Short and Scholarly: Impression Management and the Interview Process

The interview process is far from a one-way street. To remain competitive in today’s business climate, it is essential for companies to refine their interview process in order to continue attracting and hiring top talent. In the context of a job interview, candidates are sizing up the company (and the interviewers) just as much as interviewers are sizing up candidates and their credentials.

Today, we are recapping a research report on how interviewers use impression management in the interview process. In their recent study, How and Why Do Interviewers Try to Make Impressions on Applicants? A Qualitative Study, researchers Annika Wilhelmy, Martin Kleinmann, Cornelius J. Konig, Klaus G. Melchers, and Donald M. Truxillo examine how interviewers use impression management (IM) in the employee selection process to find the right candidates and help foster an organization’s growth and financial success.

This qualitative study – which serves as an extension on signaling theory – examines IM among interviewers to discover what interviewers intend to signal to candidates, which signals interviewers use to create intended impressions, and what outcomes interviewers intend achieve by sending certain signals.

What Do Interviewers Want to Communicate to Applicants in the Pre-Hire Process?

To put it simply, when interviewers are looking to hire quality employees during the candidate selection process, interviewers use different behaviors depending on their desired outcomes. Some organizations may have the intention to hire candidates quickly, while others may be more focused on sustainable recruiting.

Influencing how a candidate feels toward the company and the job during the employee selection process can be a delicate balancing act on the part of the interviewer. After all, interviewers must provide information that is accurate. However, different interviewers frame the information in different ways depending on the context of the role and interview.

In this study, five common IM intentions were used among interviewers to communicate to employees about their company and the position:

  • Attractiveness: The interviewer paints the position and the company in a positive light. The end-purpose of this IM behavior is usually to fill positions quickly and to keep applicants’ feelings toward the position and organization copacetic.
  • Authenticity: Interviewers opt to communicate authenticity when the goal is sustainable recruiting. The intended outcome is to foster identification with the organization and maintain a strong organizational reputation and image. Typical actions for this time of impression management include being honest about the downsides of the position as well as mirroring applicants’ IM styles.
  • Closeness: This behavior usually includes actions like laughing and demonstrating similarity to a candidate (think: peeking at a candidate’s resume, seeing she held the same position the interviewer held at one point, and using that as a way to relate). The goal of using this method is to get more honest, personal information out of a candidate in order to more realistically gauge a candidate’s natural positivity and self-esteem.
  • Distance in terms of professionalism: The goal here is to create a professional image and ultimately, to prevent legal action against the interviewer or organization. IM behavior on the interviewer’s part in this instance might include displaying application documents during the interview, or taking notes.
  • Distance in terms of superiority: The goal of this behavior is for the interviewer to create a superior image of herself and the company. Common IM behaviors include applicant-depreciation, challenging the applicant, and speaking in an authoritative way.

The study notes that oftentimes there is overlap between various intentions, and there are IM behaviors that can be used in multipurpose ways. For instance, if an interviewer wants to convey attractiveness and authenticity, she might use positive framing in conjunction with demonstrating job knowledge in order to influence the applicant.

How Interviewers Utilize IM During the Hiring Process

When it comes to the candidate selection process, applicants only need to make an impression of themselves, but interviewers make an impression of the organization as a whole, which requires more complex IM. However, interviewers use more than just words to communicate with applicants in the context of a job interview. In this study, interviewers used a variety of IM communication signals to influence interviewees.

  1. Verbal – This refers to interviewers’ use of specific words and phrases to influence an interviewee’s perception of the company and position.
  2. Paraverbal – This refers to interviewers’ verbal behaviors outside of the words they use. Voice pitch and volume, as well as the speed at which interviewer speaks are all examples of paraverbal IM. This study highlights three common ways interviewers modulate their voices, included speaking in an empathetic way to signal closeness, speaking in an authoritative way to signal distance in terms of superiority, and speaking in an unobtrusive way to signal professionalism.
  3. Nonverbal – In the context of the study, this refers to an interviewer’s use of body language, including handshakes, empathetic listening (mirroring applicant posture or nodding affirmatively), and laughing with the candidate.
  4. Artifactual – This refers to items used in the context of the interview such as the clothes interviewers wear, the appearance of the premises, promotional giveaways for applicants, and visual information displayed during the interview (such as an applicant’s test results or notes from the previous interview).
  5. Administrative – This refers to behaviors connected to organizing the interview. For instance, interviewers may intentionally ensure timeliness in order to crate impressions of closeness. To convey appreciation, interviewers might send confirmations of receipt when a candidate sends in an application.

Desired Impression Management Outcomes in the Employee Selection Process

There are many motives behind the types of IM behaviors interviewers choose to use, as well as when they choose to use them. Three notable desired outcomes of IM discussed in this particular study included:

  1. To improve the interview’s recruitment function, i.e., to ensure applicants leave the process feeling good about themselves and react with positive attitudes toward the process and organization.
  2. To enhance the interview’s selection process. Interviewers intended to use commonalities like similar job experiences to increase the amount of personal information divulged by applicants and help the feel more relaxed in order to get them to be more honest and explicit with their answers.
  3. To influence outcomes related to the interviewers themselves, such as the interviewer’s reputation and career development.

For interviewers who worked in organizations whose goals were to garner or retain customers, the goal was ultimately – whether or not the candidate was offered the position – to leave the candidate feeling good about the interaction and the company in general.

In other words, one way impression management can be effective long after the interview process ends and regardless of whether or not a candidate is offered a position if the candidate can walk away saying, “Though they didn’t hire me, they’re a great company.”