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Nkem Says: When Intelligence is Just Not Enough

Nkem Ndem



Every girl has her ‘goody bag’. For some, it is facial beauty or the way their body looks. For others, it is the ability to “quickly remove cloth”, or cooking skills; for some girls, it is how eloquently they speak, or how much money they make or how intelligent they are. It is a long list actually.

For me, I have always considered intelligence as my goody bag. When it comes to certain aspects of my persona, people are conflicted: you are beautiful vs. you are not beautiful, you are an introvert vs. you are super extra, but one thing everyone has agreed on is that I am intelligent. It is the one thing I have always been sure of my whole life.

It started with me being book smart. I came between 1st -3rd all through primary school. Secondary school was a bit more competitive but I never studied, hardly did my assignments (I instead spent time reading novels, watching movies, filling in my diaries and writing novellas that I charge my classmates a paltry sum to read) and I still graduated with very good grades.

It was not until my university years that I realized that I am much more than just book smart. I actually also have an intelligent personality: I am organized, disciplined, inspiring, I can easily connect seemingly unrelated concepts, and I can influence other people…sometimes to the point of manipulation (if I wanted to). Basically, I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses as well as how to compensate for them.

This awareness was a good thing… but also a bad thing. Good, in the sense that it made me much more hardworking: I can take on so many responsibilities at once and still excel in each. I had 3-4 full-time jobs with ‘lit’ appraisals. It gave me the kind of confidence that encouraged me to never back down from any challenge and handle impromptu/last-minute tasks without flinching. Bad, in the sense that the awareness that I could literally wing anything, and I didn’t need to put in as much discipline as others to achieve an even better end-product. This sometimes made me lazy. I would easily disregard ‘preparation’ and ‘process’, and it had me living life with the wrong impression that intelligence was all I needed.

I have learned now that intelligence is not always enough.

A couple of days ago, I received a message to attend an interview for an organization. Upon receiving the text, I searched the name of the company on Instagram. A personal page popped up. There wasn’t much information on it, so I turned to Google. Unknown to me, I had misspelled the name of the company in my haste, so nothing came up. I figured it was a position for a job I had done for years and was good at, so I wouldn’t have any difficulty no matter. I could always wing it.

So, I went on to call the number and get the address for the interview. I arrived on time. 1 pm prompt. I even managed to put on lipstick and fill out my brows. Just after a few minutes of waiting, I was ushered into the room. I stretched my face with a smile as the lady introduced herself to me. She looked prettier in real life than on Instagram, but my lips wouldn’t budge when I tried to mention it to her.

“So, tell us a little about yourself?” She asked. I had pre-empted the question, so it seemed like an easy start. I talked about myself and my past jobs. When I mentioned that I wrote a column on BellaNaija, she cut in and said: “You write Nkem Says. I actually read that column.”  That got me feeling nervous. I started to wonder: did she like the column or is she one of the many who loathe my guts?

Next, she asked me to tell her what I knew about the company. The question pulled the rug from under me. Somehow, I hadn’t imagined she would ask that. I decided to go with honesty, so I explained how I had Googled the company name, and nothing had popped up and I only saw her personal account on Instagram. As I uttered the words, I felt like a fool. Maybe it was the expression on the lady’s face that screamed: “you are a pathetic liar” or perhaps it was the realization that I was extremely unprepared for the interview. I don’t know.

The lady did not hesitate to let me know everything about the company and all it had achieved, hinting at how it was absurd that I would not find it on Google. After that, she said to me that the position was full time and would demand a lot of time from me. I cut in and said to her I had assumed the position was remote and I was not looking for a full-time job. She stared at me as though I was deformed or something worse.

“Why didn’t you ask to know if it was remote or in-office when you received the invitation? A lot of people called in to find out, and we did not have to schedule an interview.”

Although her voice was not harsh, it was clear she was pissed. I would be too. I had clearly wasted her time: I was unprepared, and my responses so far had just been…daft.

To my surprise, she continued: “So…if we were to offer you this job, how much would you like to be paid?” I was in shock.  Why was she even asking me this? If I was in her seat, I would have ended the interview since. I didn’t know what to say.  I was already disoriented by the fact that I had come off as ‘below average”. So, I stammered and said: “I’d prefer that you make me an offer”. Her face contorted into a shallow smile and she said: “That’s alright Nkem, we will get back to you.”

She may have smiled, but the look in her eyes was one I had never experienced before. No one had ever looked at me like that…like I was the most unintelligent human that ever lived. It may all have been in my head, but that was the vibe I got. I felt really sick leaving the office. Never had I been so humiliated. And worse, I set the stage for it!

All through the drive home, I considered messaging her to apologize for wasting her time, and also let her know that I was better than what she had experienced. But, I realized there was no point to it, I would just be making it all worse.  I kept asking myself: why did I even go for that interview? I could have asked to know if it was a remote job and I could have avoided the entire episode.  But then, if I hadn’t gone to the interview, I probably wouldn’t have learned my lesson.

I guess the bottom line is: you may have all the intelligence in the world, but essentially, you still need to prepare and follow due process. Always. That is the only way to ensure that you stay on top. You cannot go through life winging things just because you think you can. Intelligence is actually not everything and really, it is never enough.

Nkem Ndem is a dynamic freelance writer and editor who can be reached for copywriting, editing and proofreading. She is also a content creator (web, T.V, radio) who has had stints with Jumia and SpiceTV Africa e.t.c. Now she works at Glam Africa as Online editor and BellaNaija as Features writer. E-mail: [email protected]; IG: @kem_dem; Twitter: @ndemv


  1. Babym

    May 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Nkem, I’m confused. You said sometimes intelligence is not enough. But you didn’t show any form of basic intelligence in not preparing for the interview though. (Sorry if I sound rude pls) Or am I missing something? I think you are just trolling us Joor lol.

    • slice

      May 5, 2018 at 12:05 am

      She did. Intelligence is about your ability to gather and apply knowledge. Not about whether you actually do those things.the people you explain calculas to and they grasp in two seconds are called intelligent. The people that take time to read and complete their projects, now that’s being prepared. She wasn’t prepared

  2. Ben

    May 4, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Nkem Ndem. you know i always say to you that you are too hard on yourself. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as bad as you have painted it. please go and take a cup of tea. you are still the smartest girl I know sha . xo.

  3. Mamamia

    May 4, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Nkem, I know what this is, some sort of pity party . after all, misery needs company, and since she reads this Column you may get a call back. Now here it is, no matter who you are things like this happen to the best of us, you already seem like a perfectionist that hates No. I personally think that the last thing on a recruiters mind is how intelligent you are, it goes beyond that. They wanna see passion, can he/she go the extra mile, can they think outside the box, are they go getters, are they respectful of others differences, are they great team players the list is endless. The moment you rely on your intelligence, you lose focus of who and what you are. Be humble. More interviews, more lessons and more successes.

    • slice

      May 5, 2018 at 12:06 am

      Intelligence is very important to a manager. Have you tried training a passionate person that can’t understand info quickly

  4. Mrs chidukane

    May 4, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Am I the only one who read the article? I can totally relate. Every experience is a lesson learned.

  5. lol

    May 4, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Lol. Pele Nkem. I can relate. It happens to the best of us.

  6. Cocoa

    May 4, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Nice read but if you ask me …i’ll say you came away with the wrong conclusion.

    Your confidence and self worth should not be tied to these fleeting things. Because then it is prone to constant alteration.

    Intelligent, beautiful, rich…. these are all very SUBJECTIVE.

    You are who GOD says you are….even on a bad day. The day you start to see yourself the way God sees you…YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.

  7. CrazyWorld

    May 4, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Quickly remove clot? That girl must be a good doctor

  8. John

    May 4, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    To be fair

    I will fire youbon the spot if I recognise who you are

    People( especially women) who hype themselves on how intelligent or educated they are , piss me off because the reverse is always the case if you get close to them.

    • Law and Order

      May 4, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Why does it irk you to hear a woman state her intelligence? Would you kindly pocket your misogyny and take a walk?!

    • Lola

      May 4, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      Dear John, just write your comment and move on there is no need to use every opportunity to bash women. It is not a good look, it only amplifies your insecurities as a result of a fragile ego. We wouldn’t want anyone to think that about such a “masculine” man now would we?

      p.s Good work Nkem it is sometimes hard to accept mistakes but either intelligence, cooking skills, and good looks should not be categorized as a personality trait a girl should have in her “goody-bag.” A girl doesn’t have to always be only one thing. You probably meant that a goody bag is a defining factor of a woman’s personality but you contradict yourself by talking about beauty or cooking skills which does not have anything to do with someone’s personality. Apart from the intro, the other part of the write up was decent.

    • Ify

      May 5, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Actually dude, the reverse is not usually the case and if you bothered to read the article, you would understand that she’s not being boastful she’s just stating the fact. That being said, a man who would fire someone for being confident in her self and what she can bring to the table does not deserve to have one working with him

    • Luchy Lyon

      May 5, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      How do you fire someone you haven’t even hired? i’m confused. Plus intelligent people do not need to ‘hype’ themselves, it always shows. Do not feel threatened my dear.

    • Dr.N

      May 6, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      But …but…how can you fire her without hiring her?
      I don’t understand

  9. Dentale

    May 4, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but the title of this article should be “When Intelligence is Non-Existent”. Goodness, you were so unprepared and you assumed that writing an article on Bella is an immediate qualification for working in a company you have no idea about. Who does that? A lot of people who were high flyers in primary and secondary school have come to learn that the larger society is filed with lots of high flyers (like, or better than you). So you have to step up your game and stop relying on native intelligence to set you apart in life.
    Also, how did you gather that the job will be “remote”? How many jobs are 100% remote? I’ll say not many, so it would have been safer to err on the side of this being an office based job. Your general attitude towards the job application was frankly below par.

    • SMH

      May 5, 2018 at 11:00 pm

      How and who does this comment help exactly? The whole essence of the article is everything you just said in such an unnecessarily acerbic tongue. Free speech includes the right and responsibility to walk away when you have nothing meaningful to add to a conversation.

  10. Fendi

    May 4, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    I luv me some Nkem!God bless u sweetie

  11. James

    May 4, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Nkem, in many parts of your story, you showed a lot of insecurity and lack of confidence in yourself which I felt did not portray you well in the interview. For instance, the part where you said: “Maybe it was the expression on the lady’s face that screamed “You are a pathetic liar”. Why on earth would you think that way? That statement by itself reeks of lack of confidence in you. Why should you be utterly concerned if the lady has a negative vibe about your write-up on BN? Obviously, if she told you she reads the column, it means she has a positive opinion of the the author, otherwise why would she keep coming back to read a column she hates.

    I feel that the lack of confidence in you came through in the interview and probably didn’t get you the job more than anything else. It’s something you need to work on so you stop putting yourself down and have others take control of your destiny.

    You write a beautiful column, although I don’t always agree but it hasn’t changed my view of the author.

  12. Authentic Sunshine

    May 4, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    People can’t see what Nkem is trying to do? She already said that she is smart enough to manipulate people to do things she wants them to.

    Self bashing did not give her self destruct feeling she craved, so she wants us to do the job.

    Babe you are a lot smarter than that. Pick yourself up assess the situation, take your learns, dust the rest and move on to the next.

  13. See

    May 4, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    A ‘highly intelligent’ person went for a job interview without knowing the basics about the company or position. Braggadocio much? Yimu

  14. See

    May 4, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    Also, writing this article about your botched interview (which was entirely avoidable but for your folly) wherein you paint your self as a lazy person who lacks discipline and often gets ahead by ‘winging it’ (just so we can say yay, she requires less effort to achieve above average results) is the most unintelligent thing to do. Just incase the interviewer still has an opening for you, you’ve just puked on your shyte. She reads your column.

    • slice

      May 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      The interviewer already knows she wasn’t prepared. Jokes on you.

  15. tunmi

    May 4, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    Good lessons here:
    – prepare
    – do research about the company
    – usually if a position is remote, the posting will state it

  16. Aare farmland

    May 5, 2018 at 12:34 am

    Confusing title, maybe when arrogance can be self defeating is a better title. Never wing an interview if you want the job. Actually, know what they want, type of person or character they want and be prepared to wow them with half truths.

  17. Kosi

    May 5, 2018 at 5:33 am

    “Good in the sense that it made me much more hardworking …. Bad in the sense that it……. Made me lazy…” How can the same thing make you both hardworking and lazy? For a self-proclaimed intelligent person, that’s poor.

    • slice

      May 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      This is not a hard concept. Read it again

  18. The real dee

    May 5, 2018 at 5:42 am

    Thanks for being brave enough to admit your shortcomings. I don’t always agree with most of your articles but it makes for interesting discuss.

    Don’t beat yourself up Nkem. You didn’t get the job because you didn’t want it. Your responses were that of someone who just came for an interview because there was an interview, not because they wanted the job.
    In fact someone up there said, you should not look down on yourself. Contrary to their point, I feel you think so highly of yourself that you expect things to work out just because you are Nkem, the intelligent woman. This is what I gleaned from your article. While thinking highly of ourselves is not in itself bad, it can be a terrible pitfall in situations where you are supposed to be modest and humble.

    True, intelligence is not enough if you don’t have the right attitude and demonstrate adequate passion . I learnt something from this.

    • Bobosteke

      May 6, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Thank you for your comment @the real Dee… You just typed out my thoughts.

      This for me is an enlightening article. Frankly, I have often found them incredibly shallow. Incredibly because the articles did not feel “vested”; like you just wrote and you took it for granted that your articles would always turn out okay. There was a faint annoyance and a nagging suspicion that you could have written better. Reading the latter part of your bio, you lifted from Atoke’s description of herself. How do you think that shaped perceptions?

      I find your article very timely, because I have this terrible habit too. It has cost me a lot in the past, but I always managed to wing my way out of it still. What I have noticed of late is a stagnancy and complacency which is the result of trusting my ability to always get through without truly committing to knowing the finer details.

      Let’s make a commitment to be better. I thank you for the opportunity to learn form your experience.

  19. Marian

    May 5, 2018 at 7:46 am

    I have been in a similar situation and totally get your point. I wanted a do-over and almost sent an email to defend myself but I decided to let it go. I check myself from time to time now.

  20. Miz

    May 5, 2018 at 7:57 am

    All I have to say is, Dunning-Kruger effect.

    • bolu

      May 5, 2018 at 10:29 am

      @Miz you must have felt fancy throwing the bug words but if you really understood the concept you would know that this is not a case of meta-ignorance and so doesn’t apply. the fact that she was aware of her shortcomings from the start and is able to address it defeats your perception. you are probably the ignorant one here

    • Anon

      May 5, 2018 at 11:40 am


  21. FLORA

    May 5, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I have to say that this is really an educator narrative for me. Thank you for sharing.

  22. FLORA

    May 5, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Auto correct will just be embarrassing someone. I meant educating

  23. Toby Nwazor

    May 5, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Hello Nkem,

    I really get you. I have tried to wing a few things myself in the past, and it usually comes with a certain confidence (read arrogance), that I have the brains for this. Maybe not in an interview, but I have gone for exams I didn’t really prepare very well for, simply with the confidence that “I can do this because I am smart”.

    Like you pointed out, that confidence has made me not to prepare as much as I would some times. But on Roger occasions, that confidence usually gives me the ability to do my best in the situation I find myself.

    So the challenge lies in creating a balance between the confidence that comes with feeling intelligent, and imbibing the discipline to go through a necessary process.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience by the way. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there. I just learned something valuable.


    • Zara

      May 5, 2018 at 8:14 pm

      Awwww this is such a kind comment.

    • Ephi

      May 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      Toby, where have you been? We miss your articles here!

  24. Ihuoma

    May 5, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Pride goes before a fall. You hype yourself that you are so good and smart and sharp and gradually you start to wing everything until one day you realise that you have actually become substandard, unfortunately other people may have noticed it before you.

  25. EGO

    May 6, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    I am two days late to the party but I’ll still leave my comment here and hope you see it Nkem.
    I must first of all commend you for not sugar coating matters and straight up owning your mistakes. That is the very first step to improving on your shortcomings. You have identified and honestly owned up to them. I know you feel terrible for letting yourself down, it’s OK to beat yourself up a little but don’t dwell on it or let it keep you down.. You now know your problem, it has cost you and caused you some embarrassment but this mistake does not define you. You are better and you’re on your way to becoming an even much improved version of your already smart self. Try and kick the bad feelings hun, use the lessons from this mistake to SHARPEN yourself and go conquer in the next opportunity that comes your way and the next after that. Just never stop being honest, learning, picking yourself up when you fall and improving. God bless you Nkem.

  26. Udoka

    July 4, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    I totally like you already. I feel like you are writing about me

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