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Your Potential Beats Actual Achievements: Really?

The Wall Street Journal reported a study conducted by scholars at Stanford and Harvard, suggesting that employers are willing to pay more for candidates with high potential and promise than those with actual, proven performance. Is that for real? If so, how can job candidates demonstrate their potential during the interviewing process?

In this study, researchers asked 77 participants to evaluate two hypothetical applicants for a managerial position based on the candidates’ performance on two tests, one measuring a candidate’s leadership potential and the other measuring the actual leadership achievement. It turned out that these 77 participants were more excited with the candidate who did very well in leadership potential but moderate in actual achievement, as compared to the candidate who did very well in actual achievement but moderate in leadership potential. Interesting, but really?

I do not think potential alone can make the cut in job search especially in today’s economy. I tend to agree with Peter Cappelli, a Wharton School professor, on the fact that today’s employers are expecting new hires to immediately do the job. In fact, many employers only consider those candidates who have already had a similar job in hand. In this case, it seems that employers pay more attention to candidates’ actual achievement and work experience rather than assessing their potential. 

I remember when I was interviewing for jobs as a doctoral student in 2008 and 2009. One university had great interest in my application. After the phone interview, the search committee believed that I had great potential and wanted to invite me for campus interview. I received a call later, requesting me for a copy of my actual publication(s). Even though I had several papers under review at that time, I was told that they must document at least one actual publication of mine before they could invite me for the campus interview.

Luckily, there were other schools extending an offer to me based on my potential instead of my actual publication record. I very much appreciate those schools, especially my current employer Syracuse University. Over the years, I believe I have shown SU that I can publish in high impact journals in the field.  

Now that I compare my personal experience with the study about a job candidate’s potential and actual performance, I recommend job seekers to document their potential in addition to their actual achievement on their resumecover letter, and LinkedIn profile. For example, a job candidate can show that s/he is acquiring new skills through projects, training and development programs, and degree in-progress.

How can job candidates “document” and demonstrate their potential in job search? Any suggestions?

Relevant discussion:

References:
Silverman, Rachel Emma. (2012, July 25). Your potential beats actual achievementsThe Wall Street Journal, B6. 
The picture was downloaded from www.cartoonwork.com

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