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How and Why Do Interviewers Try to Make Impressions on Applicants? A
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INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 1
How and Why Do Interviewers Try To Make Impressions on Applicants? A Qualitative Study
Annika Wilhelmy and Martin Kleinmann Universität Zürich
Cornelius J. König
Universität des Saarlandes
Klaus G. Melchers Universität Ulm
Donald M. Truxillo
Portland State University
This article is currently in press in Journal of Applied Psychology
Annika Wilhelmy and Martin Kleinmann, Department of Psychology, Universität Zürich,
Switzerland; Cornelius J. König, Department of Psychology, Universität des Saarlandes, Germany;
Klaus G. Melchers, Institute of Psychology and Education, Universität Ulm, Germany; Donald M.
Truxillo, Department of Psychology, Portland State University, Oregon, USA.
We thank Talya N. Bauer and Adrian Bangerter for their helpful comments on earlier versions
of the paper. We are grateful to Stéphanie Weissert, Lisa Juliane Schneider, Romana Nussbaumer,
and Sabrina Engeli for their help with data collection and analysis, and to Michel Hunziker for his
help with data analysis. We would also like to thank Susanne Inglin, Domenico Amendola, and
Roger Keller for technical and methodological consultations.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Annika Wilhelmy, Department
of Psychology, Universität Zürich, Binzmuehlestrasse 14/12, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 2
To remain viable in today’s highly competitive business environments, it is crucial for organizations
to attract and retain top candidates. Hence, interviewers have the goal not only of identifying
promising applicants, but also of representing their organization. Although it has been proposed that
interviewers’ deliberate signaling behaviors are a key factor for attracting applicants and thus for
ensuring organizations’ success, no conceptual model about impression management (IM) exists
from the viewpoint of the interviewer as separate from the applicant. To develop such a conceptual
model on how and why interviewers use IM, our qualitative study elaborates signaling theory in the
interview context by identifying the broad range of impressions that interviewers intend to create for
applicants, what kinds of signals interviewers deliberately use to create their intended impressions,
and what outcomes they pursue. Following a grounded theory approach, multiple raters analyzed in-
depth interviews with interviewers and applicants. We also observed actual employment interviews
and analyzed memos and image brochures to generate a conceptual model of interviewer IM. Results
showed that the spectrum of interviewers’ IM intentions goes well beyond what has been proposed in
past research. Furthermore, interviewers apply a broad range of IM behaviors, including verbal and
nonverbal as well as paraverbal, artifactual, and administrative behaviors. An extensive taxonomy of
interviewer IM intentions, behaviors, and intended outcomes is developed, interrelationships between
these elements are presented, and avenues for future research are derived.
Keywords: employment interview, impression management, signaling theory, recruitment, qualitative
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 3
How and Why Do Interviewers Try to Make Impressions on Applicants?
A Qualitative Study
The employment interview continues to be the most popular selection tool used by both
applicants and organizations to assess and select one another (Macan, 2009). It is characterized by
social exchange processes between applicants (who want to get hired) and representatives of the
organization (who want to attract and select the best candidates). To reach their goals, applicants and
interviewers try to detect what their interaction partner is interested in and try to use this information
to send appropriate signals (Bangerter, Roulin, & König, 2012).
Signaling processes in the interview have mainly been studied in terms of impression
management (IM) efforts (Delery & Kacmar, 1998). Scholars have repeatedly pointed out that
interviewers frequently use IM, and that these deliberate behaviors are a key factor for attracting
applicants and thus ensuring an organization’s economic success (e.g., Dipboye & Johnson, 2013;
Rosenfeld, 1997). However, it is striking that past interview research has rarely addressed the
phenomenon of interviewer IM, as most prior studies have limited their focus on how applicants use
IM (Koslowsky & Pindek, 2011). Furthermore, research has assumed that interviewers use the same
IM behaviors as applicants (e.g., Stevens, Mitchell, & Tripp, 1990) without taking a closer look at
what interviewers actually do when they interact with applicants.
We define interviewer IM as interviewers’ deliberate attempts to create impressions on
applicants (cf. Schlenker, 1980) and argue that it is important to identify and explain interviewer IM.
As outlined below, we argue that interviewers’ aims and opportunities may be different from those of
applicants, and therefore their IM efforts should be somewhat different as well. Furthermore, scholars
have noted that signaling theory, which is most often used to explain recruitment phenomena
(Bangerter et al., 2012; Spence, 1973), is currently not well-defined and understood in the context of
interviewers’ IM intentions and behaviors (Celani & Singh, 2011). Thus, to provide a more
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 4
comprehensive theoretical understanding of how and why interviewers try to create impressions on
applicants, it is crucial to learn more about interviewers’ deliberate signaling behaviors as well as
their underlying intentions.
Therefore, the aim of the present study is to use a qualitative approach to create a taxonomy
and a conceptual model by identifying and analyzing the broad range of possible interviewer IM
intentions, behaviors, and intended outcomes. We use this conceptual model to point out propositions
for future research on interviewer IM. Drawing on interdependence theory (Rusbult & Van Lange,
2003), this study sheds light on how interviewer and applicant IM are similar and distinct.
Furthermore, our study elaborates signaling theory (Bangerter et al., 2012; Spence, 1973) in the
interview context by gaining insights into specific signals that are deliberately used by interviewers,
and why these signals are being sent.
Signaling Processes in the Interview
The employment interview is a dynamic exchange in which interviewers and applicants
engage in social interaction, gather information, and create and form impressions (Levashina,
Hartwell, Morgeson, & Campion, 2014). Consequently, in the last two decades, researchers have
increasingly considered both interviewer and applicant perspectives and have given more attention to
how applicants and interviewers intentionally adapt their behaviors to pursue their interests (Dipboye,
Macan, & Shahani-Denning, 2012).
In employment interviews, applicants have information that is of interest to interviewers but
to which interviewers do not necessarily have access (e.g., information about applicants’ personality).
Similarly, interviewers have information that is of interest to applicants but to which applicants do
not necessarily have access (e.g., selection criteria). In situations like this, when two parties have
access to dissimilar information, signaling theory (Bangerter et al., 2012; Spence, 1973) is helpful for
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 5
describing and explaining behavior. According to this theory, signaling processes consist of several
elements, such as two primary actors – the signaler, sender, or insider (e.g., the interviewer), and the
receiver or outsider (e.g., the applicant) – as well as the actual signals sent by the signaler to the
receiver (Connelly, Certo, Ireland, & Reutzel, 2011). As Connelly et al. (2011) pointed out, the
signaler can also take an active part in this signaling process. For instance, interviewers can
deliberately choose whether and how to reduce information asymmetry by intentionally
communicating (or signaling) certain qualities to applicants who lack this information (Connelly et
In this vein, IM behaviors reflect an intentional way of sending signals (cf. Schlenker, 1980).
While interviewers’ signals could be anything that is interpreted as a signal by the applicant,
interviewer IM refers to signals that are deliberately sent by the interviewer. In other words,
interviewer IM relates to a deliberate facet of signaling theory (Bangerter et al., 2012). In addition, it
is important to note that any behavior that an interviewer applies could constitute interviewer IM
behavior if this behavior is shown with the intention to create impressions on applicants (e.g., asking
challenging interview questions not only because they are part of the interview guide but also with
the intention to signal the organization’s high performance expectations). Conversely, if an
interviewer’s behavior is not linked with such an intention (e.g., asking challenging interview
questions only because they are part of the interview guide), it does not constitute interviewer IM.
Although signaling theory is the framework most often used to explain recruitment
phenomena, it is currently not well-defined and understood when it comes to organizational
representatives’ intentions and deliberate signaling behaviors (Celani & Singh, 2011). To further
develop signaling theory, there have been calls to view and study signals within their social context,
such as the context of employment interviews. As such, a typology of signals that are sent in certain
contexts – like the employment interview – would be of high value to partition these signals into
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 6
meaningful categories and thus further understand the signaling phenomenon. In addition, research
would benefit from investigating the incentives of signalers, such as the outcomes they want to
achieve by using signals (Connelly et al., 2011). Thus, the main focus of this study is on signaling
intentions, the signals that interviewers deliberately send through their behavior to create applicant
impressions, and the outcomes interviewers want to achieve.
Potential signaling on the side of the interviewer. When organizations try to attract and
retain promising applicants, deliberate signals such as interviewer IM behavior have been proposed
to be particularly important (Celani & Singh, 2011). Nevertheless, despite extensive calls in the
literature to examine how and why interviewers intend to affect applicant impressions (cf., Delery &
Kacmar, 1998; Dipboye & Johnson, 2013; Gilmore, Stevens, Harrel-Cook, & Ferris, 1999; Macan,
2009), there have been no systematic attempts to examine the broad range of IM behaviors used by
interviewers. However, evidence suggests that interviewers pursue specific goals and that there are
certain interviewer characteristics that positively influence applicant attraction (Chapman, Uggerslev,
Carroll, Piasentin, & Jones, 2005; Derous, 2007).
It is important to note that only vague categories of behavior have been examined with regard
to applicants’ perceptions of interviewer behaviors, (e.g., competent behavior, professional behavior,
friendly behavior, cf. Chapman et al., 2005). Whereas it has been found that certain interviewer
behaviors and characteristics influence recruiting outcomes, such as perceived interviewer
personableness, competence, informativeness, trustworthiness, warmth, humor, and job knowledge
(Carless & Imber, 2007; Chapman et al., 2005), the signals that interviewers deliberately send
through their behavior to create these intended impressions have not been identified. Knowing more
about these specific, deliberate signals is crucial because it would help interviewers to influence
applicant impressions and thus to enhance recruitment success.
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 7
Furthermore, we do not know to what degree these interviewer behaviors represent IM in
terms of intentional, goal-directed behaviors. For instance, Tullar (1989) examined on-campus
interviewer utterances and found that about two-thirds of the utterances could be categorized as being
structuring (e.g., expanding on a previous statement) and nearly one-third as demonstrating
equivalence such as mutual identification (e.g., “That is interesting”). Nevertheless, it remains
unclear whether, how, and why interviewers intentionally adjust their behaviors to create images on
applicants’ minds, for example, images of being competent, professional, or friendly.
Potential differences between applicants’ and interviewers’ signaling. Applicants and
interviewers find themselves in the same social setting, but it might be misleading to apply existing
applicant IM taxonomies to interviewers. There may be considerable differences in applicants’ and
interviewers’ roles, intentions, and scopes of action. Interdependence theory (Rusbult & Van Lange,
2003) focuses on the causal determinants of dyadic social behavior and provides a conceptual
framework on the structure of interpersonal situations. The main idea of this theory is that
characteristics of the situation (e.g., individuals’ interests, information, and level of dependence)
exert strong effects on individuals’ behavior, for example, IM behavior. Thus, although interviewers
should apply some IM behaviors similar to those of applicants, they should also apply different IM
behaviors because they differ from applicants regarding several situational characteristics.
First, interdependence theory (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003) suggests that individuals are
likely to use IM in different ways when they pursue different goals. As pointed out by Bangerter et
al. (2012), applicants and interviewers have partly divergent interests. For instance, while applicants’
primary signaling interest is to get a job offer, one of interviewers’ interests is to identify, attract and
finally hire the best performer. With this end in mind, interviewers try to create an image not only of
themselves but also of the job and the organization as a whole (Connelly et al., 2011). In other words,
interviewers need to influence applicants’ image of multiple targets. Thus, in addition to IM
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 8
behaviors that we know from applicant IM research such as self-promotion or self-focused IM
behaviors (i.e., describing one’s past accomplishments and competencies in a positive way), and
ingratiation or other-focused IM behaviors (i.e., flattering one’s interaction partner), interviewers
may use additional strategies to promote the job and the organization.
Furthermore, many existing taxonomies distinguish between assertive IM behaviors that aim
to enhance one’s own image and defensive IM behaviors that aim at defending against threats to a
positive image (e.g., Ellis, West, Ryan, & DeShon, 2002; Van Iddekinge, McFarland, & Raymark,
2007). However, in addition to the goal of promoting or defending oneself, the job, and the
organization, interviewers have also been given recommendations to provide realistic information to
facilitate self-selection (Wanous, 1976) and to signal honesty (Earnest, Allen, & Landis, 2011). Thus,
in order to create realistic applicant impressions, interviewers may apply behaviors that go beyond
applicant IM and that should result in a broader range of IM behaviors than the ones that applicants
Second, according to interdependence theory (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003), individuals’
behavior is influenced by the information that is available to them. This is particularly relevant in
employment interviews, which involve interaction between strangers and are characterized by the
presence of vague information about the other (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003). For example,
interviewers have access to information on applicants’ past failures, potential weaknesses, and gaps
in the applicants’ CV – whereas applicants usually do not easily get information before the interview
regarding the job, the organization, and the interviewer. This depth of interviewers’ information on
applicants should give them more possibilities to deliberately send signals and should thus translate
into a broader set of IM behaviors as compared to applicants.
For example, while research on applicant IM has primarily focused on verbal IM behaviors
(i.e., the content of applicants’ responses and statements), scholars have pointed out that much more
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 9
could be considered as part of one’s attempt to create images (Dipboye et al., 2012). For instance,
nonverbal IM has been seen as a fruitful area of research, including IM behaviors such as smiling,
eye contact, body posture (Levine & Feldman, 2002), as well as head nods, handshakes, and hand
gestures (McFarland, Yun, Harold, Viera, & Moore, 2005). In addition, verbal behaviors through
ways other than words may be used, also referred to as paraverbal or paralinguistic behaviors
(DeGroot & Motowidlo, 1999). Examples of paraverbal behaviors include style of delivery (e.g.,
pitch and speech rate) and verbal fluency.
Third, interviewers and applicants are to some extent dependent upon each other, but in
distinct ways, which should result in some differences in their IM (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003). For
instance, applicants rely on interviewers because interviewers’ evaluations affect their chances of a
job offer (cf. Barrick, Shaffer, & DeGrassi, 2009). Therefore, applicants aim to create positive
images. Similarly, interviewers depend on applicants in terms of applicants’ job choice behavior, and
hence intend to create impressions on applicants (Dipboye et al., 2012). However, interviewers are
usually in a more powerful position than applicants because applicants only get to make a decision
about whether or not to work for the organization if they are offered a job (Anderson, 1992).
Consequently, interviewers might have the intention of signaling this power by using IM behaviors
that go beyond applicants’ IM.
Aims of the Present Study
In summary, interviewers’ goals and opportunities for IM are likely to differ from applicants’
goals and opportunities. Therefore, to enhance our theoretical understanding of this phenomenon, it is
crucial to develop a comprehensive taxonomy and a conceptual model about the deliberate signaling
processes on the side of the interviewer in terms of interviewer IM. To address these empirical and
theoretical gaps, we want to explore three main questions with our qualitative study. Based on these
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 10
research questions, our aim is to develop a conceptual model and a taxonomy about how and why
interviewers apply IM.
Research Question 1: What do interviewers intend to signal to applicants, that is, what
are interviewers’ IM intentions?
Research Question 2: What signals do interviewers deliberately use to create their
intended impressions, that is, what IM behaviors do interviewers apply?
Research Question 3: What outcomes do interviewers want to achieve by deliberately
sending signals to applicants, that is, what are interviewers’ intended IM outcomes?
Grounded Theory Approach
Grounded theory is a qualitative methodology that is particularly appropriate for our study
because it has been developed to understand phenomena about which little is known (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967) – such as interviewer IM. In addition, grounded theory has been shown to help
researchers understand complex social processes (Willig, 2009). Thus, it has been suggested that
researchers apply qualitative research strategies, like grounded theory, in employment interview and
IM research (cf. Macan, 2009).
A core characteristic of grounded theory research is that data collection and analysis are
closely interrelated to engage with a phenomenon as deeply as possible. As such, analyzing data
influences the strategy of data collection and vice-versa (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Hence, in our
study, data analysis influenced our subsequent choice of participants, interview questions,
observation emphasis, and our choice of topics for further data analysis.
Furthermore, grounded theory involves collecting data from multiple sources using multiple
techniques and analyzing it from multiple perspectives to create a multi-faceted sense of the
phenomenon (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Thus, following recommendations by Bluhm, Herman, Lee,
INTERVIEWER IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT 11
and Mitchell (2011), we sampled diverse interviewers and applicants and collected comprehensive
information from in-depth interviews with interviewers and applicants, observations of selection
interviews, the review of memos related to these in-depth interviews and observations, and the
review of informational material that was given or recommended to applicants during the interview.
These data were analyzed and discussed by multiple researchers (following recommendations by
Corbin & Strauss, 2008).
Moreover, according to grounded theory, data collection and analysis continues until no new
information is gained, that is, until no new categories and concepts emerge from the data. In the
present study, this point, which is called theoretical saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), was reached
after analyzing 30 in-depth interviews, 10 observations of real employment interviews, 43 memos,
and 12 pieces of informational material.
To better understand interviewers’ IM behaviors, we studied samples of populations who had
firsthand experience with the social interaction processes in employment interviews: people regularly
conducting employment interviews (i.e., interviewers) and people who had recently been interviewed
in several employment interviews (i.e., applicants). We included applicants because signalers (i.e.,
interviewers) might not always report all of the signals they apply. Specifically, we used information
provided by applicants to develop ideas about possible interviewer IM intentions and behaviors. We
then asked interviewers whether the behaviors and intentions reported by applicants actually
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