A person’s track record of success is the most important factor determining whether he or she gets hired, right? Well, maybe not. According to Stanford and Harvard Business School studies, we have an unconscious preference for potential over actual, proven success.
Photo by Sergej Khakimullin
In the series of studies, the researchers found that participants who evaluated job candidates preferred the one who scored highly on a test of leadership potential over the one who had two years of experience and a high score on leadership achievement.
This same unconscious preference was revealed in other fields:
The researchers showed how we prefer artwork and artists with potential to win awards over those that actually have, and prefer restaurants and chefs with the potential to be the next big thing in dining over the ones who have already made their name. In a particularly clever study, they compared two versions of Facebook ads for a real stand-up comedian. In the first version, critics said “he is the next big thing” and “everybody’s talking about him.” In the second version, critics said he “could be the next big thing,” and that “in a year, everybody could be talking about him.” The ad that focused on his potential got significantly more clicks and likes.
The researchers theorise that because potential is less certain, it is more interesting and we tend to pay more attention to it. All that extra processing could lead (unconsciously) to a more positive view of a person or company.
So if you don’t have any experience in a job you want, don’t worry about it. Focus your pitch on your future rather than on your past, Harvard Business Review recommends, and use the power of potential to your advantage.