Being effective at an interview is largely about showcasing your greatest qualities.

And if your qualities bring clear future value to an organisation, you will put yourself in a strong position to get that offer letter.

Indeed, whenever I interviewed candidates, I was always on the hunt for qualities that could differentiate an individual from the generic talent pool. Because when you add talent to an existing team or business in an organisation, you want that new talent to bring something different, to add new qualities which enlarge the scope and capacity of the entire team.

In all my experience of interviewing, one of the rarest qualities that I came across, and yet one of the most valuable to me, was intellect.


What is intellect? Not to be confused with intelligence, your intellect is your capacity to absorb knowledge, understand it, rationalise it and deploy it to good use. A capability to sift through information and draw the right conclusions. An ability to think through and solve problems. A curiosity for knowledge and learning. And a capacity to build an argument and be persuasive because of the quality of your thought process.

Essentially, you can think of large organisations as giant problem generators. Everyone has problems to solve (explore new markets, find new clients, hire and fire, develop new products, cut costs, improve IT, reduce legal risks, streamline operations, improve processes etc). Not all of these issues necessarily require intellectual strength. However, the knottier, more strategic and complex challenges definitely require that capacity for creative mental gymnastics which is a hallmark of great problem solving. The best organisations are usually those which have become brilliant at relentlessly solving problems.

So, if you can demonstrate a strong intellect at your interview, you should definitely be highlighting a quality which brings value to potential employers.

The question is, in a 30-minute interview, how do you showcase your intellect? You will certainly not be asked “Tell me about your intellect”, and I doubt that you will put “I am very intellectual” on your CV!


The answer, therefore, is to build up a portrait of a powerful intellect by revealing your breadth of knowledge and understanding as you speak.  For example:

Quote someone unusual, interesting and inspiring from history to substantiate a point you are making.

Relate to a event from a decade or two ago which shows that you understand the context of the industry you want to be in.

Talk about something you are doing in your leisure time which epitomises the pursuit of knowledge and learning.

I remember vividly an interview with one young graduate who was applying for a position in my sales team. Let’s call him Bob.

Bob was solid on paper with all the right academic qualifications. But what really stood out with him – the quality that secured Bob the position – was his tangible thirst for knowledge and learning.

He had built his own bitcoin generator so as to understand in detail the mechanics of a crypto-currency.

He had a diverse reading of economics to help him assemble his own worldview of how markets and economies work.

He followed a wide array of blogs to inform his political instincts.

He argued points enthusiastically, knowing that he had the wisdom of brilliant figures in history to help him shape his arguments.

And to this day, Bob continues to be a source of interesting, unusual and valuable information and knowledge, which not only helps him be successful in his job, but also contributes to the wider quality of the team he works in.

“But what if my intellectual prowess is not up to much?” I hear you cry.

There is is a simple answer for you.




“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” 

Sir Isaac Newton, English mathematician (1642 – 1727)

Start reading and accumulate knowledge! There is an unlimited amount of accessible knowledge available today as long you have an internet connection or access to a library. I constantly have 6-7 books queued up on my iPad mini waiting for me to read, and have made a habit of reading every day.

Read books which help you not only understand better the industry you are in, but related industries, or related fields of endeavour.

Read biographies about the most brilliant people who have had an impact on our world, and broaden your knowledge! Technology is changing how the world works at an astounding pace. Even if you are sceptical of social media, for example, understand how it is impacting business and reshaping how organisations connect with their clients.

The better you understand what is going on today, the better you will be able to prepare for how the world will work tomorrow. And more importantly, ensure that you can still bring value in that world rather than being replaced by a robot!


You have heard of the phrase “Leaders are Readers” – practically all successful people in business today make it a habit to read extensively. Bill Gates happily shares his reading lists for all to see – check them out, you could do a lot worse than mimicking him.

Spin the phrase around into “Readers are Leaders”. If you want to be a leader tomorrow, start reading today.

This recent article suggests that reading habits in America are in gentle decline. The way information is consumed in the digital era is driving habits more towards browsing information in small batches, such that attention spans are shortening.

When is the last time you enjoyed an hour of uninterrupted reading, without checking your Facebook feed or Whatsapp messages? It might be that just by making reading a habit and a discipline, you give yourself a competitive edge.

If you have an interview (literally) tomorrow, then of course it is hard to go from zero to impressive intellect in 24 hours. But make the choice to invest today in your intellectual capability and it is likely pay off at some point in the future. What’s the worst that can happen?


Need help with your interview preparation? Download my FREE guide “101 Top Tips for Interview Success

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Image credits: Shutterstock

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