Study: Kissing up gets careers

A study found self-promotion to be less effective in interviews than ingratiation.

Bryce Haugen

Job seekers who butter up interviewers might have an advantage over those who promote their qualifications, according to a recent study.

The report, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology’s August issue, found that “ingratiation” left a positive impression on corporate recruiters while self-promotion had a negligible effect.

Ingratiation tactics include agreeing outwardly with the interviewer’s opinion while disagreeing personally.

Self-promoting job seekers attempted “to create an impression of competence” by boasting about their credentials.

To conduct the research, business professors Chad A. Higgins, from the University of Washington, and Timothy A. Judge, from the University of Florida; surveyed 116 undergraduates who registered for job-search assistance at a “large Midwestern university,” which was not identified in the study.

After interviews with corporate recruiters, participating students evaluated personal performances. The recruiters also completed short, postinterview surveys to gauge their perceptions of each candidate.

The results aren’t surprising, said Megan Meuli, a career counselor at Hamline University.

“Intuitively, it makes sense that employers are looking for prospective employees who have social graces,” Meuli said.

“There’s just not enough gratitude in the workplace today,” she said.

She said that sometimes common courtesy, such as sending a thank-you note, can be considered sucking up.

Rosie Barry, director of the University of Minnesota’s Employee Career Enrichment Program, said she counsels her clients to both ingratiate and self-promote.

“I always encourage people to be positive,” she said. “Certainly, (ingratiation) would be much better than appearing blase.”

Carlson School of Management professor Richard Arvey, who specializes in industrial psychology, said the researchers should have looked for a correlation between the two tactics.

“They’re either talking you up or they’re talking themselves up,” he said.

But he said he hopes actual talent is the dominant factor in hiring decisions.

“It’s also possible that people who are more talented are able to ingratiate better,” he said.

Some students said the survey’s findings surprised them.

“Why are we in college?” said Bichthao Nguyen, a communication studies senior. “If all I had to do is kiss up to get a job, then why did I pay thousands of dollars to go (here)?”

First-year chemical engineering student David Williamson said he hopes the results aren’t true.

“I could see kissing up to get promoted, because I’ve done that, but to get the job by kissing up just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” he said.

But University of Minnesota alumnus Rich Fischer, who recently joined Medtronic’s corporate public relations team, said he was hired based on qualifications, not ingratiation.

With more than 32,000 employees around the world at Medtronic, “there was no real opportunity to brown-nose,” he said.