Nice article on how potential beats actual performance when during an evaluation (based on a study on the great potential vs actual performance question, actual journal article paywalled though).
In one study, the authors took out a Facebook ad to promote the fan page of a comedian. They created different versions of the ad. Some versions focused on actual performance (“Critics say he has become the next big thing.”) Other ads focused on potential performance (“Critics say he could become the next big thing.”) People were more likely to click on ads that focused on potential performance than on actual performance. They were also more likely to become Facebook fans of the comedian when the ad focused on potential performance than on actual performance.
A variety of laboratory studies demonstrated a similar effect with judgments about job candidates, athletes, and artwork.
Why does this happen? The researchers suggest that statements about potential performance create more feelings about uncertainty than statements about actual performance. This uncertainty leads people to think more about the options, and that gets them more involved with the option.
Could it be though, that we all intuitively believe in the fact that people “peak” at certain periods of their lives, and that actual performance is evidence of this “peak”? I don’t want to hire someone who had achieved a lot at his or her previous job. I want a person who achieve much at the job I’m employing for.
Anyway, it’s worth a read and a think.