Science says it’s better to convince people you’re naturally talented than a hard worker

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Hard work is significantly less appealing than natural talent. AIGA Wisconsin/flickr

So you spent years climbing your way to the C-suite at your last company, regularly working nights and weekends and taking on extra projects.

Big deal.

Tell us how you were promoted to the C-suite within a day of arriving at the company because they could tell you were a born visionary — then we’ll be impressed.

A new study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and cited on the Science of Us blog, reveals hard work is significantly less appealing than natural talent, at least in entrepreneurs.

To test this theory, researchers led by Chia-Jung Tsay at University College London’s UCL School of Management conducted three separate studies. In one, they recruited 383 participants from across the US to read one of two descriptions of a hypothetical entrepreneur.

One description emphasised natural talent (without explicitly using that term), explaining that “from the very beginning” of his career at his last company, the entrepreneur demonstrated a keen sense of the market, and was ready to be a leader in the field “from Day 1.”

The other description was identical, except it emphasised striving (again, without explicitly using that term). This entrepreneur gained a keen sense of the market from his experience at the company and is positioned to be a leader “at this point in his career.”

All participants listened to the same one-minute clip of the entrepreneur’s pitch before the researchers asked them how successful they thought the entrepreneur would be, how much they liked the pitch, and how much they’d like to invest in the entrepreneur’s proposal.

Sure enough, the entrepreneur who demonstrated natural talent received significantly higher ratings, especially among participants who said they had some previous experience with entrepreneurship.

In a follow-up study, the researchers figured out exactly what traits the hardworking entrepreneurs needed to be as appealing as the naturally talented entrepreneurs. Results showed they’d need about 28 more IQ points and 4.5 additional years of leadership experience.

The strange part? Before they read about the entrepreneurs or listened to their pitches, the participants were asked whether they preferred to see hard work or natural talent — and most answered hard work. So the bias toward seemingly naturally talented entrepreneurs appears to be unconscious.

These findings have important implications for anyone pitching a business idea or simply applying for a job. Rather than emphasise all the effort you put in to get where you are, consider showing off those natural talents and skills that make you a good fit for the role.

Once you land the job, of course, hard work may be key to your success.

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