(In)Sincerely Yours: Ingratiation Tactics in Job Cover Letters on Selection.

AuthorAhuja, Kanika K.


Impression management (IM), the conscious or unconscious process through which individuals influence the impressions other people form of them is a fundamental fact of organizational life. IM is more common in societies with limited economic and political opportunities (Pandey & Rastogi, 1979). In India, ingratiation is used more by job seekers than in other nations not only due to intense competition, but also differences in social class. One area that is particularly prone to IM is selection. Research has found that individuals frequently use IM tactics in selection, particularly during job interviews (e.g., Bolino, Kacmar, Turnley & Gilstrap, 2008; Higgins & Judge, 2004; Tsai, Huang, Wu & Lo, 2005), and even earlier, such as in resumes and the cover letter, in an attempt to improve the target's perceptions and evaluations (Knouse, Giacalone & Pollard, 1988; Waung, McAuslan, DiMambro & Miegoc, 2016).

In the "new normal" workplace grappling with Covid-19, selection process could get tougher due to job losses. Further, in view of social distancing, appearing for a face-to-face interview would also become difficult. In such a scenario, the cover letter- the first point of contact for job seekers with the prospective employer- assumes even greater significance. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce oneself to the organization, demonstrate an interest in the company, make a favorable impression at the first stage of selection, and motivate the reader to interview the job seeker. Cover letter is an important tool that can emphasize the applicant's fit with and desire for a position (DeKay, 2006). Thus, research on how effective various IM tactics used in cover letters is the need of the hour.

While several tactics of IM are used commonly (Jones & Pittman, 1982), such as ingratiation, self-promotion, exemplification, intimidation and supplication, the pervasive nature of ingratiation has made it an especially important topic of study. Ingratiation is a "class of strategic behaviors illicitly designed to influence a particular other concerning the attractiveness of one personal qualities" (Jones, 1964: 11). Jones and Wortman (1973) offered a useful taxonomy of four classes of ingratiation tactics. The first, other-enhancement, is designed to convey the impression that the ingratiator thinks highly of the target person. In the second, opinion conformity, the ingratiator expresses agreement with the beliefs and attitudes he presumes or knows the target possesses, to appear likeable. The third, rendering favors, helps to convey to the target person that the favor-doer not only regards his welfare as important, but also that the favor-doer is a kind and thoughtful person. The last tactic, self-presentation, involves describing ones' positive attributes to a target in order to increase ones' attractiveness.

Does Impression Management Work?

Some experimental studies have found ingratiation in cover letters and resumes to lead to increased perceptions of job and organization fit (Waung, McAuslan, DiMambro & Miegos, 2017), positive judgments of self-confidence, but negative ratings on employability (Knouse et al., 1988). Varma, Toh, & Pichler (2006) found the effect of ingratiation on hiring intentions to be significant. Applicants who demonstrated self-enhancement received higher qualification evaluations and selection recommendations than applicants who engaged in opinion conformity and rendering favors.

Past research has shown that not all IM tactics will be effective in all situations. The success of ingratiation will depend upon the target, the characteristics of the ingratiator, and the conditions under which the behavior occurs. Further, gender influences both the extent and the types of IM tactics used (Bolino et al., 2008; Sanaria, 2016). There is evidence that while men are more likely to use relatively aggressive and self-serving forms of IM (such as self-promotion and intimidation); women utilize less aggressive and other-oriented forms of IM (such as ingratiation) more frequently than men (Guadagno & Cialdini, 2007).

The literature reviewed is somewhat mixed with respect to how effective IM is in job selection. Some research has indicated that ingratiation leads to significantly higher ratings of applicants (Proost et al., 2010; Waung et al., 2017), and increases their likelihood of receiving an offer (Zhao & Liden, 2011). On the other hand, Higgins and Judge (2004) found the effect of self-promotion on hiring recommendations to be generally weak and non-significant. Still others (e.g., Knouse et al., 1988) showed the counterproductive role of IM. Waung et al. (2016), for instance, reported that higher intensity self-promotion led to increased perceptions of manipulation. Therefore, the current hypotheses formulated were kept non-directional.

Hypothesis 1: There will be a significant difference on selection recommendation for job applicants using different ingratiation tactics in their cover letters.

Hypothesis 2: There will be a significant difference in the judgments of credibility made for job applicants using different ingratiation tactics in their cover letters.

Hypothesis 3: There will be a significant difference in the judgments of interpersonal attributes made for job applicants using different ingratiation tactics in their cover letters.

The Present Study

The present study examines the effect of various ingratiation techniques (self-promotion, other-enhancement, rendering favors, opinion conformity) used in cover letters on selection decisions, perception of interpersonal attributes, and credibility. In doing so, it seeks to fulfil the existing gap in literature in the following ways: First, instead of assessing the effectiveness of IM in selection interviews, the current study focuses on cover letters, a hitherto ignored area of research. Second, the study compares various tactics of ingratiation used by applicants using a robust experimental design. Third, the study not only examines the impact of ingratiation on selection recommendations, but also includes two other important outcomes- that of interpersonal attributes, and credibility.


A total of 112 university undergraduates (52 men and 60 women) were selected through convenience sampling. The participants' mean age was 19.6 years. They belonged to a variety of courses like Sociology, History, Hotel Management, Journalism, Commerce, Engineering and Economics. Out of the 112 participants, 54 had been a part of some hiring process, while 58 had never faced any kind of hiring process.

Experimental Design

The study used the repeated measures design, with five within-subjects conditions (four types of ingratiation self-promotion, other-enhancement, opinion conformity, rendering favors; plus control condition of no ingratiation). The independent variable was the type of ingratiation tactic used in the application cover letters (see Appendix). Three dependent variables were chosen, selection recommendation, perceived credibility and...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT