What are the first things to pop into your head when you are considering those things that best set you apart from the competition? Academic accomplishments? Job experience? Professional awards and recognition? At first glance, it does seem reasonable and apparently obvious that showcasing achievements is the best way to go about differentiating yourself and demonstrating your advantages as a candidate. But new research (particularly that found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) is finding more and more evidence that suggests boasting about what you may accomplish in the future may be at least as important as bragging about previous feats. Studies are showing that talent-seekers are more interested in candidates with high potential over veterans with good records.
But the appreciation of potential is more than simple optimism about the future; it also seems to engender a sense of intrigue and high expectation around a candidate. However, it remains necessary to have a solid past record of achievement, as perceived potential simply leads to closer inspection of a candidate and the evidence to back up the claims of future success. That is, great potential is only validated with credible supporting evidence. It is also worth noting that the influence potential has is limited by the strength of the evidence for the potential; major past honors contain an innate “wow” factor that will impress more than claims of high potential.
Another caveat in these new lessons on potential is the source of promotion. Researchers into the influence of potential caution that self-promotion may lead to external perceptions of over-confidence, narcissism, or egotism. Boasts of potential are most effective (and rarely, if ever, damaging) when they arise from third-party promoters. But the summed conclusion of recent evidence strongly suggests that suggested potential can make a powerful statement about a candidate and make him or her more intriguing, compelling, and more impressive as a prospective employee or promotional candidate. Put briefly, promises of what you can do are at least as important, if not more so, than what you have already done.
But no matter where you are attempting to exploit this characteristic, be it in a resume, professional website, or during an in-person interview, your claims of future accomplishments need to be realistic, reinforced by clear evidence from your past accomplishments and accolades, and presented in a subtle, artful fashion. You can easily sidestep the issue of seeming conceited, egotistic, or even defensive by relying on outside sources, such as current or former clients and bosses.
Lastly, the new insight into how we are perceived by other people should help those of us who routinely become consumed with past glories and focus on the past when forming our self image instead of thinking in terms of who we can become. Instead of worrying over what was done yesterday, mirror your life after who you want to be tomorrow and let your potential lead you forward as you begin your career, change jobs, or look to move ahead in your current occupation.