Job Interview? Your Potential Future Is More Interesting Than Your Past

Ready to impress a hiring manager with a list of your past accomplishments? That may be a flawed approach. According to studies conducted by Stanford’s Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia, and Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton, people prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others.

From the study’s abstract:

…compared with references to achievement (e.g., “this person has won an award for his work”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could win an award for his work”) appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing.

The scientists studied hypothetical situations involving athletes, comedians, graduate school applicants, salary allocations, online ad clicks and admission decisions.

Harvard Business Review has a description of a test scenario involving a job candidate:

…they compared perceptions of someone with two years of relevant experience who scored highly on a test of leadership achievement, versus someone with no relevant experience who scored highly on a test of leadership potential. (Both candidates had equally impressive backgrounds in every other way). Evaluators believed the candidate with leadership potential would be more successful at the new company than the candidate with a proven record of leadership ability.

The researchers even went so far as to ask the subjects acting as hiring managers which subject had the more impressive resume. The subjects agreed that it was the person with more experience… but they still preferred the candidate with more “potential.”

In case you think this is just agism rearing its ugly head, the team controlled for age and found that this wasn’t a factor.

The good news is that I never listened to my mom about “fulfilling my potential” so I’ve got lots of it to spare. Do you?

The Surprising Secret to Selling Yourself [HBR via HN]

Comments

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  1. Press1forDialTone says:

    “This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. ”

    Say whatt??
    Does “actually being good at that very same thing” refer to demonstrated ability??
    If it does this is patently absurd, and reflects one aspect of why the business world is
    complete FUBAR.

  2. Mr_Magoo says:

    So that’s why Obama keeps saying he’ll be able to finish the job if we just give him four more years!

    • Owl says:

      I’ll take Mr. Obama over Mittens any day. His proven ability at shipping American jobs overseas and inability to understand basic economics (not that voodoo “less taxes=more jobs” bs) leads me to believe he has a lot of potential…to run this country into the ground.

      • dullard says:

        Although I must say it is sometimes tempting, politics should not be a part of this site. There is an abundance of sites for expressing political views. The Consumerist should not be one of them.

        • AzCatz07 says:

          I love political discourse, but I’m going to agree with you on this. Take that crap to one of the million websites that deal with politics. We don’t need it at Consumerist.

          • Press1forDialTone says:

            But I give money to Consumer Reports and that, my friend,
            according to the Supreme Court is the same as speech.
            I say take your whining about content on this blog to some
            other blog that is focused on whiners about blog content.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    How the hell do I list my potential without sounding like a self-righteous douchenozzle?

    Future Potential:
    – $15 million in U.S. sales within first year
    – CEO of this company in 4 years
    – Voted Most Influencial Business Leader 4 years in a row in 16 years
    – President of the United States in 12 years
    – First octogenarian in space, 2065

  4. Sarek says:

    So someone who has done nothing but “has the potential” to do great things is preferred over the candidate who has actually done those great things??? And how the Hades do they divine who has this alleged potential? What is this great leadership test? Ouija board?

    I have a hard time believing that they were able to rule out agism. This screams of it.

  5. jessjj347 says:

    “The researchers even went so far as to ask the subjects acting as hiring managers which subject had the more impressive resume. The subjects agreed that it was the person with more experience… but they still preferred the candidate with more “potential.”

    Exactly, because the person with potential can be paid less. Haven’t looked at the original study so can’t comment on quality of data analysis…something tells me though….

  6. becina says:

    Not to get too political, but just ask the Nobel committee about Obama…

  7. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Doesn’t matter anyway. There are no decent jobs and the pay sucks and all the stuff you need is too expensive.

    I’m so desperate I actually advertised myself on craigslist.

  8. axolotl says:

    This is great for me, I’ve got tons of potential and have accomplished next to nothing!

  9. aleck says:

    “..the researchers even went so far as to ask the subjects acting as hiring managers”

    I am not an actual manager with experience hiring people. I just act like one in studies…

  10. tlvx says:

    I think that this is really just about, “Likability,” disguised as potential.

    I’d be more willing to agree that it’s a cost cutting measure, than about taking the long shot candidate, based on nonsense they spew.

  11. Cor Aquilonis says:

    I can see it now…

    MegaCorp Inc. CEO, Richie Goofus Esq., reads HBS and gasps. Suddenly he’s struck with a brilliant, fool-proof plan to dominate his highly competitive industry. He snaps his fingers and bellows to his administrative assistant to fetch him the head of human resources, forthwith! In moments the head of HR sprints into the room, her ribs heaving. While she catches her breath, the CEO places his elbows on the table and tents his fingers. He puts on his most serious scowl, and in the silhouette of his $15,000 unicorn-hide leather chair he unveils his managerial opus. It is the decision of a lifetime. Books will be written of his brilliance. He will be a B school case study for decades to come.

    The head of HR looks on, wide-eyed, as he speaks with his most distinguished voice: “We must hire for potential. We must hire babies.”

    Fin.

  12. Kisses4Katie says:

    This makes absolutely no sense to me. I don’t understand this. So managers seem to prefer people with no experience over those with experience? Especially those who have been proven in their field? I just cannot comprehend this as a retail (asst.) manager. I would never pick the less experienced unless the interview just rang right with me.

  13. DrD2012 says:

    This comment COULD be ironic, or could it?