"Potential: capable of being but not yet in existence. Possibility, capability or power. " — Webster's New College Dictionary Francina...

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“Potential: capable of being but not yet in existence. Possibility, capability or power.” — Webster’s New College Dictionary

Francina Harrison is emphatic when she defines the word “potential” and emphasizes the importance of utilizing it.

And her definition, when it comes to the workplace, encompasses more than the official dictionary definition.

“Potential, in terms of your career, is your understanding of your skills and abilities and then optimizing them,” said Harrison, co-owner with her husband Tonnie of Harrison & Associates, a career-consulting firm based in Virginia Beach, Va.

Knowing your potential is especially valuable in finding employment, according to Harrison.

“The competition for jobs is tough, but if you discover your potential, you’ll be able to beat the competition,” said Harrison. “It’s really up to you to change yourself when you find it difficult to get a job — it’s up to you to recognize who you are, what you bring to the table and what you are able to sell to that potential employer.”

Unlocking your potential begins with an in-depth self-inventory.

“Ask yourself what areas you excel in, what areas you receive compliments without trying,” advised Harrison. “Ask yourself if you could do anything in the world for free, what would it be?”

When you know “what you’re really good at, that you’re the best of the best, shout it out in your résumé and the interview,” the career expert says.

“For instance, if you work in a call center of a customer-service industry, don’t say you ‘answer phones.’ Instead say, ‘I deliver customer service to more than 10,000 customers for a national organization.’ “

As for your weaker or “undeveloped” areas, work on them.

“If you’re lacking in leadership skills, for instance, which are so important today, get involved in a community organization within your interest sphere,” says Harrison.

Harrison, who was a social worker for four years, working for nonprofits, said she developed her potential in 1993 when she was hired by a for-profit human-services consulting company. Her hidden potential: business savvy.

“No facts said I could do the job, but I had the potential and rose several levels to manager — and that prepared me for starting my own business,” said Harrison.

Realizing your potential is gratifying. The consultant says she often asks herself, “Wow, why couldn’t I have done this 10 years ago?”

And, potentially, she could have.

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.