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Study finds that applicant candor pays off in job hunt

April 1, 2012

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz,

It is a perennial dilemma that job-seekers face: Should they be as candid about themselves during the employment search as they would probably like to be, or will candor compromise their chances of getting the job?
Clearly the answer to that question depends on many factors that come into play whenever people interact. Still, new research in a leading management journal offers strong evidence in favor of candor -- or as the study puts it "self-verification," people's natural desire to have others see them as they see themselves, even when they tend to view themselves in an unfavorable light.
According to the paper in the current issue of The Academy of Management Journal, self-verification in pursuing and landing a job leads to improved job satisfaction and job performance without diminishing the chance that the position will be offered in the first place.
These findings "may be counterintuitive to many people, since many applicants obviously believe the best strategy is to engage in extensive image creation during organizational entry," concede the study's authors, Daniel M. Cable of the London Business School and Virginia S. Kay of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But "our results suggest that in the long term it may be advantageous for people to self-verify during organizational entry, attempting to bring others to know them for who they really are. Individuals with a strong proclivity to self-verify...were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and committed to their organizations, and their supervisors rated them as better employees." Moreover, no evidence emerged to suggest that self-verification interferes "with job-search success: total number of job offers received and applicants' conversion ratio of interviews to job offers."
In short, "while self-verification striving seems to help over the course of organizational entry, it does not appear to hamper applicants' ability to attain job offers."
Comments Prof. Cable: "Anyone who teaches in an MBA program has likely heard the litany of student complaints about the need to wear the mask, check your values, etc.,  when you enter the corporate jungle. It doesn't make a lot of sense, considering that you spend a good part of your life at work, so that, when we launched this research, I would have been prepared to argue that maybe it's not so bad to be true to yourself even if does diminish a bit your chances of landing a job. Finding that it doesn't diminish those chances in the short term while it helps everyone in the long term is a great outcome."
The paper's findings emerge from two separate studies.
In one study, Cable and Kay analyze information regarding 146 students from four different sources over the course of their MBA experience -- 1) their interviews when they applied to enter the program; 2) surveys assessing their self-verification striving when they pursued summer internships near the end of their first MBA year; 3) final grade point average, obtained following graduation; and 4) a final survey four months after graduation gauging job-search success (number of interviews and job offers) as well as the graduates' job satisfaction with the firms they joined and their organizational commitment to those firms. Self-verification striving was assessed on a scale of 1 to 5 (disagree to agree) through such questions as "I like to be myself rather than trying to act like someone I'm not," or "It's important for an employer to see me as I see myself, even if it means bringing people to recognize my limitations."
The study finds self-verification striving to be significantly associated with both job satisfaction and organizational commitment. In addition, self-verification striving and interviewers' evaluations of applicants were predictive in combination of a student's subsequent grade point average, while neither was predictive on its own. In the words of the study, "For applicants who strived to self-verify, the validity of interviewers' ratings was positive and significant, while interviewers' rating were unrelated to future performance for low self-verifying applicants."
The second study focuses on 208 job seekers from around the world who sent application materials to a clearinghouse charged with matching international teachers to school districts in the US. Applicants completed the same self-verification survey used in Study 1, and the principals of schools to which applicants were assigned completed surveys on their performance and citizenship behaviors over the course of their first year as teachers. Self-verification striving was found to be significantly related to both measures over and above conscientiousness and a number of other personality traits.
A lack of significant relationship between self-verification striving and number of job offers is true for both studies.
What accounts for the superior job outcomes of high self-verifiers. Cable and Kay suggest three reasons:
**  "If individuals do not promise what they cannot deliver in terms of their skills and abilities, they are more likely to be selected into jobs they actually are suited to perform."
**  "When people try to display a self that is not true to themselves, they create a sense of alienation from oneself which increases emotional exhaustion and uses up cognitive resources that could have been focused on job performance."
**  "High self-verifiers are more likely to join organizations that reflect their own personal values and goals."
The paper, entitled "Striving for Self-Verification during Organizational Entry" is in the April/May issue of the The Academy of Management Journal.  This peer-reviewed publication is published every other month by the Academy, which, with about 18,000 members in 103 countries, is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. The Academy's other publications are the The Academy of Management Review, The Academy of Management Perspectives, and Academy of Management Learning and Education
Media Coverage:
The Wall Street Journal. Interviewing? Be Yourself. (Wednesday, April 25, 2012).

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