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Looking for potential in future employees

A Job seeker has his resume reviewed during the San Francisco Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitmore on July 12, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif.

If you're looking for a job or trying to get ahead in this economy, there's some age-old wisdom that would seem to apply: play up your accomplishments. Seems obvious, but maybe that's in fact not your best plan of attack.

A recent paper from researchers at Stanford and Harvard sets out to show that potential for success is considerably more powerful than the things you've actually achieved.

So why would we ever gamble on potential over proven experience?

"You can think about it a little bit like peoples' love of scratch tickets," says author Michael Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, "where you have a dollar in your pocket, and the dollar in your pocket is great. But if you could get that scratch ticket, you could have $5 million."

It's easy for many employers to think about the potential positive gains. "You don't focus on the fact that the person might be a disaster," he adds. "You focus on the fact that they might be a superstar."

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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