Emerald Article: Social influence and job choice decisions
Mukta Kulkarni, Siddharth Nithyanand
To cite this document: Mukta Kulkarni, Siddharth Nithyanand, (2013),"Social influence and job choice decisions", Employee
Relations, Vol. 35 Iss: 2 pp. 139 - 156
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Social influence and job choice
Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Bangalore, India, and
Aspiring Minds Assessment Pvt. Ltd, Udyog Vihar, India
Purpose – Past research has largely portrayed job choice as a relatively rational and goal-directed
behavior where applicants make decisions contingent on organizational recruitment activities, or
evaluations of job and organizational attributes. Research now informs us that job choice decisions
may also be based on social comparisons and social influence. The purpose of this paper is to add to
this body of knowledge by examining reasons why social influence is a key factor in job choice
decisions of relatively young job seekers.
Design/methodology/approach – The study is based on in-depth interview data from graduating
seniors at an elite business school in India.
Findings – Respondents did not see themselves as acting based on social influence as much as they
perceived others around them to be. Reasons they noted for others’ socially influenced job choice
decisions were: peers and seniors are seen as more accessible and tr ustworthy than organizations;
organizations do not share all and/or objective data, driving job seekers to other sources; job seekers
are clueless and hence follow a “smart” herd; and job seekers make decisions for social status
signaling. Respondents pointed to socially influenced job choices as being rational behaviors under
Research limitations/implications – Generalizability of findings may be limited to young job
seekers or to the Indian context, and the authors encourage replication. The authors also acknowledge
the importance of individual difference variables in job choice decisions, a factor not considered in the
Practical implications – Given that job seekers rally around others’ notion of an attractive job or an
organization, the paper outlines several implications for managerial practice.
Originality/value – This study, in a yet unexamined cultural context, points to the simultaneous and
combined importance of normative and informational social determinants of job choice, bias blind
spots in one’s own job choice perceptions and decisions, gender specific socialization influences on job
choices, and the notion of job fit in terms of fitment with expectations of important reference groups.
Keywords India, Recruitment, Jobs, Employees behaviour, Influence, Social influence, Job choice
Paper type Research paper
Past research has largely portrayed job choice as a relatively rational and goal-directed
behavior where applicants make decisions contingent on organizational recruitment
activities (Rynes et al., 1991; Turban, 2001), other evaluations of job, and organizational
attributes (Gatewood et al., 1993), or based on a sense of fit with the job or
organizational attributes (Kristof, 1996). However, a growing body of research now
informs us that job choice decisions may also be based on social comparisons and
social influence. This research informs us that individuals compare themselves with
and follow similar others when there are fewer other sources of information or
influence (Kilduff, 1990). This is because the perceived worth of the job choice decision
seems higher when many similar others attest it, and because there may be strong
norms about choosing particular employers in certain social contexts (Higgins, 2001).
Further, informal word-of-mouth from credible and strong ties such as friends and
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Vol. 35 No. 2, 2013
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and job choice
family also influence perceptions of organizational attractiveness and job choice
decisions (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007, 2009; Van Hoye and Saks, 2010).
The present interview-based study adds to this body of knowledge by examining
reasons why social influence is a key factor in job choice decisions of relatively
young job seekers. The study specifically focusses on graduating Master of Business
Administration (MBA) students. In the present study, we engage with the following
questions: do these job seekers base job choices on social influence? Why do these job
seekers echo job choices of their peer group? Why do they seemingly follow the herd?
Who are the most important sources of influence in job choices (e.g. parents or peers)?
To answer our research questions, we interviewed 37 graduating seniors at an elite
business school in India. This school has a strong reputation in India, is featured in
national newspapers and business magazines, and has a fairly stringent selection
process for the two-year residential MBA program. We noticed over a few years that we
have been here that students seem to make job choice decisions based on social
influence more so than intrinsic or job and organization-specific reasons. This is
despite being pursued by various organizations. Armed with knowledge of prior
research, we decided to investigate.
Following Gatewood et al. (1993) we define job choice as a series of decisions that
an applicant makes, starting with the applicant’s evaluation of information obtained
from various sources, leading to employment pursuance decisions with specific
organizations. The notion of choosing a job thus includes choosing an organization
(Kilduff, 1990). Although the link between initial preferences at the job choice stage and
final chosen job can be weak, such initial decisions can be important in setting the job
choice path (Boswell et al., 2003). Thus, understanding job choices of applicants early
in the process is important.
Job seekers’ application decisions have important consequences for both the
targeted or chosen organizations and applicants. For organizations, decisions
determine the size and quality of available applicant pool (Barber and Roehling,
1993) and understanding job choice decisions also allows organizations to target
recruitment practices more effectively (Boswell et al., 2003; Cable and Turban, 2001).
If recruiting strategies do not help attract a sizeable and suitable talent pool, or if
applicants somehow self-select into target pools, subsequent sophisticated selection
processes are of minimal use (Fisher et al., 2006). For individuals, the decision involves
costs such that time spent applying to one organization cannot be spent in other
activities or in applying to other organizations (Barber and Roehling, 1993). Job choices
also have implications in terms of fitment with seekers’ job-related needs (Coleman and
Irving, 1997) and for self-selection into organizations that may serve as a substitute for
organizational socialization (Cable and Turban, 2001).
With regards career choices of educated workers such as those with MBA degrees,
early careers can especially have lasting influence on their future, and job choice
decisions hence assume special importance (Higgins, 2001). Further, a study of job
satisfaction and attitudinal commitment of recent MBA graduates suggested that both
feelings were contingent on why a particular job choice decision was made.
Specifically, when job choice was made based on intrinsic job features and for internal
reasons, individuals reported more satisfaction and commitment as compared with
when job choice was made because of external constraints such as a concern for
family and financial considerations (O’Reilly and Caldwell, 1980). Reasons outlined
above confirm the importance of examining the effect of social influences on job
Below, we first draw upon prior research on social influence on job choice decisions
(Kilduff, 1990, 1992; Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007, 2009). Next, we leverage the theory
of planned behavior, which is an extension of the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen,
1991; Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). Both these theories state that in addition to people’s
personal attitude toward a particular behavior or decision, their perception of social
pressure to engage in that behavior is an important determinant, also of job choice
( Jaidi et al., 2011).
Prior research on social influence and job choice decisions
Prior research highlights the following interrelated points. First, applicants compare
themselves with similar others and act in accordance with what others are doing in the
face of decisional ambiguity, when the opinion peers is very important to the
individual, and when other sources of information are relatively unavailable. Kilduff
(1990, 1992) contends that students intensely compare themselves with their peers at
prestigious business schools. In the two years that students are away from their family
and other previous social contacts, they draw upon peer interactions and the school’s
culture to form and act upon an identity through continuous socialization with peers.
Drawing upon the theory of social comparison (Festinger, 1954) Kilduff (1990) found
that MBA students tended to interview with the same organizations even after
controlling for similarities in job preferences and in academic concentrations.
Second, applicants rely on informational social influence or word-of-mouth
communication from credible strong ties (e.g. friends and family) when making job
choice decisions (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007, 2009). Conceptualized as an
interpersonal communication specific to an employer or to jobs, word-of-mouth
communication is independent of the organization’s recruitment activities. Research
with graduate students shows that such informational social influence has a strong
impact on perceptions of organizational attractiveness, and negative word-of-mouth
interferes with recruitment advertising effects (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007). Such
informational social influence was also seen in a sample of potential applicants
targeted by the Belgian defense. This study showed that receiving positive
employment information through word-of-mouth from strong ties early in the
recruitment process was positively associated with perceptions of organizational
attractiveness and actual application decisions (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2009).
Yet another study (Van Hoye and Saks, 2010) also focussed on potential applicants
targeted by the Belgian defense showed that when a person accompanying potential
applicants to a job fair viewed an organization as attractive, the applicant was also
influenced to view the organization as being attractive. Results showed that
organizational attraction was dependent slightly more on potential applicants’
perceptions of symbolic image dimensions (e.g. organization is prestigious) and then
on instrumental image dimensions (e.g. advancement opportunities available in the
organization). However, attractiveness perceptions of people who accompanied
potential applicants to a job fair were positively related to applicants’ perceptions of
organizational attractiveness over and above variance explained by instrumental and
symbolic image dimensions.
Third, applicants turn to their social context for information when they lack
detailed objective information about organizations and when the job choice decision is
viewed by applicants as being extremely important and even emotional (Higgins,
2001). Higgins argues that when a large number of people from one’s social group seem
make a particular employment decision, the decision seems worthy to potential
and job choice
applicants. For graduating MBA students, such social proof is ubiquitous as they
belong to schools with distinct and strong cultures where students spend hours
together and feel part of the same social community which may have its own norms.
Drawing upon the work of Deutsch and Gerard (1955), Higgins (2001) examined
the impact of normative and informational social influence on career decisions of MBA
students. Normative influence implies conformance to the positive expectations of
another and informational influence implies acceptance of information obtained
from others as evidence about reality (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955). She found clear
evidence that normative sources of social influence have a significant effect on
compliance with the dominant employer choice whereas informational sources of
influence, such as one’s network of advisors, do not.
Overall, while objective (e.g. tangible job and organization-specific attributes),
subjective (e.g. fit of the organization with applicants values or needs), and critical
contact factors (e.g. characteristics of the recruiter as perceived during the recruitment
process) influence job choice decisions (Behling et al., 1968) there are situations
where comprehensive objective data about organizations are unavailable for the same
decisions (Coleman and Irving, 1997). In such situations, rational expectancy
calculations may give way to choices based on social influences and social
comparisons (Higgins, 2001). Potential applicants are thus not individual decision
makers, but rather act based on informational social influences regarding
organizational attractiveness (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007).
Prior research on the theory of planned behavior and job choice decisions
The theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) is an extension of the theory of reasoned
action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). Both theories explain that an individual’s intention
to perform a certain behavior influences actual subsequent behaviors. The theory
of planned behavior and the theory of reasoned action have been well supported
in general as well as in the specific context of job choice intentions (Arnold et al., 2006;
Jaidi et al., 2011; Schreurs et al., 2009; Van Hooft et al., 2006) and subsequent job search
behaviors (Van Hooft et al., 2004; Van Hooft and De Jong, 2009; Vinokur and Caplan,
1987; Wanberg et al., 2005).
The theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) suggests that there are three
conceptually independent determinants of behavioral intentions. First, attitude toward
a behavior refers to the degree to which a person has a favorable or unfavorable
evaluation of the focal behavior. Second is a social factor referred to as the subjective
norm. This implies that behavior is guided by perceived social pressure to engage in
the behavior. Third is the degree of perceived behavioral control which is the perceived
ease or difficulty of performing a behavior. This reflects past experience as well as
anticipated impediments and obstacles. Finally, personal or moral norms also guide
intentions and behaviors.
Aforementioned determinants have been shown to influence intentions to work for
a specific occupation (e.g. Arnold et al., 2006) and are applicable to job seekers
currently unemployed (Vinokur and Caplan, 1987; Wanberg et al., 2005) or to those
seeking temporary employment (Van Hooft and De Jong, 2009). In a longitudinal
study, Schreurs et al. (2009) found that the relationship between pretest selection
expectations and subsequent job pursuit behavior is explained by the theory of
planned behavior. This study was based on a sample of applicants for the Belgian
military. These researchers specifically noted that pretest selection expectations
such as warmth or respect are associated with job pursuit behavior. That is, applicants’
expectations of forthcoming selection procedures are significant predictors of job
Most pertinent here are studies that directly refer to subjective norms or perceived
social pressures, and favorable or unfavorable evaluation of the focal behavior.
In a recent study, Jaidi et al. (2011) examined effects of different recruitment-related
information sources on job pursuit of highly educated graduates. This study proffered
general support for the theory of planned behavior. Specifically, these researchers
found that recruitment advertising and positive word-of-mouth related positively to job
pursuit intention and behavior. Negative publicity and word-of-mouth partly related
to job pursuit behavior. On-campus presence related negatively to job pursuit
intention and behavior, suggesting that recruiters need to engage in conveying
parsimonious and realistic job-related information. These findings, according to the
authors, imply that job seekers are not individual decision makers, but are decision
makers who decide based on social influences.
Subjective norms or perceived social pressures are particularly strong predictors
of job search behavior among those who are married or are co-habiting with partners.
This may be because a partner’s opinions may constitute a particularly powerful social
influence for the job seeker (Van Hooft et al., 2005). We can extend this argument
to graduates in elite schools where other students are seen as key referents that exert a
powerful social influence for the graduating job seeker (cf. Higgins, 2001).
Overall, research indicates that job choices or job choice behaviors are driven by
intentions that are influenced by the decision maker’s social context. Thus, if the social
context exerts pressures toward certain jobs or makes certain jobs seem unworthy,
applicants may tend to act based on such social information or influence. However,
all of these studies have been conducted in the western context. There are indeed a few
comparative studies which indicate that social influence may sway decisions of job
seekers more so when they are from non-western ethnicities (Van Hooft et al., 2004;
Van Hooft and De Jong, 2009) but no study has yet examined such processes and their
influence on job choice decisions in India. In the present study, we thus further examine
reasons why social influence is a key factor in job choice decisions of young job
seekers, albeit in a different context. Given the lack of such research in the Indian
context, and the consequent need for capturing respondent perceptions, we have
chosen to conduct an interview-based study wherein we engage in description and
explanation rather than in calibration (Bluhm et al., 2011; Lee, 1999). We next turn to
the methodology of the present study.
We invited graduating students who were in the thick of thinking about job choice
decisions to participate in our study. Respondents were sampled from the population
of all graduating seniors. The study was conducted about a month before the
placement (i.e. recruitment and short listing for interview) sessions began. Therefore,
at the time of data collection, students had not been part of organizational interviews
and they had not been shortlisted for any specific organizational interviews. At the
time of interviews, one of the authors was part of the Academic Council. This meant
the author knew almost all graduating students personally and could approach
specific students to maximize variation in the participant profile.
Variation in participant profile is important since, for example, respondent gender
(Van Hooft et al., 2004, 2006) and past experience (cf. Higgins, 2001) are known to
influence job choice decisions, and different respondents may succumb to social
and job choice
pressures differently. Respondent identification was thus driven by theoretical
relevance and bounds (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Since this a relatively elite school
with o400 students where one of us knew almost each student personally, no one
we approached turned us down, allaying our fears of a self-selected or an otherwise
The final respondent set of 37 students had 26 males and 11 females. The average
age was 25, with a range from 23 to 29 years. Of our 37 respondents, 26 had prior
work experience in the following sectors: 17 in information technology and technology
enabled services, four in telecom, and five in different sectors such as banking,
consulting, media, semi-conductors, and audit and assurance organizations. Average
past work experience was 31 months, with a range from four months to 60 months.
We asked everyone three interview questions and also asked clarification or prompt
questions if needed. Interviews were thus semi-structured. We assured respondents
of anonymity. Questions covered the following. What is the role of the peer group
and family in job choice decisions? Can peers’ and seniors’ perceptions about
attractiveness of an organization or a job influence job choice decisions at this
school? Do students apply for jobs that seem coveted here, even if they have not
heard of these recruiting organizations prior to joining this school? For each question
we asked respondents if they would act a certain way and if they thought “others”
around them would do so. For example, we asked respondents to elaborate if and
why they would act based on peer or family pressure; and why they thought if and why
others around them would do so. We stopped collecting data when we encountered
redundant responses, that is, when we obtained no new information from our
Interviews, which lasted for about a half hour on average, were taped and
transcribed verbatim. We analyzed data using basic computer programs (e.g. pivot
tables in Microsoft Excel). Themes were captured based on theoretically indicated
as well as emergent categories. For example, aforementioned research indicates that
parents or peers influence job choice decisions of individuals. This was noted as a
theme for focal respondents and sentences from transcripts were coded onto this
theme. Reasons for why respondents thought “others” around them acted a certain way
were noted as emergent findings. For example, respondents noted the inclination of
others to follow social pressures in guiding their decisions as they were otherwise lost
or clueless. This was noted as an emergent or new finding. To facilitate the recognition
of emergent patterns, we also used matrices when organizing data (Miles and
Huberman, 1994). For example, when coding for parents’ or peers’ influence in job
choice decisions of respondents, we also noted if such instances were noted by males
Following the suggestion that data counting be avoided when respondent realities
are the focus of research (Hannah and Lautsch, 2011) we have chosen to report
all findings, and not only those that are voiced by a certain collective. However,
each theme outlined in Findings section was voiced by at least a quarter of the
respondents. Though we coded independently, since the both of us had constant
conversations about the emergent patterns within data, findings reported are agreed
upon by both authors.
While all respondents accepted the pervasive influence of social pressures on job
choice decisions, only a minority indicated that they personally succumb to social
pressures. Almost all indicated that “others” around them do. A common response
was, “No, I don’t think I would succumb to such pressure, because my goals are
quite clear” or “Herd effect and hearsay – that’s THE thing which really influences
people a lot.”
Social influence and job choice behaviors of self
Respondents indicated only two reasons why social influence may impact their own
job choice decisions. The first and more predominant reason was pressure from their
families; a pressure that stemmed from the family’s expectations of jobs and expected
compensation based on media or other sources, or the family’s insistence on clearing
educational loans. The second reason was proving their worth to their peer groups.
When talking about social influence from parents informed by media, a respondent
From a family pressure point of view, that is also huge primarily because the hype that the
media creates around [institute name]. It is almost as if everyone who comes here goes out
with a salary pay package of something say like 50 Lakhs per annum or something. So the
pressure from the family is also huge in terms of getting into firms which are well known and
which are generally quoted in the media [y] If you get into something else, it is almost as if
you did not perform well or you were lagging behind as far as your batch is concerned (male,
age 24, R9).
Yet another respondent told us about the family’s insistence on clearing educational
Supposing that people come with a heavy loan and they want to clear that loan as quickly as
possible [y] they would aim for such companies, without looking much into their job profiles
[y] they would just go by the salary figures (male, age 29, R16).
When talking about proving their worth to their peer groups, respondents spoke
about being “considered an equal,” “not want to be looked down upon,” and acting
based on social influence because “you know everyone is measuring you.” Notably,
gender of the respondent added a nuance to this finding. While only one female
respondent spoke about family pressure leading to her job choice, an equivalent
number of males and females spoke about basing job choices to prove their worth to
their peer groups.
Social influence and job choice behaviors of “others”
While respondents were not forthcoming about their own job choices as determined by
social influences, they were articulate about why they thought other job seekers think
and act based on social pressures. Analysis of responses pointed to four reasons why
respondents thought others acted based on social influences, namely, peers and seniors
are more accessible as well as trustworthy as compared with organizations;
organizations do not share all and/or objective data; students are clueless and hence
think it is best to follow a “smart” herd; and people act a certain way as they engage in
social comparisons and signaling.
Peers and seniors are more accessible and trustworthy as compared with
organizations. Respondents explained that students made their job choice decisions
based on peers’ and seniors’ recommendations as they were more accessible and
trustworthy as compared with organizations. Respondents spoke of these sources of
information as being “legitimate,” “trustworthy” and ones that job seekers knew
“on a personal level” or could “talk to more easily.” As one respondent captured this
and job choice
sentiment, “Internal information is little more trustworthy than external information.”
Some of our respondents explained the reasoning of others around them:
I am getting an insider’s view about it, which I feel is better than what I will get from a
presentation that a company makes (female, age 23, R15).
So it is not as if a firm gets a reputation on campus just on the basis of only one year. It goes
over a period of time, may be 3 or 4 years or 5 years. That is generally the time it takes to
establish your reputation on campus. So there are reasons for trusting [peers and seniors]
(male, age 24, R9).
Organizations do not share all and objective information. Respondent comments
reflected a slight distrust of organizational recruitment communication. This, they
argued, was one of the key reasons why job seekers chose to follow other sources
of information such as those from their friends who had graduated earlier and knew
of the “realities” within recruiting organizations. Respondents spoke of getting
information from the “horse’s mouth” and avoiding organizational “hard sell.”
Respondents explained how friends may help more than organizations:
[y] there is insider knowledge. What is the culture of the firm? Is there any bureaucracy? Is
the environment open? The kind of assignment that they are getting – is it challenging
enough? [y] While sitting on other side of the desk, and when the presentation is happening,
each and every company will try to sell itself, say some good things about itself (female,
age 25, R22).
There is a pre placement talk, which is a very small talk, wherein every company puts up a
good show. So you just see the fac¸ade of the company, you can’t really understand if the
company is really good or not. So the seniors’ influence is very high (male, age 25, R8).
Students are clueless and hence follow a “smart”herd. Respondents articulated that they
thought it was “rational” and “sensible” that others followed a “smart herd” if “none of
us have any idea” or that they suffer from “lack of time” or “lack of knowledge” about
certain supposedly “star” organizations recruiting on campus. One of our respondents’
There is certain comfort in doing what the group does. Because it reduces your effort. Reduces
your uncertainty. There is a general perception that, if ten smart guys are doing it, it must be
right (male, age 25, R7).
Many of our respondents explained that job seekers may not know specific organizations
before starting the MBA program, and these previously unknown organizations may
be quite coveted on campus. This is because most students are from an engineering
background, while organizations recruiting on campus come from other sectors such as
consulting or banking:
Some of these top firms which students are vying to get into are firms which
they wouldn’t have even heard of before they joined [school] [y] See it is basically
the kind of word-of-mouth that plays the most important factor in this campus (male,
age 24, R12).
Students engage in social comparisons and signaling. If there was one theme around
which all our respondents rallied passionately, it was about students around them
pursuing jobs and organizations to signal a social standing. Respondents indicated
that job seekers around them worried a great deal about getting into specific
organizations for fears such as “what others will say about me.” Job seekers
also, according to respondents, sought coveted organizations because of a “glamour
quotient” or “just to feel good” as compared with their peers. We thus noticed a strong
element of competition for specific jobs and organizations aimed at achieving
peer recognition at the end of the placement process. One respondent summed up
this sense of competition by saying that getting specific jobs was “a question of
convincing people” of your worth. Some other respondents captured this sense of
race among peers:
See, if you consider the kind of background people come from, right, they have been achievers
throughout [y] that’s the reason why [present school] would have taken you also. So in a way
it’s also kind of proving a point your peers. Peer recognition is something, that’s the best
recognition actually (male, age 26, R33).
If it basically all boils down to one thing, it is peer pressure. Sheer peer pressure. Because it is
like, see at the end of the day, it boils down to whether your batch mates regard you as having
gotten into a decent enough firm. That is it (male, age 24, R12).
Respondent comments did not indicate if male or female job seekers succumbed more
or less to social influences. Respondents did note, however, that job seekers with
more work experience may be less susceptible to social influences in job choice
decisions as compared with job seekers with relatively less or no work experience.
A respondent stated:
Let’s say those who have worked earlier. They would probably ask around, you
know, their friends, who they would have met in their undergraduate days, their
relatives [y]itwouldnotbe[y] a single senior’s opinion that will influence
their judgment. So, it would be a multiple thing. They would ask but make their own
choice (female, age 26, R3).
Situated in the growing recognition that job choice decisions may be based on social
comparisons and social influence, we examined job choice decisions of graduating
MBA students at an elite business school in India. Our interview-based study was
aimed at exploring why students thought they themselves and others around them
made job choice decisions based on influences from significant others such as their
parents, peers, and seniors (i.e. those who have graduated in the recent past).
Findings indicated that respondents did not see themselves as acting based on
social influence as much as they perceived others around them to be. Those few who
indicated they made job choice decisions based on social influence pointed to their
parents as the dominant influence followed by peers. Parents influenced job choices
by pointing to media-driven expectations of salary packages or for paying back
educational loans. Peers seemed to influence choices because of social comparisons.
Only one female and all male respondents spoke about family influence, while both
female and male respondents referred to peer influence.
Respondents eagerly articulated reasons why they thought other job seekers
around them act based on social influence. Reasons they noted ranged from peers and
seniors seen as more accessible and trustworthy as compared with organizations;
organizations not sharing all and/or objective data driving job seekers to other sources;
students being clueless and hence following a “smart” herd; and people making job
choices given social comparisons and signaling. Respondents did not note job choice
differences based on gender, but did note that job seekers with more work experience
may be less susceptible to social influences in job choice decisions. Notably,
despite preferences often being skewed by forced conceptions of “good” or “must have”
and job choice
jobs as signaled by significant others, respondents mostly saw acting based on social
influence as being “rational.”
Present findings reflect as well as extend past research. For example, similar to
prior research, job seekers indeed compared themselves with similar others (e.g.
Kilduff, 1990, 1992) or relied on information from strong ties such as with family
members (e.g. Van Hoye and Lievens, 2007, 2009) and made decisions approved by
them when other sources of information were relatively unavailable (Higgins, 2001).
Decisions made by many in the social group further fuelled others’ similar employment
decisions, as these decisions seemed correct or worthy (Higgins, 2001).
Findings also contribute to prior research by pointing out that both normative and
informational social influences determine job choice, especially when informational
sources are close ties who have the job seeker’s best interests at heart (e.g. family
members) (cf. Higgins, 2001). That is, job seekers conformed to positive expectations
of trusted others and accepted their information as evidence of organizational
reality. Overall, also as posited by the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991),
subjective norms and socially created favorable attitudes toward certain jobs, seem to
guide job choices.
That respondents saw others as being swayed more than them can be explained
drawing upon the literature on “bias blind spots” (Pronin et al., 2002). Individuals
see biases and other motivational issues in others more than in themselves. For
example, people think they are better than the average citizen in their country, or are
better than their classmates. When individuals do recognize that they act like others,
they may attribute this to added insight about themselves rather than attribute their
actions to a bias. There is thus a perceived asymmetry in perceptions of biases among
self and others around oneself (Ehrlinger et al., 2005; Pronin et al., 2002). Present
findings thus contribute to prior job choice research by pointing to a bias blind
spot in one’s job choice or employer choice behaviors, a rationalized choice driven by
The finding that more males than females made job choices based on parental
pressures can be explained by drawing upon gender-based socialization research. For
example, women may be socialized more so into communal values reflecting a concern
for others, or selflessness while men may be socialized more so into agentic values such
as self-expansion, self-assertion, and competence (Eagly, 1987). Recent research also
shows that even highly talented and ambitious women in India and other emerging
markets face pressures in terms of traditions or social obligations (e.g. elder care) when
making career decisions (Hewlett and Rashid, 2010).
Parents in the present sample may have socialized present job seekers accordingly
such that daughters faced minimal or no pressures to obtain specific types of or
high-paying jobs. Sons in this school, on the other hand, may have faced parental
pressures for certain jobs reflecting traditional Indian idea of men being the dominant
(and oftentimes the only) earner. It is thus possible that present finding is specific to
Indian job seekers or job seekers in relatively more community-oriented countries
Along these lines, when research points out that female job seekers report job
application intentions driven by subjective norms (Van Hooft et al., 2006), it may not be
so much a contradiction to present findings as it may offer a nuance to “where” or
“who” the subjective norm stems from, and “what form” norms assume in different
cultural contexts – a notion worthy of examination in future research.
Present findings thus further add to the job choice literature by pointing out that
there are gender-specific socialization influences on job choices in addition to gender
differences influencing job choice through job attribute preferences, reactions to job
advertisements, or reactions to organizational selection procedures (see Chapman et al.,
2005 for a review). The finding that female job seekers themselves wanted to signal
competence by obtaining the same jobs as male job seekers, however, tempers the
gender-specific socialization or socio-cultural influences on job choices. Female job
seekers today seem to have moved away from gender-specific socialization and
attitudes held by the earlier generation, at least at this elite institution.
The finding that job seekers with more work experience are seen as less susceptible
to social influences in job choice decisions can also be explained leveraging
prior research. It is likely that those with prior work experience know (and can signal)
their needs, sense of fit, or values as relates to their workplaces more so than those
without any prior organizational experience or as compared with those who have
relatively less prior organizational experience (cf. Holland, 1997; Kristof, 1996).
The notion of fit was not so much about matching one abilities and needs with the
environment or the organization (e.g. Holland, 1997; Kristof, 1996) but about “fitting”
social expectations of important others. The study thus also contributes to our
understanding about the notion of fit in job choice in terms of fitment with expectations
of important reference groups (e.g. graduating cohort) or specific significant people
(e.g. parents). Job seekers thus likely consider fit not only with objective external
indicators or subjective perceived values, but also with social expectations. The finding
that socially influenced decisions of others are generally perceived as “rational” is also
notable. Decisions of others thus seem controlled and deliberate to our respondents,
but from a reference point of peer expectations and not so much from the reference
points of job or organizational attributes. The social context thus seems to be making
certain job and organization attributes more positively or negatively salient in the
minds of job seekers.
Overall, our study points to certain contributions such as the simultaneous
and combined importance of normative and informational social determinants of job
choice, bias blind spots in one’s own job choice perceptions and decisions, the gender-
specific socialization influences on job choices, and the notion of fit in terms of fitment
with expectations of important reference groups or of important persons.
Limitations and implications for future research
One of the first potential limitations is with reference to generalizability of our findings.
We acknowledge that it is likely our findings are restricted to these or similar other
MBA students. However, to the extent that young job seekers are impressionable
and do face social pressures from significant others, the study can inform us of possible
actions of such job seekers. The context of our study also poses a limitation in the form
of a strong situation where ambitious and bright job seekers race for relatively rare
and hence coveted jobs and the pressures to demonstrate excellence in all spheres
especially drives social comparisons and influences. The two-year residential program
may also proffer a specific and strong situation. The study thus needs to be replicated
in more and in diverse job choice contexts with diverse job seekers.
As a related point, some readers may contend that the study poses an unduly
pessimistic picture in that these young job seekers seem to be miscalculating their
future utility by focussing on peer-pressure-driven decisions leading to short-term
hedonism. We agree and note that a longitudinal study may help us understand if such
job choice decisions indeed lead to suboptimal personal and workplace outcomes or
whether there are indeed benefits of following a “smart herd”. Furthermore, we did not
and job choice
take note of actual job choice decisions. We thus do not know if actual decisions
followed stated or expected paths of actions.
We also acknowledge research which points to the importance of individual
difference variables in job choice decisions. For example, self-monitoring (Snyder, 1974)
and social uniqueness (Snyder and Fromkin, 1980) may moderate social influences
on choices as they differentiate between individuals on the basis of susceptibility to
social comparisons. Some research shows that both high self-monitors and low
uniqueness people (or people who do not think they are unique) make choices similar to
those of others in peer groups (Kilduff, 1992). Future research can thus examine if,
for example, signaling among peer groups or acting based on parental pressure is
specific to certain types of individuals.
We noted perceptions of only job seekers such that they informed us about the
specific social influences pertinent to them. While their perception alludes to their job
choice realities, we would have a more robust understanding if we can simultaneously
capture the job choice influences of respondent’s parents and peers or seniors. Such
a multi-actor perspective would help us identify the relative influence of each type
of actor. Finally, future studies could also focus on a finer grained analysis of
the bias blind spot in job choice decisions. Here we noted a rather crude form of
a blind spot such that respondents did not see the impact of social influences on
self-decisions. Future research can examine if such blind spots are noted closer to the
actual job choice or if certain individuals are more prone to such blind spots more
Finally, our study was conducted in India and this context may also offer some
boundaries to generalizability of present findings. Research shows that job seekers
may construe themselves as either being independent of – or interdependent
with others around them (Markus and Kitayama, 1991). Thus, while those in more
western contexts who see themselves as being independent, may make choices based
more so on personal attitudes while those in more eastern contexts who see themselves
as being part of a social collective may make choices driven by the larger collective
(Bagozzi et al., 2000; Markus and Kitayama, 1991).
Research by Van Hooft and colleagues (Van Hooft et al., 2004; Van Hooft
and De Jong, 2009) conducted in the Dutch context does indeed demonstrate
the importance of cultural ideologies in the job choice context, supporting the ideas
of Markus and Kitayama (1991). Comparative longitudinal research across disparate
contexts may not only bolster this theoretical stream, but will also directly influence
managerial practice in global organizations as well as in local yet diverse
To extend further research on this topic, we build upon present findings, limitations
of the study, and prior research, to offer a conceptual model that can be tested across
subject pools and contexts. Here, we argue that if accessibility of realistic
organizational information is high, job seekers may reduce their engagement with or
dependence on social sources of information. This situation may imply reduced
chances for social comparisons, social pressures (real or perceived), and social status
signaling. Accessibility of organizational information and social information sources
may also influence each other such that, for example, peer information may bolster
organizational information dissemination (i.e. positive word-of-mouth) or dampen it
(i.e. negative word-of-mouth). Further, social influences may directly impact job choice
intentions and actual job pursuit actions (e.g. parents or siblings making their children
lean toward certain jobs).
Ultimate job choice intentions and decisions though, social influences or not, may
also be based on the graduating job seeker’s characteristics such as cultural
background (e.g. self-conception as being individualistic or interdependent) age,
gender, work experience (amount and quality), and the type of school they have
attended (elite and high pressure v. local community or commuter college). For
example, those with more and high quality of prior work experience may make their
own informed choices, and not seek opinions of others. Such individual job seeker
characteristics may also moderate the relationship between, for example, social
information and felt social pressure. Continuing with the example, someone with prior
experience may seek social information but may not be swayed by it. We have collated
these ideas in Figure 1.
Implications for managerial practice
Despite limitations, we believe the study can guide employers and hiring managers
in their recruitment process. Given that students rally around others’ notion of what is
an attractive job or an organization, and such word-of-mouth is a non-organization
recruitment source, employers can manage it indirectly through building relationships
with influential social actors or opinion leaders on campus, or inviting applicants’
friends and family to open houses or job fairs (Van Hoye and Lievens, 2009). For
example, employers can engage student representatives early on in the recruitment
process to cultivate a positive image of the organization in the minds of job seekers.
Employers can also signal an image and make themselves salient in the minds of job
seekers through various activities such as participating in campus annual festivals
through sponsorships, or sending senior managers as panelists on various campus
events, or sponsoring students through merit-based or diversity-based scholarships.
Realistic engagement with job seekers early on is especially important as cascading
influence over time can cement a certain picture of the organization in minds of job
seekers (cf. Jaidi et al., 2011).
The finding that students follow opinions of non-organizational sources when
organizational sources are seen as relatively unavailable or when organization
information is seen as incomplete is also worthy of note to employers and human
Accessibility of realistic
Accessibility of key social
• Social pressures
• Social status
Job choice intentions
Job seeker characteristics
• Prior work experience
• Status of school
• Cultural background
A social influence model of
job choice behaviors
and job choice
resource professionals. It may be worth the effort to understand what specific sets
of job seekers seek and how the organization can craft its recruitment materials for
such sets of important stakeholders.
If job seekers are indeed making choices for signaling their worth to their peer
groups, organizations would do well to highlight their accomplishments and their
symbolic dimensions forcefully. For example, organizations could highlight
symbolic attributes such as intelligence, reliability, honesty, and so forth through
their recruitment brochures, their web sites, and in various face-to-face engagements
with job seekers. This may be especially fruitful as research shows that applicants
are attracted to organizations which convey such attributes (Lievens and Highhouse,
2003; Turban and Cable, 2003). This is because job seekers may feel like they can
enhance their self-concepts by associating themselves with companies with certain
traits or dispositions (Turban and Cable, 2003). Thus, such organizational signaling
may help job seekers stray respectfully from herd-driven expectations and actions.
Considering the present study reinforces findings from prior research as well
as extends prior research by highlighting new findings, we have outlined a few
evidence-based recommendations for practice (cf. Rousseau, 2006) in Table I.
Research findings regarding social
influence and job choice Implications for employers
Parents, peers, and seniors are a dominant
Include important stakeholders in the
recruitment practice. Inclusion can be in the form
of invitations to placement-related open houses or
onsite organizational visits for guests of job
Peers and seniors are seen as more accessible and
trustworthy sources of organizational
information as compared with organizational
Have (if possible) current employees recruited
from same source act as brand ambassadors of
Conduct informal chat and information sessions
in small groups so that peers of/and job seekers
sense and appreciate individualized attention
Signal accessibility through posting dedicated
personnel for answering job seeker questions in
important labor pools
Organizations are perceived as not sharing all
and/or relevant objective data
Try to forcefully signal facts and realistic
previews in specifically targeted recruitment
materials and in face-to-face engagements
Elicit questions from job seekers to signal
sharing of relevant organizational information
Personalize the organization’s career webpage
per type of stakeholder (e.g. campus v.
People make job choices given social
comparisons and signaling
Signal both instrumental and symbolic
dimensions of organization explicitly so that
target applicants can carve niches for themselves
and signal a certain self-concept as derived from
association with the recruiting organization
Social influence can cascade across campus
cohorts and cement organizational images in
minds of potential applicants
Actively form ties every year with applicants
from various sources to craft and signal a desired
image of the organization
Tabl e I.
for improving the
In conclusion, given the importance of job choice to both individuals seeking jobs
and organizations employing them, we hope the present research serves as a
springboard for further theoretical conversations regarding job choice decisions based
on social influence and social pressures. Considering that a key aim of recruiting is
influencing applicant attraction (Barber, 1998) or “marketing” jobs to applicants
(Maurer and Liu, 2007), employers may do well by understanding that social influence
is also a key determinant of job seekers behaviors, and thus tweak and target their
recruitment practices accordingly.
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About the authors
Mukta Kulkarni is an Associate Professor of Management at the Indian Institute of
Management Bangalore. She received her PhD in Organization and Management Studies
and job choice
from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her work has been published in journals
such as the Academy of Management Journal, Human Resource Development Review,
Human Resource Management, Leadership Quarterly and Public Management Review.
Mukta Kulkarni is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mkulkarni@iimb.
Siddharth Nithyanand currently works as a Client Engagement Manager at Aspiring Minds
Assessment Pvt. Ltd. He completed his Post Graduate Diploma in Management at the Indian
Institute of Management Bangalore.
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