Work Values, Cognitive Strategies, and Applicant Reactions in a Structured Pre-Employment Interview for Ethical Integrity

By Pawlowski, Donna R.; Hollwitz, John | The Journal of Business Communication, January 2000 | Go to article overview
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Work Values, Cognitive Strategies, and Applicant Reactions in a Structured Pre-Employment Interview for Ethical Integrity

Pawlowski, Donna R., Hollwitz, John, The Journal of Business Communication

Workplace ethics has become an increasingly important topic since the 1960s. Companies emphasize ethical behavior; schools and professional groups devote many resources to applied ethics training. However, very little research has explored the use of pre-employment selection measures to influence organizational ethics. This article describes initial construct validation of a structured ethical integrity interview. The article reviews evidence relating to cognitive and impression management strategies used when college students encounter an ethical integrity interview in a simulated job applicant setting.

Keywords: Employment Interviews, Ethics, Impression Management, Job Interviews, Pre-Employment Screening

Workplace ethics is an important concern for business educators, researchers, and practitioners. Several professional societies specialize in business ethics; it has become a popular topic for meetings and seminars; a half-dozen journals are now devoted to the subject (Murphy, 1993).

The increased interest in business ethics has multiple causes. Few organizations are willing to risk the public perception that they are indifferent to ethical concerns. Further, unethical behavior is expensive. Discriminatory policies, disregard for safety procedures, unfair competitive practices, and product failure produce large legal judgments. Thirty percent of U.S. bankruptcies are substantially attributable to workers who willfully disregard company norms and social law. Employee malfeasance costs companies $15 billion to $50 billion per year. In the United States, the value of white collar deviance alone is one thousand percent of the annual loss incurred by all street crimes and burglaries (Bernardin & Cooke, 1993; Jones & Terris, 1991a, 1991b; Kochkin, 1987; Meinsma, 1985; Murphy, 1993; Shepard & Duston, 1988).

A company's ethical climate affects its human resources practices. Employees make judgments about how fairly a company treats them during the application process and on the job. These judgments help determine the attractiveness of the organization, the likelihood of accepting a position offer, and the incidence of litigation arising from selection, training, and compensation procedures. Perceptions of a company's fairness affect a wide range of other outcomes, including organizational commitment, turnover intentions, job satisfaction, reactions to supervision, extra-role behavior, theft, and absenteeism (Arvey & Sackett, 1993; Folger & Konovsky, 1989; Gilliland, 1994; Greenberg, 1990; Lind & Tyler, 1988; Macan, Avedon, Paese, & Smith, 1994; Moorman, 1991; Smither, Reilly, Millsap, Pearlman, & Stoffey, 1993; Sweeney & McFarlin, 1993). In short, good ethics is good business.

The business world has taken steps to improve ethical practices and to demonstrate those practices to customers, clients, and employees. Many companies use pre-employment screening to detect job applicants who are likely to violate at least the most obvious standards of appropriate behavior. Every year, U.S. organizations administer nearly three million paperand-pencil tests to help them screen candidates for personal actions, attitudes about rule compliance, impulse control, and counterproductive behavior.

Pre-employment screening is vitally important to organizations, though finding an appropriate and inexpensive measure is difficult. Recent research, however, may provide new insights for companies to screen applicants on various ethical integrity measures through the use of a structured interview (Hollwitz & Pawlowski, 1997, 1999). The purpose of this project is to continue our examination of the structured ethical integrity interview by investigating applicants' work values, cognitive strategies, and reactions toward this interview format. First, we will evaluate current measures of pre-employment screening practices. Second, we will explain the ethical integrity interview design.

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Work Values, Cognitive Strategies, and Applicant Reactions in a Structured Pre-Employment Interview for Ethical Integrity


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