Recruiter political skill and organization reputation effects on job applicant attraction in the recruitment process: A multi-study investigation

Diane Lawong (Department of Management, College of Business, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Gerald R. Ferris (College of Business, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Wayne Hochwarter (Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Liam Maher (College of Business and Economics, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 20 August 2019

Issue publication date: 22 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Researchers have identified various recruiter and organization characteristics that individually influence staffing effectiveness. In extending contemporary research, the purpose of this paper is to address a straightforward question unexamined in previous research, namely, does recruiter political skill interact with organization reputation to influence applicant attraction in the recruitment process? Specifically, the authors hypothesized that for recruiters high in political skill, as organization reputation increases, applicant attraction to the organization increases. Alternatively, for recruiters low in political skill, as organization reputation increases, there is no change in applicant attraction to the organization.

Design/methodology/approach

Three studies were conducted to create the experimental manipulation materials, pilot test them and then conduct tests of the hypotheses. Study 1 created and tested the content validity of the recruiter political skill script. Study 2 reported on the effectiveness of the recruiter political skill experimental manipulation, whereby a male actor was hired to play the part of a recruiter high in political skill and one low in political skill. Finally, Study 3 was the primary hypothesis testing investigation.

Findings

Results from a 2×2 between-subjects experimental study (N=576) supported the hypotheses. Specifically, high recruiter political skill and favorable organization reputation each demonstrated significant main effects on applicant attraction to the organization. Additionally, the authors hypothesized, and confirmed, a significant organization reputation × recruiter political skill interaction. Specifically, findings demonstrated that increases in organization reputation resulted in increased applicant attraction to the organization for those exposed to a recruiter high in political skill. However, the effect was not for a recruiter low in political skill.

Research limitations/implications

Despite the single source nature of data collections, the authors took steps to minimize potential biasing factors (e.g. time separation, including affectivity). Future research will benefit from gathering multiple sources of data. In addition, no experimental research to date exists, examining political skill in a laboratory context. This finding has important implications for the growing research base on political skill in organizations.

Practical implications

First impressions are lasting impressions, and it is very costly to organizations when recruiters lose good candidates due to the failure to make a memorable and favorable impression. This paper supports the use of political skill in the recruitment process and highlights its capability to influence and attract job applicants to organizations successfully.

Originality/value

Despite its scientific and practical appeal, the causal effects of political skill on important work outcomes in an experimental setting have not been formally investigated. As the first experimental investigation of political skill, the authors can see more clearly and precisely what political skill behaviors of recruiters tend to influence applicant attraction to organizations in the recruitment process.

Keywords

Citation

Lawong, D., Ferris, G.R., Hochwarter, W. and Maher, L. (2019), "Recruiter political skill and organization reputation effects on job applicant attraction in the recruitment process: A multi-study investigation", Career Development International, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 278-296. https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-01-2019-0007

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited


Generally, hiring is the most important thing organizations do, and to hire effectively, it is necessary to recruit effectively, which refers to “[…] a broad set of activities that connect applicants to organizations and jobs” (e.g. Ployhart et al., 2017, p. 293). Ostensibly, who is hired ultimately defines the organization, influencing its effectiveness and long-term viability (Cable and Turban, 2001). As a result, early in the employment relationship, organizations develop and manage various organization characteristics that will increase their chances of obtaining and retaining top talent (Berkson et al., 2002; Reis et al., 2017). Recruitment theory suggests that recruitment effectiveness in organizations is at least partially a function of the characteristics of both recruiters and organizations (Breaugh and Starke, 2000).

Recruitment is a very costly process, and failures can significantly impact the organization’s bottom line (e.g. Phillips and Gully, 2015; Ployhart et al., 2017). Moreover, the continuous pursuit of applicants capable of contributing to the fulfillment of company objectives has made the recruitment process very competitive (Breaugh, 2013; Connerley and Rynes, 1997; McGinley et al., 2018). Research to date has theoretically confirmed that both recruiter and organization characteristics influence applicant-related outcomes (DeGrassi, in press; Magnusen et al., 2011; Treadway et al., 2014). However, there is a gap in our understanding of precisely how these characteristics interact with one another to influence recruitment outcomes.

Considerable research has been conducted on recruitment processes, characteristics and outcomes for decades (e.g. Breaugh, 2013; Ployhart et al., 2017), whereby various types of recruitment activities have been found to influence applicant reactions (Chapman and Webster, 2006; Uggerslev et al., 2012). Of this work, a central and very key focus found to affect the reactions of job applicants to organizations during the recruitment process are the characteristics of recruiters, reflecting one of the most frequently researched areas (Breaugh, 2013; Chapman et al., 2005; Chen et al., 2013; Harold et al., 2016; Larsen, and Phillips, 2002).

For example, research has demonstrated that applicant attraction is related to recruiters who exhibit pleasant personalities (Ryan and Ployhart, 2000), and other personality characteristics have been shown to influence applicant attraction in addition to the willingness to pursue potential job offers from the organization (e.g. Saks and Uggerslev, 2010; Turban et al., 1995). Research affirms that recruiters with a personable demeanor positively influenced applicant attraction to the job and organization (e.g. Chapman et al., 2005; Giannatonio et al., in press).

However, although research has investigated the effects of many recruiter traits and characteristics, finding that they do indeed relate to applicant attraction, it has been argued that more research is needed focusing on other recruiter characteristics (Chapman et al., 2005). Furthermore, research to date has failed to explain why and how different recruiter attributes affect applicants’ employment interest. Scholars have advocated for research examining ways to increase recruiter effectiveness (Chang and Chin, 2018; Breaugh and Starke, 2000). To address the under-investigated “why” and the “how,” we examine the simultaneous (and interactive) effects of the recruiter political skill and organization reputation on applicant reactions.

Furthermore, we contribute to the area of applicant perceptions of fit (i.e. what attracts applicants to organizations and convinces them that the organization is the right fit for them). Intuitively, most believe that job candidates are attracted to organizations because of the objective features of those companies (e.g. pay and job design). However, studies examining such characteristics have demonstrated mixed results (e.g. Ferris et al., 2014), suggesting the presence of other contributing factors. Consistent with previous research, we believe organization reputation influences job candidates’ willingness to consider employment relationships with organizations (Berkson et al., 2002; Magnusen et al., 2018). Although this may be a distal reality for some, organization reputation can be made salient, and leveraged, by astute recruiters who “sell” organization features that increase applicant attraction (i.e. recruiter political skill in the present investigation).

Magnusen et al. (2011) proposed that political skill equipped college sports recruiters with the resources to be more effective in recruitment. In addition, Treadway et al. (2014) used recruitment theory to examine the roles of political skill in NCAA football domains. Results reported a positive relationship between recruiter political skill and the quantity and quality of student-athletes in the applicant pool. The current study builds on the findings of Treadway et al. by examining the impact of recruiter political skill along with another critical factor during recruitment, namely, organization reputation.

The framework for this three-study investigation involves the use of signaling theory to explain the impact of organization reputation on applicant attraction (Chang and Chin, 2018; Spence, 1973), and social/political influence theory to describe why recruiter political skill has an effect on applicant attraction (Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). We present results from three studies in this paper. Study 1 focuses on the material development for the experimental manipulations. Study 2 is a pilot study conducted for comparisons of the recruiter political skill and organization reputation manipulations, and their effectiveness. Study 3 is the primary hypothesis testing investigation, assessing the effects of recruiter political skill and organization reputation on applicant attraction. Three studies were necessary to support the creation and testing of the experimental materials and manipulations for political skill and organization reputation to a sufficiently precise degree in order to permit both internal and external validity.

Theoretical foundations and hypotheses development

Recruiter political skill and its impact on recruitment

Political skill is defined as “the ability to effectively understand others at work and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhances one’s personal and organizational objectives” (Ferris, Treadway, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, Kacmar, Douglas and Frink, 2005, p. 127), and it is comprised of four underlying dimensions: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity. Treadway et al. (2014) cited political skill as the missing piece in social/political influence theory, which attempts to account for the style, delivery and execution of influence efforts (i.e. the how) (Coleman Gallagher et al., 2016). Accordingly, the use of political skill represents a social influence process used to maximize desired rewards and minimize potential negative repercussions (Ferris et al., 2002; Munyon et al., 2015).

Rynes’ (1989) recruitment model has two focal points for recruiters: evaluating the applicant and selling the organization to the applicant. Theoretically, political skill helps do both. Social astuteness allows politically skilled recruiters to evaluate accurately applicant attitudes and motivations (Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). Hence, politically skilled recruiters understand the human capital needs of their organizations (Fang et al., 2015). Accordingly, this skill augments recruiter’s ability to identify applicants with the highest potential for success (Russell et al., 2016).

Rynes’ (1989) suggestion that social influence theory (Levy et al., 1998) explains how recruiters persuade applicants to engage with a particular job or organization. Politically skilled individuals have high levels of interpersonal influence. An essential characteristic of interpersonal influence is the capacity to adapt behavior situationally to elicit desired responses from others (Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). Because influence acuity promotes the deployment of situationally appropriate strategies and heightened control (Magnusen et al., 2011; Perrewé and Ferris, 2016), recruiters high in political skill (i.e. compared to recruiters low in political skill) are more effective in their recruitment.

Moreover, success is dependent upon whether the influence is perceived by the target as manipulative or sincere (Treadway et al., 2007). Hence, the targets of politically skilled individuals trust and have confidence in them, and are blind to any ulterior motives they might possess (Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). High-quality applicants are the targets of recruiters’ influence attempts, and recruiters who are capable of presenting themselves in a sincere manner are more likely to succeed in influencing high-quality applicants to accept job offers (Breland et al., 2017).

Politically skilled people are proficient at developing diverse networks, both formal and informal, which provide them with access to valuable assets and opportunities necessary for attaining their objectives (Munyon et al., 2015). Consequently, individuals possessing political skill are motivated to create and take advantage of opportunities when identified through the people in their network (Ferris Davidson and Perrewé, 2005; Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). During the recruitment process, the ability to develop and leverage secure networks to ignite candidates’ interest in their organization gives recruiters high in political skill greater capacity to achieve success than recruiters low in political skill. As such, we formulate the following hypothesis:

H1.

Recruiter political skill is related to applicants’ attraction to the organization. Higher levels of recruiter political skill will result in higher levels of applicant attraction to the organization.

Organization reputation and its impact on recruitment

Berkson et al. (2002) distinguished organization reputation from constructs with apparent overlap (e.g. identity), and defined it as the attributions made about an entity by people outside of its current members (Sageder et al., 2018). The attributions made about an organization’s reputation can vary widely from positive to negative, influenced by established characteristics of organizations, or more temporary and changeable company policies (Fombrun, 1996; Klotz and da Motta Veiga, 2018; Lange et al., 2011). Scholars have suggested that organization reputation demonstrates a significant effect on the recruitment process (Cable and Turban, 2001; Kumari and Saini, 2018). Furthermore, the relationship between reputation and quality and quantity of recruits has been established in recent research (Collins and Han, 2010).

Recruitment of human resources is an inherently competitive arena, where applicants are competing for similar jobs and organizations are competing for applicants. Organization reputation is one of the characteristics that organization theorists have cited as a resource that provides organizations with a sustainable competitive advantage (Ferris, Treadway, Perrewé, Brouer, Douglas and Lux, 2007; Ferris, Perrewé, Ranft, Zinko, Stoner, Brouer and Laird, 2007). Another way organizations gain a competitive advantage in recruitment is through the recommendations of current and former employees. Such positive recommendations can influence the organization’s reputation, and increase the pool of applicants from which organizations can select (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007).

We employ signaling theory here as the principal conceptual foundation to reinforce the theoretical arguments for the impact an organization’s reputation can demonstrate on recruitment (Lange et al., 2011; Spence, 1973). Because it addresses how information asymmetry is reduced between two parties (Spence, 2002; Connelly et al., 2011), signaling theory helps explain the role of organization reputation in recruitment, via its suggestion that decision makers turn to observable signals as substitutes when complete and accurate information is lacking (Connelly et al., 2011). To obtain more information, applicants look at organizations’ rankings, stock prices, online information and ask others who may be knowledgeable about the reputation of the organization (Turban and Cable, 2003; Behrend et al., 2009).

Scholars have used signaling theory to explain how firm reputation affects applicant job uncertainty (Acikgoz, 2019; Magnusen et al., 2011). These studies emphasized the importance of leveraging organization reputation in order to attract higher quantities of applicants. In response to Rynes’ (1991) question of what could be done to make an organization more attractive to applicants, scholars suggested that utilizing organization reputation in the recruitment process would enhance applicant attraction (Berkson et al., 2002). Thus, the following hypothesis is formulated:

H2.

Organization reputation is positively related to applicants’ attraction to organizations. Higher levels of organization reputation will result in higher levels of applicants’ attraction to the organization.

Recruiter political skill × organization reputation interaction

Political skill has been cited as a leveraging tool in a number of areas including citizenship performance and career advancement (Jawahar and Liu, 2015; Russell et al., 2016), success in sports management (Perrewé and Ferris, 2016) and team effectiveness (Lvina et al., 2018). Politically skilled individuals are able recognize and capitalize on opportunities allowing for the accrual of desired goals (McAllister et al., 2018; McAllister et al., 2015). These scholars suggested that opportunity recognition is a dynamic interaction between individuals and their environments. Others have confirmed the opportunity-generating properties of political skill when coupled with self-presentation activities such as initiative (Wihler et al., 2017). In sum, politically skilled recruiters exploit cues in their environment (e.g. applicants’ perceptions of organization reputation) as signals that guide the calibration of their behavior, such that their attempts to influence applicants during recruitment are successful.

These concepts, borrowed from social/political influence and signaling theories, help explain the interaction between recruiters and organization reputation (Treadway et al., 2014; Rynes, 1991). When applicants experience a lack of complete or ambiguous information, signals received from the recruiter or reputation of the organization can help fill in the gaps and reduce applicant uncertainty. Walker et al. (2013) argued that uncertainty lessens among applicants, not just by the information they receive, but how company representatives treat them treat them. Politically skilled recruiters possess the ability to influence applicants by behaving in a manner appreciated by applicants and providing information interpreted by applicants as signals of likely benevolent treatment.

Organization reputation arguably affects recruiter effectiveness, attributed largely to applicant’s perceptions of the extent to which the company is a good place to work (Berkson et al., 2002; Turban and Cable, 2003). Applicants who are not impressed by the reputation of an organization could have deficient interest levels when engaging in conversation with the recruiter, which presents another level of challenge in the job of recruiters. However, politically skilled recruiters possess the ability to persuade job candidates despite candidates’ perception of the reputation of their organization. Treadway et al. (2014) noted that the presentation of organization information (in this case, organization reputation) by politically skilled recruiters, in a style that is humble, genuine and convincing, yet persuasive, increases candidates’ level of interest, attraction and commitment to pursue the employment opportunity.

Although less than positive reputations are acquired unintentionally, the development of reputation is deliberate (Hochwarter et al., 2007). Politically skilled recruiters deliberately engage in the active management of their organizations’ reputation in order to be successful at influencing job candidates to join their organization. The above theoretical arguments provide support for an interactive relationship between organization reputation and recruiter political skill on applicants’ attraction to the organization. Thus, we formulate the following hypothesis:

H3.

There is an interaction of recruiter political skill × organization reputation. For the recruiter higher in political skill, increased organization reputation will be associated with increased applicants’ attraction to the organization. For the recruiter lower in political skill, there will be no relationship between organization reputation and applicants’ attraction to the organization.

Study 1 (development of experimental manipulation materials) method

Procedures

Recruiter political skill script development

Although political skill research has experienced a boom in recent years, the construct has not been examined in an experimental setting. Hence, we developed two scripts used in videos manipulating high and low conditions of recruiter political skill. We produced the script in two phases. In the first phase, we did an extensive review of the political skill and recruitment literatures, and in the process, made notes of the choice of words and phrases that would be included in the script. The main goal of this process was to end up with phrases that, when mentioned by the actor in the videos would enable participants to decide on whether the recruiter in the video was high or low in all four dimensions of political skill.

The focus of this paper is on the political skill of recruiters. Hence, a secondary goal related to the review of the recruitment literature was to ensure that in the videos, the actor expressed his political skill (high or low) in a recruitment context. The literature on recruitment revealed that during recruiter interactions with potential employees, recruiters disclose information about themselves and their company (e.g. benefits and programs) that can help them be more successful during recruitment (Harris and Fink, 1987). Although disclosing such information may be perceived as a persuasion tactic used by politically skilled recruiters, it is almost inevitable for all recruiters to reveal details related to their company during interactions with potential employees. Hence, statements regarding company benefits and personal information about the recruiter were included in the scripts of both the high politically skilled and the low politically skilled recruiters.

Furthermore, during this phase, we met with the actor to ensure that he was comfortable with the choice of words in the script. His early input on how to phrase sentences in the script was to facilitate his ability to adapt the script as his own and help him get “into character” during filming. This phase resulted in the production of 37 phrases aimed to reflect both high and low recruiter political skill.

Some of the phrases included in the final script were not part of the 37 phrases because they represented fillers to help with the actor’s flow and delivery. Furthermore, the topic areas covered in those phrases did not reflect the level of political skill of the recruiter. Instead, they were used to increase the video believability, and hence, the legitimacy of the recruiting process. As discussed earlier, these topic areas were included in the scripts of both the high politically skilled and the low politically skilled recruiters. Phrases not contained in the content validity covered areas such as company benefits or recruiter’s personal information. A full version of the scripts is available from the first author.

Content validation of recruiter script

The second phase consisted of a content validation of the script. The purpose of the content validation was to ensure that the script indeed reflected all four dimensions of the political skill construct. Lynn (1986) recommended a minimum of three experts for content validity and mentioned that more than ten experts are sufficient. The sample used for this content validation consisted of 16 participants (14 doctoral students and two department faculty members) from a large southeastern university in the USA. Participants had ten days to complete an anonymous survey administered via Qualtrics.

We provided definition as well as items from the political skill inventory (PSI) for each of the four dimensions. Definitions of political skill facets corresponded to items from the PSI measuring each element, followed by the list of phrases developed reflecting that dimension of political skill in the actor script. The participants rated each of the 37 phrases from Phase 1, on the extent to which they believed the phrases were a reflection of the specified dimension of political skill. The ratings were on a five-point scale, (1) representing “not well at all” to (5) representing “extremely well.”

We calculated content validity indices (CVI) to determine if each phrase reflected the four dimensions of political skill. This approach represents the item-level CVI examining content validity (Polit and Beck, 2006). Following procedures outlined by previous researchers (Rubio et al., 2003; Polit and Beck, 2006), CVI was computed as the number of participants that selected a rating of “3” and above (hence, dichotomizing the scale into “reflects well” and “does not reflect well”), divided by the total number of participants.

Researchers raised concerns that chance errors inflate CVI. To address this concern, Lynn (1986) used standard error of the proportion to develop a criterion for item acceptability. She recommended that the CVI should be 1.00 (i.e. perfect agreement amongst all assessors) for five raters and below. For more than six raters, the CVI should not be less than 0.78. The results indicated that 35 of the 37 phrases exhibited a CVI above 0.78. Based on the recommendations of Lynn (1986), we dropped two phrases were dropped, and 35 phrases from the content validity were included in the final script. A full list of the 37 phrases is available from the first author.

Recruiter political skill experimental manipulations

The actor was a white male familiar with the research on political skill, who was in his early 30s (i.e. the potential age of an actual company recruiter) and who was professionally dressed. We used this actor to represent both the high and the low politically skilled recruiter. Before filming, we held rehearsal sessions to ensure actor familiarity with the script. In both videos, the actor introduced himself, disclosed some personal information, followed by a presentation of company values and benefits. The actor concluded both videos by urging viewers to consider joining the company. We manipulated both the content of the messages and the delivery of the words. We adopted this approach because statements and style influence participants’ perceptions of actor political skill.

Gestures and characteristics used by the politically skilled actor include: for the high recruiter political skill condition, the actor was coached to be passionate in delivery, make the job candidates feel they are the most important people at the time, seek to inspire trust, maintain a calm sense of confidence but not arrogance, reduce social distance and be relatable. Gestures and characteristics used by the actor in the low politically skilled recruiter video include: a monotone, not a lot of smiling, periodical lack of eye contact, use of “ums,” inability to relate and periodical hair fondling.

We filmed both videos on the same day. Furthermore, the actor wore the same professional suit and tie to reduce potential bias. We used professional a videographer for video shooting and editing. He provided necessary equipment (i.e. video camera, microphone, teleprompter and lights) and allowed us access to his professional studio set for filming. We donated to his studio in appreciation for his efforts. We created two videos of approximately 5 min in length after multiple recording takes and careful editing.

Video blog of organization reputation script development

Previous studies involving experimental research designs, which manipulated high and low conditions of organization reputation, have used organization websites on the internet (Walker et al., 2013; Allen et al., 2007; Williamson et al., 2010). The creation of such websites is very costly and require the labor of professional information technology. However, because technology today has fundamentally changed recruitment activities such that most organizations now make active use of the internet (e.g. Ployhart et al., 2017), it is more realistic and generalizable in this area to use manipulations that employ internet-based websites of companies. Other researchers have used paper-based (e.g. transcripts, brochures, and booklets) materials to manipulate the high and low conditions of organization reputation (Xie et al., 2015; Belt and Paolillo, 1982; Highhouse et al., 2003; Behrend et al., 2009; Goldberg and Hartwick, 1990). However, using this mode could present a potential confound in the study, because it is not digital and inconsistent with the method used to display recruiter political skill to participants.

Kaur and Dubey (2014) discussed how, with the increase in the use of technology today, job seekers turn to independent company sites to find out information regarding organizations of interest. Individuals external set up company independent sites to the company in the forms of videos, online reports or blogs. They provide their audience with information that reviews et al. different aspects of companies of interest, such as company history, benefits, sales records, employee testimonials and community engagement. The low cost in the creation of a video blog from a company independent site, its relevance pertaining to the use of technology in advertising job openings (Chapman and Webster, 2006) and its consistency in the model used to present recruiter political skill, qualified video blogs as the chosen medium to present organization reputation to participants.

Berkson et al. (2002) identified three aspects of organization reputation promoted during recruitment: employer information, job information and people information. Employer information deals with the historical attributes and policies of the organization. Previous studies have used such information as the history of the company, its achievements and progressive human resources and social policies (Turban and Cable, 2003, Behrend et al., 2009; Xie et al., 2015; Goldberg and Hartwick, 1990). The script for the video blog captured this aspect with statements about how long the company has been in business, company overview, sales records, achievements, past difficulties encountered, company programs and benefits.

The second aspect of reputation mentioned by Berkson et al. (2002) is job content and company contributions. Notably, this information deals with the pay level, job description and tasks associated with the job. Mentioning detailed information about the job potentially could be detrimental because different people may be interested in various positions in the company. The sample used for data collection in Study 3 was composed of students majoring in different fields of business. Hence, their preferences for what type of job they aspired to obtain are different. Recruiting for a specific job would eliminate participants with no interest in that field. Furthermore, Belt and Paolillo’s (1982) findings that job specification did not significantly influence applicants’ reactions to the reputation of the organization (corporate image) justify the exclusion of job information in this script. Furthermore, Highhouse et al. (1999) acknowledged that company and employee information are more important than job information during recruitment.

The third aspect discussed by Berkson et al. (2002) is people information, and this deals with the affective dispositions of employees toward the job. Previous research has found that web-based employee testimonials exhibit an impact on recruiting outcomes (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007). We mimicked web-based anonymous employee testimonials from Glassdoor, to express how past and current employees feel about the organization. Each script had seven employee testimonials inspired by real employee testimonials. All the testimonials were very positive for the high condition of organization reputation. The low condition of organization reputation had less favorable testimonials.

Once the scripts were developed, we created a video blog using a presentation format and animations. A white male with some acting experience volunteered his time to be the voiceover for the video blog. We provided scripts and instructed the actor to use a similar tone in both videos in order not to create any bias. Results from two questions in the surveys used in Study 2 and Study 3, to gauge the tone of the voiceover, indicated that there was no difference between the videos. The final product of several recordings and rehearsals were two video blogs of approximately 5 min each in length. A full version of the scripts is available from the first author upon request.

Study 2 (pilot Study) method

Procedure and participants

Hinkin et al. (1997) recommended pretesting for means comparison in order to avoid scenarios where flaws adversely affect resources associated with large data collections. Furthermore, Rubio et al. (2003) mentioned that pretesting via pilot studies could help identify format problems, errors in coding, as well as ease of administration. Following the above recommendation, we conducted a pilot study to determine whether the recruiter political skill and company reputation manipulations were effective. A total of 25 doctoral students attending a large southeastern university in the USA participated in the pilot study. Participants had two weeks to complete a survey via Qualtrics. A fellow doctoral student asking for help with a research project sent the survey link to the participants via e-mail. We sent 37 e-mails and received 25 return responses.

We randomly assigned participants to one of eight separate conditions according to a function in the survey design. Each condition consisted of two videos (i.e. video of a recruiter and video blog of organization reputation). We created the eight separate conditions to counterbalance the design. Initially, there were four conditions: high political skill, high organization reputation; high political skill, low organization reputation; low political skill, high organization reputation; and low political skill, low organization reputation. However, counterbalancing created eight conditions such that half of the participants saw the recruiter video first and the other half saw the organization reputation video blog first. We instructed participants to answer as if they were applicants on the job market.

Measures

Recruiter political skill

The 18-item PSI, modified for a report on the political skill of people other than self, was administered to participants (α=0.98), using a seven-point scale (Ferris Davidson and Perrewé, 2005; Ferris, Treadway, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, Kacmar, Douglas and Frink, 2005). Sample item: “The recruiter seemed sincere.”

Organization reputation

The two conditions were organizations with a high reputation (coded 1) and organizations with a low reputation (coded 0). The scale was adapted from Highhouse et al. (2003) and consist of five items (α=0.97). Sample item: “This company probably has a reputation for being an excellent employer.”

Applicant attraction

This measure aimed to capture how attracted participants are to the organization recruiting them. Specifically, this scale assessed the course of action the participants would like to take as far as pursuing an employment relationship with the organization in question. We used a five-item scale developed by Highhouse et al. (2003). (α=0.97). Sample item: “I would accept a job offer from this company.”

Data analysis

For the manipulation checks, there were two principal variable manipulations: recruiter political skill and organization reputation. We performed t-tests to compare the means between groups in high and low experimental conditions. We coded the high conditions as “1” and the low conditions as “0.” We expected mean scores for the high conditions to be significantly higher than low condition means.

Study 2 results

Results from the t-test revealed that the mean for the high condition of political skill (M=4.84) and the mean for the low condition of political skill (M=2.40) were significantly different from one another (t=4.80, df=23; p=0.002). The mean for the high condition of organization reputation (M=5.30) and the mean for the low condition of organization reputation (M=2.43) were significantly different from one another (t=2.34, df=23; p=0.002). The significant difference in means in the high and low conditions for both recruiter political skill and organization reputation indicate that the manipulations for these measures were effective (See Table I).

Study 3 (main study) method

Participants

In total, 576 students attending a large southeastern university voluntarily participated in this study. We recruited students from two management classes held online at the university. The students received extra credit for participation. The mean age of the participants was 21 with a range from 18 to 59 years. There was an equal percentage of males and females. Of the 576 students, 187 were seniors, 372 were juniors and 17 were sophomores.

Procedures

We collected data via a Qualtrics survey similar to the one used in the pilot study. One month before the collection of data, teaching assistants posted announcements in the online class forums concerning the opportunity to receive extra credit via participation in a study. We sent another reminder one week before the survey link was made available. We posted the link to the survey in the online class forums. Students had two weeks to participate in the study before it closed. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the eight conditions previously mentioned in the pilot study procedures and were instructed to respond to survey questions as if they were applicants on the job market.

Measures

Recruiter political skill, organization reputation and applicant attraction used the same measures as in Study 2.

Competence

We used six items from Harris and Fink (1987) to measure competence (α=0.79). “Recruiter had broad knowledge” is a sample item.

Personableness

Ten items from Harris and Fink (1987) were used to measure personableness (α=0.92). “Recruiter had a warm personality” is a sample item.

Aggressiveness

Three items from Harris and Fink (1987) were used to measure aggressiveness (α=0.74). “Recruiter was persistent” is a sample item.

Informativeness

Four items adapted from Harris and Fink (1987) were used to measure informativeness (α=0.74). “Recruiter gave a balanced view of the company” is a sample item.

Recruiter interpersonal skill

We used a five-item scale developed by Connerley (1997) to gauge recruiter interpersonal skill (α=0.97). “The recruiter made me feel comfortable” is a sample item.

Data analysis

We inserted an attention check in the survey. The item was “simply select strongly agree for your response to this question.” In addition, there were two factual checks on things mentioned in the videos: “select the name of the school where the recruiter said he graduated from,” and “select the name of the company represented in the video blog.” We received 691 completed survey. However, we excluded 115 because of failed attention checks resulting in a total 576 usable cases.

We performed descriptive analyses before testing study hypotheses. The two levels of recruiter political skill and two levels of organization reputation created a 2×2 between-subjects design, generating four different experimental conditions. We computed means and standard deviations for each group in the four conditions and performed t-tests to compare means across experimental conditions. We coded high conditions as “1” and low conditions as “0.” We expected means for the high conditions to be significantly higher those in low conditions.

Furthermore, to ensure that the order of materials presented was not confounding, we conducted t-tests to compare the means between groups based on the counterbalanced order of materials shown. Within each of the four conditions, there were two groups. One group saw the recruiter video first, and the other group saw the reputation video first.

The significant bivariate correlations between the other recruiter characteristics and the main variables warranted their inclusion as controls in further analyses. We used ANCOVA to test the hypotheses. The model included personableness, competence, aggressiveness, informativeness and recruiter interpersonal skill as covariates, and the reputation condition and the recruiter political skill condition were the independent variables, with applicant attraction to the organization as the dependent variable.

Study 3 results

The results from the t-tests to compare means between groups based on counterbalanced orders of materials presentation were not statistically significant. Therefore, the order of materials presented was not a study confound (see Table II). The means for each of the cells of the experimental design were as follows: low political skill and low organization reputation (M=2.52, SD=0.74, n=145), low political skill and high organization reputation (M=3.91, SD=0.83, n=144), high political skill and low organization reputation (M=4.12, SD=0.75, n=142), high political skill and high organization reputation (M=6.04, SD=0.65, n=145).

We found support for H1 and H2. Recruiter political skill (F=479.72, η p 2 =0.46, p<0.00) and organization reputation (F=653.35, η p 2 =0.53, p<0.00) both demonstrated significant main effects on applicants’ attraction to the company (see Table III). Hence, both recruiter political skill and organization reputation are unique predictors of applicants’ attraction to the company. Higher levels of each of the predictor variables led to higher levels of applicant attraction to the company. Furthermore, we found a significant interaction effect of recruiter political skill × organization reputation on applicant attraction.

Results from the analysis of variance produced a significant interaction effect (F=18.97, η p 2 =0.03, p<0.00), which was the product of the predictors (recruiter political skill × organization reputation). These results provide support for the hypothesized moderation effect of recruiter political skill on the relationship between organization reputation and applicant attraction to the company. Figure 1 represents a graph of the interaction, which indicates that increased organization reputation resulted in increases in applicant attraction to the company for the high political skill recruiter, but not for the low political skill recruiter, thus supporting H3.

General discussion

Overview of findings

The present three-study investigation hypothesized and found support for main effects of both recruiter political skill and organization reputation on applicant attraction to the organization. However, the most noteworthy finding was that recruiter political skill moderated the relationship between organization reputation and applicant attraction to the organization, indicating that increased organization reputation resulted in increases in applicant attraction to the company for the high political skill recruiter, but not for the low political skill recruiter. This finding can be attributed to the advantage politically skilled recruiters possess over factors like organization reputation (Kim et al., 2019) and that is their ability to have interpersonal interactions with the applicant (Solga et al., 2015).

Politically skilled recruiters can engage with applicants via conversation, and possess the ability to leverage information such as organization reputation to attain their recruitment objectives. These findings are consistent with Harris et al. (2007) who argued that politically skilled people are more adept at using social cues to understand themselves, their target and use this knowledge to their advantage by tailoring target-directed influence. There are implications of this research for both research and practice as we discuss in the next sections.

Theoretical contributions

To date, recruitment theory and research had attempted to address what organizations and their recruiters need to be successful (e.g. the “what”). However, the “how” and the “why” have been ignored. This paper contributes to the recruitment literature by appropriating the use of political skill of recruiters in the recruitment process, to address why and how recruiters in an organization setting are successful and productive in achieving their goals during recruitment.

Furthermore, the results from this investigation advanced our knowledge of how characteristics (recruiter political skill and organization reputation) that influence applicant-related outcomes interact with one another (Bourdage et al., 2017). Results revealed that recruiters high in political skill are valuable to the recruitment process regardless of whether organization reputation is high or low. Politically skilled recruiters can leverage resources, such as organization reputation, and convince applicants the organization is the right fit for them.

Furthermore, the notion of fit for employment purposes in research generally has been examined as applicants bearing the burden of proof of fit with their organization (i.e. person–organization, P–O fit, whereas, organization–person, O-P fit, has been largely ignored; Breland et al., 2017). The present investigation’s examination of recruiter political skill and organization reputation, in addition to the research findings that support their importance during the recruitment process, represents a step in the right direction for the examination of fit of the organization with the applicant (i.e. organization–person, or O–P fit). This research increases our understanding of the influences of applicant perceptions of fit. Applicants who receive signals from a positive organization reputation, and who are convinced by a politically skilled recruiter of how well an organization fits with them, will continue to pursue employment with the organization. However, if the applicants perceive no fit between them and the organization, they will move on to other employment opportunities (Swider et al., 2015).

Practical implications

First impressions are lasting impressions, and it is very costly to organizations when recruiters lose good candidates due to the failure to make memorable and favorable impressions. This investigation has defended the use of political skill in the recruitment process and highlighted its capability to successfully influence applicants and create favorable opinions in the eyes of the applicants. Fortunately, political skill is partially dispositional and partially learned (Ferris Davidson and Perrewé, 2005; Ferris, Treadway, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, Kacmar, Douglas and Frink, 2005). Ferris Davidson and Perrewé (2005) and Ferris, Treadway, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, Kacmar, Douglas and Frink (2005) discuss how political skill manifests through a combination of formal and informal developmental experiences. Hence, organizations can invest in the development of the political skill of their recruiters, and expect high returns on their investment via the successful recruitment of desired candidates.

Strengths and limitations

The results from the content validation increased the level of confidence in the script used for the recruiter videos. Furthermore, results from two samples (data from the pilot study and Study 1) showed significant mean differences in both the high and low conditions for recruiter political skill and organization reputation. This finding strengthened the confirmation that both variables were successfully manipulated further supporting internal validity.

Students often function as research subjects (experimental and non-experimental (Mullinix et al., 2015; Schmitt and Coyle, 1976), raising generalizability concerns. In this research, research participants were more advanced and seeking employment. Moreover, scholar argue that students represent an appropriate source of insight when examining processes that affect future work opportunities (Graf-Vlachy, 2019). In addition, the use of students who were mostly from the Millennial generation provided us with a deeper understanding of the decisions made by the incoming workforce (current and future recruits) (Gibson et al., 2014). A logical next step is to examine experiences of those currently embedded in the workforce. Lastly, despite heightened control associated with experimental designs, applicants lacked the opportunity to ask questions about the job as they typically would in an ordinary recruitment setting. According, research would benefit from examining recruitment dynamics in settings where actual job mobility is considered.

Directions for future research

In addition to the brief comments above, legitimate avenues of research are needed to extend the work presented here. Future researchers should consider testing this hypothesis in a real-life setting vs the laboratory as conducted in this investigation (Kane-Frieder et al., 2014). Thus, a longitudinal approach would be most appropriate, where actual employment decisions is assessed rather than applicant attraction reactions. In both academic and practical contexts, recruitment is a function of the quantity and quality of recruits obtained (Breaugh and Starke, 2000). Future research should consider examining the impact organization reputation, and recruiter political skill can demonstrate on the quantity vs the quality of recruits.

Berkson et al. (2002) suggested that employing organization reputation in the recruitment process would enhance the amount of applicant attraction. Turban and Cable (2003) asserted that organization reputation affects both the quantity and quality of applicants. Furthermore, politically skilled recruiters may be able to identify candidates of higher quality quickly, and possess the skills to convince the quality candidates to choose their organization over others with open positions. There is a need for empirical studies that can confirm such influences on applicant quantity and quality.

Additionally, research has found that applicant’ impressions of recruiter competence, knowledge and enthusiasm influence attraction (Harris and Fink, 1987). It may be that the astuteness of politically skilled recruiters makes them more competent, or enables them to appear more competent, and as a result, helps their recruitment effectiveness. Future research should examine how competence and other recruiter personality traits compare to recruiter political skill in the prediction of recruitment effectiveness.

Reputation of individuals and organizations possess value and attraction properties, but it has been suggested to reflect more of a sociopolitical than a scientific construct, prone to manipulation, presentation and political “spin” (e.g. Ferris et al., 2014, 2019; Fombrun, 1996). Therefore, continued research on reputation seems warranted, positioned along with other sociopolitical constructs like political skill. Extending beyond the present research, future work might examine both political skill and organization reputation at the underlying dimension level. Political skill is comprised of the four dimensions of social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity. Organization reputation reflects the three dimensions of performance, character and prominence (Ferris et al., 2014, 2019). It would be interesting to investigate precisely which dimensions of both constructs might be driving the results of research on recruitment.

Conclusion

This multi-study investigation sought to understand how recruiter political skill and organization reputation interact to impact recruitment effectiveness. We found a significant interaction of organization reputation × recruiter political skill. Specifically, we found that increases in organization reputation result in increases in applicant attraction to the organization for those exposed to a recruiter high in political skill. Effects did not material for recruiters low in political skill. These results represent steps in the right direction for improving our knowledge of both recruiter and contextual factors affecting recruitment effectiveness.

Figures

Interaction of organization reputation × recruiter political skill on applicant attraction to the company

Figure 1

Interaction of organization reputation × recruiter political skill on applicant attraction to the company

Study 2: means comparisons between the high and low conditions of recruiter political skill and organization reputation

Levene’s test for equality of variances t-test for equality of means
Variables F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean of the high condition Mean of the low condition Mean difference Standard error difference
Recruiter political skilla 0.002 0.967 4.798 23 0.000 4.843 2.400 2.443 0.509
Organization reputationb 0.732 0.397 8.648 23 0.000 5.301 2.437 2.865 0.331

Notes: a0=low political skill condition (N=11), 1=high political skill condition (N=14); b0=low organization reputation condition (N=13), 1=high organization reputation condition (N=12)

Study 3: mean comparisons between groups based on order of material presentation

Levene’s test for equality of variances t-test for equality of means
F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean of Group Aa Mean of Group Bb Mean difference Standard error difference
Low–low conditionc 0.226 0.635 0.940 143 0.349 2.582 2.467 0.115 0.123
High–low conditiond 0.010 0.920 −0.084 142 0.933 3.907 3.919 −0.012 0.140
Low–high conditione 3.714 0.056 −0.426 140 0.671 4.087 4.140 −0.054 0.126
High–high conditionf 0.904 0.343 −0.105 143 0.917 6.040 6.051 −0.011 0.109

Notes: Dependent variable: applicant attraction to the company. aGroup saw recruiter video first; bgroup saw organization reputation video first; cgroup saw video of recruiter low in political skill and organization with a low reputation (Group Aa (n=73), Group Bb (n=72)); dgroup saw video of recruiter low in political skill and organization with a high reputation (Group Aa (n=70), Group Bb (n=74)); egroup saw video of recruiter high in political skill and organization with a low reputation (Group Aa (n=75), Group Bb (n=67)); fgroup saw video of recruiter high in political skill and organization with a high reputation (Group Aa (n=75); Group Bb (n=70))

Study 3: analyses of covariance

Variables F p< η p 2
Controls
Personableness 0.01 0.93 0.00
Competence 1.09 0.30 0.00
Aggressiveness 0.19 0.66 0.00
Informativeness 0.38 0.54 0.00
Independent variables
Recruiter political skill 479.72 0.00 0.46
Organization reputation 653.35 0.00 0.53
Interaction term
Recruiter political skill × organization reputation 18.97 0.00 0.03

Notes: Dependent variable: applicant attraction to the company. df=8,567, η p 2 is partial η2, which measures the proportion of variance in the dependent variable explained by the independent variable(s)

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Xie, C., Bagozzi, R. and Meland, K. (2015), “The impact of reputation and identity congruence on employer brand attractiveness”, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 124-146.

Further reading

Breaugh, J. (2008), “Employee recruitment: current knowledge and important areas for future research”, Human Resource Management Review, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 103-118.

Chapman, D. and Webster, J. (2003), “The use of technologies in the recruiting, screening, and selection processes for job candidates”, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Vol. 11 Nos 2‐3, pp. 113-120.

Corresponding author

Diane Lawong can be contacted at: dal15d@my.fsu.edu