Research shows the importance of personality and impression management on interview performance

Joelena Leader

Dr. Joseph Schmidt (PhD) is an Associate Professor and Department Head of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour at the Edwards School of Business and Edwards Enhancement Chair in Business. His research explores how strategic human resource management influence employee behaviours and firm performance, and how individual differences and personality influence team effectiveness, performance, and well-being in the workplace.

Schmidt recently published an article, Personality, interview performance, and the mediating role of impression management, in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology in collaboration with co-authors from the University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and University of Western Ontario. The article examines how personality traits influence impression management (IM) behaviours in job interviews and, in turn, how IM behaviours influence interview performance.

One of the key takeaways was that people who are high in trait Honesty-Humility, typically ideal candidates you generally want to hire, tend not to perform as well in interviews because they are less likely to engage in any IM behaviours, including the behaviours that interviewers expect from applicants.

Approach to studying personality, interview performance and impression management

Dr. Schmidt’s study involved mock interviews conducted by recruiters and hiring managers from a variety of companies with university students who were recruited through a business school career centre. This approach represented a higher stakes scenario that was closer to a real interview situation and in turn, enabled better accuracy in the research results.

Using multiple report survey measures, the study captured interviewees self-reported personality assessments along with an additional sub-sample where other individuals also reported the personality of the interviewee to confirm they were not managing their impressions for the personality report as well as in the interview. After the interviews, student interviewees also rated the IM behaviours they engaged in during the interview and then the interviewer rated the individual’s interview performance.

The study focused on two main personality traits, extraversion and honesty-humility and four IM behaviours: subtle ingratiation, explicit ingratiation, honest self-promotion, and deceptive self-promotion.

Importance of impression management on interview performance

IM behaviours play a role in how applicants are evaluated by interviewers. Dr. Schmidt’s study found extraversion was associated with three types of impression management behaviours in the interviews including honest self-promotion, subtle ingratiation, and explicit ingratiation.

“Honest self-promotion is where the individual honestly and accurately promotes their accomplishments, subtle ingratiation is when applicants promote how they fit with the organization or the job, and applicants engage in explicit ingratiation when discussing personal information that they have in common with the interviewer,” explained Schmidt. “Extraversion was not related to deceptive self-promotion, which is false information about past accomplishments or exaggerating your role on a project, for instance.”

The results indicated honesty-humility was negatively associated with all four of those impression management behaviours. “People who are low on the honesty-humility spectrum were more likely to engage in all four of the impression management behaviours and especially deceptive self-promotion,” said Schmidt.

Subtle ingratiation, where interviewees talk about their fit with the job and the company, was perceived positively by interviewers because they generally expected these behaviours. Honest self-promotion was also positively linked to interviewer perceptions. Explicit ingratiation was not related to interviewer performance ratings – i.e., the interviewers did not perceive interviewee’s comments about personal fit with the interviewer (or “sucking up”) as an important factor. Deceptive self-promotion was most negatively related to interviewer perceptions because these behaviours were likely obvious to interviewers and were ultimately harmful to their interview performance as perceived by interviewers.

“When we look at how personality traits ultimately relate to performance in interviews, we learned that extraverts are more likely to engage in expected forms of impression management in the interview and that is associated with higher interview performance as perceived by the interviewers,” said Schmidt. “This means that extraverts might have an advantage and introverts might be disadvantaged because they are less likely to engage in some of those expected forms of impression management in interviews.”

The research results indicate that training may be required for someone who is more introverted before they go into an interview to understand what the expected forms of IM are and how they can improve performance. It might also require more training for interviewers to develop techniques or skills for interviewing more introverted candidates who may not display the expected forms of IM, despite being an ideal candidate for the job.

Interestingly, candidates who were on the lower end of the honesty-humility trait engaged in all forms of impression management, both expected and deceptive. “The relationship between honesty-humility and interview performance was pretty much zero because they were engaging in the expected forms of impression management as well as deceptive forms of impression management and those cancelled each other out in terms of the overall perceptions,” explained Schmidt.

“The main takeaway from this is that individuals who are high on honesty-humility, are candidates that you likely want to hire because they tend to have more positive interactions with other employees,” explained Schmidt. ”However, they were less likely to engage in any form of impression management, including the expected forms, such as honest self-promotion.”

The concern is that interviewers may be missing out on the types of candidates they are looking for, when those individuals who are often the ‘best fit’, are the least likely to self-promote or display expected forms of IM that allow them to perform better in an interview.

“There are some important lessons to learn for organizations, particularly how to interview effectively, and especially training interviewers on impression management – what it is and what it might look like,” commented Schmidt.

Significance for applicants and organizations

In terms of the hiring process, applicants should be aware of IM behaviours.

“For applicants, who are struggling with the job interview environment, these findings demonstrate the importance of impression management,” said Schmidt. “Some of these behaviours can be learned which will help them perform better in interviews and help improve the perceptions of interviewers. There is a lot of possibility for learning which can help people persevere.”

Schmidt offered a word of advice for applicants preparing for job interviews.

“Train yourself to be more comfortable honestly representing your past experiences and accomplishments and how you might be a fit for the company because it is expected,” Schmidt said. “There are strategies you could use to improve your chances of getting the job that you want.”

For organizations, Schmidt’s research highlights potential interviewer biases and the need for more training and recognition of the impact of IM behaviours in shaping perceptions about potential candidates.

“For employers, interview training that covers the different types of observable impression management behaviours and how those might be linked to different applicant personality traits would be helpful,” explained Schmidt. “This research is applicable to any manager that is responsible for hiring new employees.”

Current projects

Dr. Schmidt is working on a number of collaborative projects with scholars nationally and internally as well as companies across Canada, including a national SSHRC funded Insight Development Grant project focused on recruitment messaging and employer branding in the recruitment process. Researchers on the SSHRC project include Dr. Josh Bourdage from the University of Calgary (Co-I), Raye Lukachik (PhD student) at the University of Calgary and Patrick Dunlop, PhD from Curtin University in Australia.

To learn more about Dr. Joseph Schmidt’s research, check out his profile page.

Publication highlights:
Bourdage, J. S., Schmidt, J., Wiltshire, J., Nguyen, B., & Lee, K. (2020). Personality, interview performance, and the mediating role of impression management. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 93(3), 556-577.

Recent Publications:

Schmidt, J. A., O’Neill, T. A., & Dunlop, P. D. (2020). The Effects of Team Context on Peer Ratings of Task and Citizenship Performance. Journal of Business and Psychology. 

Steel, P., Schmidt, J., Bosco, F., & Uggerslev, K. (2019). The effects of personality on job satisfaction and life satisfaction: A meta-analytic investigation accounting for bandwidth–fidelity and commensurability. Human Relations, 72(2), 217–247.

Schmidt, J. A., & Pohler, D. M. (2018). Making stronger causal inferences: Accounting for selection bias in associations between high performance work systems, leadership, and employee and customer satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(9), 1001–1018.



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