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Ingratiation in job applications: impact on selection decisions

Arup Varma (Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Soo Min Toh (Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Canada)
Shaun Pichler (School of Labor and Industrial Relations, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 1 April 2006




The purpose of present study is to examine the influence of impression management (IM) tactics (e.g. ingratiation) applied in job application letters on perceived qualifications and hiring recommendations. The study aims to build on recent research done in the interview context, by studying IM specifically in the written form pertaining to a job application.


Data were gathered from 94 respondents asked to evaluate the job application letters of applicants for a mentoring program. IM was manipulated through the cover letter, such that, each subject received five cover letters, four of which engaged in ingratiation and one that had no ingratiation. Participants were required to evaluate the applicants' qualifications and make selection decisions.


The results of the study were consistent with those of the interview context. More specifically, ingratiation led to significantly higher ratings of applicants, and self‐focused tactics were more effective than other‐focused tactics.

Research limitations/implications

The findings of this research conveyed that most of the IM tactics significantly improve recruiters' evaluations of the applicants. Still, future research needs to further investigate this relationship in order to understand the specific nature of the IM tactics and develop a deeper understanding of the underlying processes that cause IM tactics to have an impact on recruiters' judgments.

Practical implications

The present study highlights the need for greater understanding of how IM tactics may influence the decisions of employers who rely on written applications, or a combination of job application letters and interviews. Therefore, employers need to be aware of the use of IM in written applications and emphasize the importance of interviews in the selection process.


Existing research has been concerned with how IM tactics influence interview outcomes and has overlooked how these same IM tactics may be used in job application letters to influence selection decisions. This study addresses this gap by focusing on the job application letter as a means of conveying and managing impressions by candidates.



Varma, A., Min Toh, S. and Pichler, S. (2006), "Ingratiation in job applications: impact on selection decisions", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 200-210.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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