Friday, November 13, 2015

The Advantage of Being Oneself: The Role of Self-verification in a Successful Job Search

Who hasn't heard the advice? Smile? Check. Firm handshake? Check. But not too firm? Check. Smart business suit, preferably in a boring color? Check. Clean Facebook/Twitter/Instagram page? Check. Check. Check. Acing a job interview can be difficult work. And even if you nail the interview, you may only be one of many. It is estimated that between 10 and 40 people will apply for any given job in the United States. How can you stand out amongst a stream of applicants who are all encouraged to act and look homogeneous? In this week's WAPPP Seminar, Dr. Celia Moore, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School shared two studies that can answer that question (in a somewhat unexpected way): Just be yourself! How exactly does a researcher reach that conclusion? How can she measure the degree to which people are being themselves in real life?

Dr. Moore uses a tool that measures people's tendency towards what is known as self-verification. It is an eight item questionnaire that gages the level of need a person has to express their true thoughts and feelings to others. It includes statements such as For me, it is better to be honest about myself when meeting new people even if it makes me appear less than ideal, or I'd be willing to take less pay in order to work with people who know who I am and what to expect from me, to which people record a level of agreement or disagreement. People who report a high level of agreement to this kind of statement are referred to as self-verifiers in Moore's research. They have a high need to express their true selves.  What does this look like? "We don't know how this trait manifests itself behaviorally," she explained, "it is a very intangible but predictive trait". And what does it predict exactly?

Dr. Moore: Knowing the 'right' answer to 250
interview questions may not help you all that much
Dr. Moore studied a graduating class of MBA students that was interviewing for jobs. She rated them on their level of self-verification and then observed whether or not they received a job offer. For those who were rated by interviewers as low or medium quality, the degree to which they self-verified hardly mattered (and even hurt a bit in the case of low quality applicants). In contrast, for highly qualified candidates, self-verification boosted their likelihood of receiving an offer from 51% to 69% (when all other factors, like race, gender, and experience, remained equal). She offered the example of Anne Hathaway's character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada: By being highly qualified for a job but still honest about her possibly undesirable traits, she was able to land the job she asked for.

Job Interview Dont's? Maybe they are Do's!
To hone in on the nuances of this effect, Dr. Moore conducted another study, this time about the entry process into two highly selective working groups. The first was the legal corps in a U.S. military branch, and the second was a program to place international school teachers in a U.S. district. Each field was highly gendered, with the military working team receiving a group of applicants that was two thirds male, while the teaching program received a cohort that was two thirds female. The results of the study suggest that gender and self-verification interact in very different ways for different groups.

Within the set of high quality applicants seeking the teaching job, the women who were self-verifiers increased their likelihood of being hired by 29 percentage points when compared to low self-verifying women, from 46% to 75%. Men, of whom there is a shortage in that field, went from 68% as low self-verifiers to 71% as high self-verifiers. Conversely, in the male dominated field, women were the "scare commodity", so their likelihood of being hired was high regardless of self-verification level, much like the men in teaching. In this case though, high self-verification slightly decreased their likelihood of getting hired, from 25% to 23%. In contrast, for men, who were facing a field of similar candidates, self-verification provided a significant boost, from 1% to 13%. So it seems that when you need to stand out among a group of people similar to you, self-verification is important.

Because this research "contradicts common aspirations about how to succeed in the job market", and explains the nuances about people in gender congruent and gender incongruent fields, it can be very valuable for both men and women. Related research shows that self-verifiers in the long run report higher job satisfaction, ability to function in a working group, and overall higher performance on the job. So Moore concludes the findings are pointing us in a very healthy direction: Be yourself and you will be better off!

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