The Surprising Secret to Selling Yourself

There was a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D that contests the conventional wisdom that a person’s track record of success (or a company’s, for that matter) is the single most important factor in determining whether or not they get hired. Many of us tend to think that we need to put most of our focus on proving our value in previous roles, when in fact, people tend to be much more interested in what we CAN do rather than what we have ALREADY accomplished.

potential

From the artice:

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… when we are deciding who to hire, promote, or do business with, it turns out that we don’t like the Big Thing nearly as much as we like the Next Big Thing. We have a bias — one that operates below our conscious awareness — leading us to prefer the potential for greatness over someone who has already achieved it.
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A set of ingenious studies conducted by Stanford’s Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia, and Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton paint a very clear picture of our unconscious preference for potential over actual success.
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For candidates in the midst of a job search, this should be a wake-up call that the approach you (and almost everybody else) have been taking, may not be working that well.

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… they found the same pattern when they looked at evaluations of job candidates. In this case, 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. (Incidentally, if you ask the evaluators to tell you whose resume is more impressive, they agree that it’s the one with experience. They still prefer the other guy anyway.)
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So is it still important to highlight major accomplishments and career achievements on your resume? Of course! However, this research re-emphasizes what we preach to clients every day – in order for the resume to do its job, you need to demonstrate the specific value you can bring to an organization and prove that there is still upside and room for growth that can be cultivated in the right environment.

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All this suggests that you need a very different approach to selling yourself than the one you intuitively take, because your intuitions are probably wrong. People are much more impressed, whether they realize it or not, by your potential than by your track record. It would be wise to start focusing your pitch on your future, as an individual or as a company, rather than on your past — even if that past is very impressive indeed. It’s what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice — learn to use the power of potential to your advantage.
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Dr. Halvorson hit the nail on the head.

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