Effects of mixed signals on employer attractiveness: A mixed‐method study based on signalling and convention theory

Katharina Pernkopf, Markus Latzke & Wolfgang Mayrhofer (2020)

Human Resource Management Journal, Online first, Open access.

Abstract. Traditional recruiting activities are marked by information asymmetry and organisational information control, leading to uncertainty among applicants about employer attractiveness. New technologies profoundly change the picture. Recruiting websites provide more thorough, yet controlled information; online employer reviews offer employee‐generated information mostly out of organisational control. While this diminishes information asymmetry, applicants have to handle incongruent information. It remains largely unclear how so‐called ‘mixed signals’ affect employer attractiveness and how applicants interpret them. To address the issue, we developed an integrated theoretical framework based on signalling and convention theory to better understand how applicants interpret and evaluate signals about employers. We then conducted a mixed‐method study to examine how congruent and mixed signals influence perceived employer attractiveness. Our results show that while congruent signals increase employer attractiveness and mixed‐signal situations reduce it, distinct evaluative patterns emerge when potential applicants reflect and judge employers. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

Excerpt. “Convention theory has been increasingly used to study evaluation processes (Cloutier, Leca, & Gond, 2017; Patriotta, Gond, & Schultz, 2011)—including those related to work and employment situations (Brandl, Kozica, Pernkopf, & Schneider, 2019). A convention‐based analysis of recruitment practices, for instance, has shown that recruiters’ judgements of applicants’ qualifications are not objective and static, but shaped by conventions (Eymard‐ Duvernay & Marchal, 1997). Employees also use various conventions to assess human resource practices such as training and development (Pernkopf & Brandl, 2011). Convention theory thus sheds light on how signal receivers draw from, and are influenced by, their ‘evaluative repertoire’ (Lamont & Thévenot, 2000). We apply the ‘orders of worth’ model (Boltanski & Thévenot, 1999) to understand how potential applicants’ evaluation of signals based on conventions to judge employer quality. ‘Orders of worth’ can be understood as ideal‐ typical conventions which actors, at least in ‘Western communities’, have ‘learned’ to use. They are based on six common moral principles: market, industrial, domestic, civic, inspiration and opinion. Each order of worth serves as an interpretation scheme that is based on a particular evaluative principle.” (p. 5)

Pernkopf, Latzke & Mayrhofer (2020: 19)

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