Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Critical Contact: A Study of Recruiter Verbal Behavior during Campus Interviews

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Critical Contact: A Study of Recruiter Verbal Behavior during Campus Interviews

Article excerpt

Employment interviews vary widely in specific form and content but essentially have three purposes: to select potential employees, to solicit potential employees, and to give potential employees information about the organization (Street, 1986). During these interviews, both applicants and employers attempt to make a good impression on one another: applicants hope to elicit job offers; employers hope to attract top-quality employees.

One specific type of employment interview is the screening interview, used extensively by mid-sized to large organizations to attract and screen high quality prospective employees from university campuses. Screening interviews often result in follow-up interviews and subsequent employment. In fact, Ralston and Brady (1994) estimate that fifty percent of all managers and professionals with fewer than three years of work experience on entry are selected through a process that begins with a screening interview. These interviews are expensive, however. The average cost to the employing institution of attracting and selecting one of these new employees in the mid-1990s was over $2000 (Ralston & Brady). Screening interviews are frequently the first contact between an employing institution and a prospective employee. Clearly, research that identifies factors contributing to successful screening interviews (i.e., attracting top-quality applicants) would be of practical use to business and industry.

Several authors have found that recruiter behavior affects applicants' perceptions of the company (Ham & Thornton, 1985; Harris, 1989; Rynes & Miller, 1983; Rynes, Heneman, & Schwab, 1980). A framework used to conceptualize this behavioral influence is critical contacts theory (Harn & Thornton; Ralston & Brady, 1994). Critical contacts theory suggests that "applicants are . . . influenced by what transpires during interviews and, in particular, by the characteristics of organizational representatives" (Ralston & Brady, p. 63). Some researchers have argued that critical contacts theory is a particularly appropriate framework for conceptualizing campus recruiting (Arvey & Campion, 1982; Dipboye, 1992, Harris, 1989; Rynes, 1990), because students have limited information about and contact with potential employers and therefore may be especially likely to be influenced by the recruiter. Research done from this perspective indicates that applicants may view the recruiter as a salient representative of the company and use the recruiter's behavior as a model of what to expect from the organization (Turban & Dougherty, 1992; Rynes et al., 1980). In one study, "applicant perceptions of recruiter behaviors [were] the strongest predictors of attraction to firms" (Turban & Dougherty, p. 760). Rynes et al. found that recruitment experiences and recruiters were second only to job characteristics in their impact, both positive and negative, on applicant perceptions of "fit" with the company. They also found that "negative recruitment experiences were enough to completely eliminate the organization from further consideration" (p. 515).

If recruiter behavior influences applicants' perceptions of the company, what specific recruiter behaviors have the most positive impact on applicants? Social influence theory (Strong, 1968) suggests that when an agent has interpersonal influence (as the recruiter may have), certain behaviors by the agent will increase that agent's influence. Agent behaviors that exhibit expertness (e.g., competence), social attractiveness (e.g., likeability, warmth), and trustworthiness (e.g., credibility) are expected to positively influence the receiver and give the agent more power or influence over the receiver. Social influence constructs are very similar to the "positive regard" concepts in counseling research (e.g., Egan, 1990). Like "you-attitude" (e.g., Reinsch, 1979; Shelby, 1988; Shelby & Reinsch, 1995), they can cause the receiver to view the sender more positively. …

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