Impression Management Use in Resumes and Cover Letters

Abstract

Purpose

This study contributes to the ecological validity of resume research by systematically examining the impression management (IM) content of actual resumes and cover letters and empirically testing the effect on applicant evaluation.

Design/methodology/approach

A content analysis of the frequency and intensity of IM tactic use in 60 resumes and cover letters was completed (Study 1). Next, an experiment was conducted in which IM tactic use was manipulated and the effect on applicant evaluation examined, using a sample of MTurk workers as evaluators (Study 2).

Findings

In Study 1, four self-promotion categories, three ingratiation categories, and one hybrid category were delineated. In Study 2, ingratiation and lower intensity self-promotion were found to increase perceptions of job and organization fit.

Implications

Employers should be aware that resumes and cover letters contain IM tactics that may influence applicant evaluation. In addition, employment training programs might communicate the benefits of using ingratiation and lower intensity self-promotion, while emphasizing the importance of accurately conveying one’s qualifications. Furthermore, the present taxonomy of IM resume content might be applied to resume database search engines to identify and index IM tactic use.

Originality/value

This research is the first to develop a taxonomy of IM tactics based on actual resumes and cover letters and may facilitate more comprehensive manipulations of IM tactic use and better integration of IM research across the selection process.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Human Resources office staff for de-identifying materials and providing access to them. We also thank Rachel Buzzeo for her review of the materials to ensure that they complied with IRB requirements and Ned Berri, Trevor Fedeson, Jessica Hejka, Sukhdeep Sahota, and Mary Weislo for their work transcribing and/or coding materials.

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Correspondence to Marie Waung.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Description of Hiring Institution and Position Opening

  • Classification title: Business Manager

  • Working title: Business Office Manager

  • Department: Facilities Operations

  • Salary range: $70,000– $80,000 (salary commensurate with experience)

  • Hours/Week: 40/week

The university is among the top-tier comprehensive public universities in the Midwest with nearly 9000 students, outstanding faculty and staff as well as beautiful facilities and grounds. We are proud of our 50+ year history. The campus has experienced steady growth in both enrollment and in range of programming to include undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level programs.

Reporting to the Executive Director of Facilities Operations, the Business Manager administers the business affairs of the Department of Facilities Operations (FO), including budgets, purchase orders, bid documents, contracts, invoices, payroll, facilities and financial software, and inventory, develops, implements, interprets, directs, controls, and monitors highly complex financial operations using advanced reporting tools for the $10 million FO general operating budgets and additional capital projects. This person effectively communicates and works cooperatively and collaboratively with UM-Dearborn staff, all members of the Facilities Operations team, and campus community.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

  • Demonstrated teamwork and team-building experience.

  • Demonstrated relationship-building skills.

  • Ability to interact effectively and professionally with all audiences, internal and external to campus.

  • Exceptional project management skills.

  • Ability to effectively prioritize multiple conflicting tasks and follow through on their execution.

  • Self-motivation with an enthusiasm for working with people is essential.

  • Demonstrated ability to learn, operate, and teach new software related to facilities operations.

Qualifications

  • A bachelor’s degree in a related field is required.

  • 5–8 years of progressive accounting and supervisory experience.

  • Demonstrated leadership ability to initiate, develop, organize, and implement plans and motivate staff.

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (both oral and written) ability to work collaboratively with colleagues in a team environment

  • Proficient with Microsoft Suite, i.e., Word, Access, Excel, and PowerPoint. Advanced knowledge of Excel.

Appendix 2: Experimental Stimuli Content

Basic Cover Letter (No Self-Promotion and No Ingratiation)

To Whom It May Concern:

I am seeking an employment opportunity with your institution. I may be reached at the e-mail address and phone number listed on my resume. I am able to provide references upon request.

Sincerely,

Michael Smith

Basic Resume (No Self-Promotion and No Ingratiation)

Objective: to obtain a position where I may develop my skills as a business and project manager

Employment History

RCB Construction Company 2012–present

Prepared operating budget and analyzed performance against plan; prepared financial statements including analytical charts and schedules; primary interface with internal and external auditors; administered worker’s compensation and other insurance policies; supervised office staff.

County Auditor 2010–2012

Conducted financial and operational audits in accordance with GAAP, GAAS, and GAGAS. Created cash receipts and cash disbursement schedules. Conducted horizontal account analysis on receipt and disbursement schedules and investigated variances over 8 %. Responsible for creating and maintaining audit budgets and schedules. Identified areas of internal control weaknesses. Informed management of audit conditions and findings.

Education/Certifications

XXXX State University, XXXXX

Business Administration

Project Management Institute, PMP certification pending

Technical Skills

  • Microsoft Office

  • Microsoft Visio

  • Maintenance Management Information systems (MMIS)

  • ProjectNet (Construction Management database)

  • Auto Audit

  • Microsoft small Business Accounting

  • Sharepoint

Weaker Self-Promotion Condition

  • Cover Letter: My blend of technical and interpersonal skills, work experience, and strong communication skills make me a good fit for this position. (Placed in middle of cover letter between opening and closing statements.)

  • Resume: Summary of Qualifications: Motivated and experienced business manager. Accomplished and results-oriented professional with significant business leadership experience. Recognized for strong organizational and communication skills. Successful management of multiple accounts and databases. Met all work role expectations. (Placed at top of resume instead of Objective Statement.)

Stronger Self-Promotion Condition

  • Cover Letter: My unique blend of technical and interpersonal skills, extensive work experience, and exceptionally strong communication skills make me an ideal fit for this position. (Placed in middle of cover letter between opening and closing statements.)

  • Resume: Summary of Qualifications: Exceptionally motivated and experienced business manager. Extremely accomplished and results-oriented professional with extensive business leadership experience. Recognized for superb organizational and communication skills. Outstanding management of multiple accounts and databases. Exceeded all work role expectations. (Placed at top of resume instead of Objective Statement.)

Ingratiation Condition

  • Cover Letter: It is with great pleasure that I am seeking an employment opportunity with your institution. It is a well-respected university and I would be proud to be a part of it. (Opening Statement.)

    I appreciate the time spent reviewing my materials and I look forward to discussing in more detail how my background may be of value to your organization. In previous positions that I have held I have approached them as opportunities for career enhancement and discovery. I will bring that same entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to this job. I may be reached at the e-mail address and phone number listed on my resume. I am able to provide references upon request. (Closing Statement.)

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Waung, M., McAuslan, P., DiMambro, J.M. et al. Impression Management Use in Resumes and Cover Letters. J Bus Psychol 32, 727–746 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9470-9

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Keywords

  • Impression management
  • Resumes
  • Cover letters
  • Self-promotion
  • Ingratiation