish’s list, a QZ piece pointed out how remembering names can also make one appear intelligent. Journalists in a special talk observed how Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, appeared “pretty smart” by simply being able to name-check each person in the room.

The piece should be good for global mobility managers to keep in mind.

As QZ noted, using people’s names is an extremely well-known management technique. “Savvy CEOs know that one way to make employees feel valued is to master the art of listening to their names, and then using them in the ensuing conversations.”

To appear intelligent, try to remember hundreds of people’s names as you interview them for a job. It’s a good start, whether you are in Japan or the United States and whether you’re the applicant or the job recruiter: Write them down. 

Nielsen was quoted as saying to QZ: “I sketch a map of the seating arrangement with dots for each person and try to jot down their first name and one thing they said about themselves,” he said in an email to QZ. 

“I always try to repeat people’s names when I introduce myself to them, and try to remember one thing they remind me of, just to help ‘fasten’ their name to something I already remember,” he added.

For those who are not too demonstrative about their capabilities and intelligence, just try  name-checking each person you just met in a panel interview, for instance. That one initial step will go a long way.