Achieving Greatness Isn’t As Enticing To Employers As Just Having Potential


Bad news for overachievers: Job candidates who have potential, but haven’t actually accomplished much yet, seem to be more attractive to employers than those who’ve already nabbed accolades.

Studies at Harvard and Stanford show that we gravitate toward those with potential over those with proven results. When given options for hypothetical job candidates, study participants chose those who were described as someone who ”could win an award for their work” over someone who “has won an award for their work.” The results, per Time, were the same for both experienced and inexperienced hypothetical candidates.

Similarly, another experiment used language like “Mark K. is a student of great potential” and “Mark K. is a student of great achievement,” and potential won out each time.

Why is this the case? “Our finding is that people find potential to be exciting uncertainty,” Zakary Tormala, one of the study’s authors, told Time.

You can apply this to your real life: If you’re looking for a job and having someone write a reference letter, or even just doing your own self-appraisal at work, employ the tactics. Michael Norton, a co-author of the study, explains, “[References] generally talk about what someone has done. That’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s very important to also talk about their potential.”

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