Impression Management

People have an ongoing interest in how others perceive and evaluate them. For example, North Americans spend billions of dollars on diets, health club membership, cosmetics, and plastic surgery – all intended to make them more attractive to others. Being perceived positively by others should have benefits for people in organizations. It might, for instance help them initially to get the jobs they want in an organization and once hired, to get favorable evaluations, superior salary increases and more rapid promotions. In a political context it might help sway the distribution of advantages in their favor. The process by which individuals attempts to control the impression others form of them is called impression management. It’s a subject that has gained the attention of OB researchers only recently.

Is everyone concerned with impression management (IM)? No! Who, then might we predict to engage in IM? No surprise here! It’s our old friend, the high self monitor. Low self monitors tend to present images of themselves that are consistent with their personalities, regardless of the beneficial or detrimental effects for them. In contrast high self monitors are good at reading situations and molding their appearance and behavior in each situation. Given that you want to control the impression others form of you what techniques could you use?

Keep in mind that IM does not imply that the impressions people convey are necessarily false (although of course, they sometimes are). Excuses for instance may be offered with sincerity. Referring the example used, you can actually believe that ads contribute little to sales in your region. But misrepresentation can have a high costs. If the image claimed is false, you may be discredited. If you cry wolf once too often no one is likely to believe you when the wolf really comes. So the impression manager must be cautious not be perceived as insincere or manipulative.

Are there situations in which individuals are more likely to misrepresent themselves of more likely to get away with it? Yes – situations that are characteristics by high uncertainly or ambiguity provide relatively little information for challenging fraudulent claim and reduce the risks associated with misrepresentation.

Most of the studies undertaken to test the effectiveness of IM techniques have related it to criteria: (1) interview success and (2) performance evaluations. Let’s consider these.

Evidence indicates that most job applicants use IM techniques in interviews and that when IM behavior is used, it works. In one study, for instance, interviewers felt that applicants for a position as a customer service representative who used IM techniques performed better in the interview and they seemed some what more inclined to hire these people. Moreover when the researchers considered applicants’ credentials they concluded that it was the IM techniques alone that influenced the interviewers. That is, it didn’t seem to matter if applicants were well or poorly qualified. If they used IM techniques, they did better in the interview.

Research indicates that some IM techniques work better than others in the interview. Researchers have compared applicants who used IM techniques that focused on promoting one’s accomplishments (called self promotion) to applicants who used techniques that focused on complimenting the interviewer and finding areas of agreement (referred to as ingratiation). In general, applicants appear to use self promotion, more than ingratiation. What’s more self promotion tactics may be more important to interviewing success. Applicants who work to create an appearance of competence by enhancing their accomplishments taking credit for successes, and explaining away failures do better in interviews. These effects reach beyond the interview – applicants who use more self promotion also seem to get more follow-up site visits even adjusting for grade point average, gender, and job type. Ingratiation also works well in the interview, remaining that applicants who compliment the interviewer, agree with his or her opinions, and emphasize area of fit do better than those who don’t.