Too Smart For Your Current Job?

High intelligence is a gift. It can also hold people back at work if they’re in the wrong role or become arrogant.

Too Smart For Your Current Job?

By Mark Swartz


There’s smart…smarter…and smartest. Being the latter offers real advantages. Always being one step ahead. Rarely floundering for answers.

At work though, raw brain power has its challenges. Getting bored easily. Resented by those with lesser wattage. Confusing personal success with infallibility.

The brightest of staffs face some genuine challenges. Like should they give up the comforts of staying despite plateauing? Or must they continually change employers to stay sharpest.


The Bounties of Brilliance

Intelligence has its perks. The average workplace tends to respect and reward it, especially when it leads to superior results (or better ways of doing things). Hence people who are very smart – and can apply that to tasks and problems on the job – often get promoted faster and paid more. They are frequently assigned to high-visibility projects.

Another benefit is deference. When the smartest put forth their considered ideas and solutions, everyone else takes them seriously. Proposals are approved with less hesitation.


When Clever Turns Corrosive

For the very bright, boredom is a constant hazard. Seeking sources of stimulation can be exhausting. Once the difficult tasks are completed, internal motivation wanes. Eventually this can lead to faking being engaged or quitting to go elsewhere.

That’s hard on management but isn’t the corrosive part. Issues arise when collegial envy turns to resentment. As other solid performers feel ignored, the resented employee may have to deal with attempted sabotage. Morale sours when bosses want all to emulate the whiz kid, an unmatchable standard.

Besides that, smart folk can get in their own way. Flaunting wins and condescending to colleagues is obnoxious. Intellectuals might lack practical know-how. Meanwhile office politics play a role in career success, a reality that may be disdained or unheeded.  


Why Stay as the Smartest One There

There is something to be said for virtuosity. Work becomes easier. Fewer errors are made. More time is gained to pursue outside interests. Plus promotions and raises make a lifestyle difference.

Some wunderkinds just like to bask atop the food chain. At a different employer there might be competition for privilege. Moreover being valued by existing bosses and colleagues is a source of satisfaction. Sharing expertise as a revered mentor is too.


Advice for the Stay-Puts

If choosing not to work elsewhere (for now), here are some guidelines to observe:

  • Don’t be a show off or know-it-all.
  • Avoid making others look bad. No condescension or rebuking their ideas in public.
  • Acknowledge and work on personal weaknesses and blind spots.
  • Remember that no one can be right every single time.
  • Coast a little but not for too long, or that edge will dull.
  • Learn at least one unique thing from each staff member encountered.


When Leaving Is the Better Option

Should the job become stultifying, looking elsewhere may be necessary. Signs that it’s time to move on? Twiddling thumbs vs. being engaged is a biggie.

So is noticing that the welcome mat’s worn out. Watch for co-workers and supervisors acting threatened by grander smarts. Choice assignments and special treatment may dry up.

In companies where politics and kissing up to the boss are paramount, high intelligence will only get a person so far. The frustration of being passed over in lieu of those who play the game can be degrading.


Tips for Finding Better

Quitting out of contempt is not a good legacy. When it’s time to resign, doing so politely and strategically keeps future doors open.

Searching for appropriate replacement jobs should be done with a discriminating eye. Investigate employers that put a premium on braininess. Generally they hire the brightest, promote based on merit, and reward for measurable accomplishments.

Be certain to ask penetrating questions during job interviews. Assess cues that indicate intelligence is truly valued. Higher salaries and shiny titles may be alluring. But working again as the smartest amidst ordinaries would be, well, just plain dumb.