Impression management is a tactic often used by interviewees hoping to boost their chances of getting the job. One common tack is self-promotion: emphasising your successes and attributing them to your personal qualities rather than to context or good luck. Research shows this is generally a sound strategy. But not always; a team from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland has shown this is conditional on the culture that your recruiter comes from.
Marianne Schmid Mast and her team gathered 84 recruiters - HR directors, assistants, and recruitment experts – to review a video interview and express how likely they would be to take on the candidate. Half of the recruiters saw a video where the actor used self-promotion heavily: he attributed successes to internal factors and failures to external ones, and used a quick fluent speech style, with plenty of eye contact and relaxed posture. As an example, he used statements like “I think that I am excellent in everything I do”, which makes me think I saw him on The Apprentice a while back.
The other participants saw the actor in modest mode, making the opposite type of attributions, peppering their speech with pauses and disclaimers like “I'm not sure”, and sitting tensely while fidgeting. Unsurprisingly, the participants rated the actor significantly differently in each condition on measures of modesty and self-promotion – the latter pleasingly including a component of 'pretentiousness'. The bare facts of the situation remained unchanged in each script, making the candidate equally prepared for the technical demands of the job in both cases.
Overall, the self-promoting candidate received higher ratings of likelihood of hiring, in line with previous work. But there was a further layer to the study: participants had been gathered from two different countries, Switzerland, which is characterised by features such as diplomacy and modesty, and Canada, which is an 'Anglo' culture composed of people likely to consider themselves as unique, proactive, and forceful. The Canadians were enthusiastic for the self-promoter, on average showing a 54% likelihood of hiring him, compared to 21% for the modest candidate. But the Swiss, generally less eager to hire, were only 29% likely to hire the self-promoter, similar to their 24% ratings for the modest candidate.
The recruiters may have shared a language (French) but were divided by their culture in how they responded to self-promotion, valuing it less if it was discordant with their own norms. This has relevance for two groups: firstly, candidates should consider cultural context before committing to specific impression management tactics. Secondly, organisations that recruit globally should consider that recruitment in one country may be driven by culturally-desired qualities that don't translate to the country where the applicant may end up. The study videos used recommended 'behavioural interview' questioning, yet still these discrepancies were found, suggesting that organisations should ensure a shared sense of what 'good' looks like in candidate style.
Schmid Mast, M., Frauendorfer, D., & Popovic, L. (2011). Self-Promoting and Modest Job Applicants in Different Cultures Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10 (2), 70-77 DOI: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000034