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Journal of Management http://jom.sagepub.


Research on Employee Recruitment: So Many Studies, So Many Remaining

James A. Breaugh and Mary Starke
Journal of Management 2000 26: 405
DOI: 10.1177/014920630002600303

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Journal of Management
2000, Vol. 26, No. 3, 405– 434

Research on Employee Recruitment: So

Many Studies, So Many Remaining
James A. Breaugh and Mary Starke
University of Missouri–St. Louis

Over the last thirty years, the amount of research on recruitment

topics has increased dramatically. Despite this increase, recent reviews
of the recruitment literature often have had a somewhat pessimistic
tone. Reviewers have concluded that we still do not know a great deal
about why recruitment activities have the effects they do. In particular,
recent reviews have criticized many of the studies conducted for being
poorly designed, narrow in focus, and not grounded in theory. We
believe that many of these criticisms are legitimate. We also believe
that, in order for future studies to result in a better understanding of the
recruitment process, such studies need to be designed with an appre-
ciation of the complexity of the recruitment process (i.e., the number of
variables involved and the nature of their relationships). In this regard,
we offer an organizing framework of the recruitment process. In intro-
ducing this framework, we draw upon theories from a variety of re-
search domains and give considerable attention to process variables
(e.g., applicant attention, message credibility, applicant self-insight)
that mediate the relationships between recruitment activities (e.g., re-
cruiter behavior) and recruitment outcomes (e.g., the number of appli-
cations generated). Having introduced an organizing framework, we
selectively review recruitment research, giving particular attention to
the topics of recruitment sources, recruiters, and realistic job previews.
This review makes apparent a number of important issues that recruit-
ment research has yet to address. © 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All
rights reserved.

Research interest in the topic of employee recruitment has increased sub-

stantially over the last thirty years. As an example of this increasing interest,
consider that in the first edition of the Handbook of Industrial and Organizational
Psychology, less than one page of coverage was given to the topic of recruitment
(Guion, 1976). By the time the second edition of this handbook was published,

Direct all correspondence to: James A. Breaugh, School of Business Administration, University of Missouri–St.
Louis, St. Louis, MO 63121; Phone: 314-516-6287; Fax: 314-516-6420.

Copyright © 2000 by Elsevier Science Inc. 0149-2063


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research on recruitment was seen as meriting an entire chapter (Rynes, 1991).

Even though numerous recruitment studies had been published since the 1976
Handbook chapter appeared, Rynes perceived this body of research to be lacking
in several ways. For example, she found most of the research that she reviewed
focused on one of only three topics (i.e., recruitment sources, recruiters, and
realistic job previews) and that the research on each of these topics was “devel-
oped in isolation from the others” (Rynes, 1991: 399). In her chapter, Rynes
showed how this piecemeal approach to research hindered theory development
and left unanswered several questions that an employer might have. More re-
cently, the expanding body of research on recruitment has been seen as sufficient
to merit entire books (e.g., Barber, 1998). Given that dozens of studies were
published between Rynes’ (Rynes, 1991) and Barber’s (Barber, 1998) reviews of
recruitment research, it is not surprising that Barber felt that understanding in
certain areas (e.g., recruitment source effects) had increased. However, Barber
also pointed out that researchers still had failed to address adequately a number of
significant issues (e.g., the site visit). She also noted that methodological weak-
nesses (e.g., failure to measure key variables) made it difficult to draw clear
conclusions from many studies.
In summary, if one peruses reviews of recruitment research (e.g., Barber,
1998; Breaugh, 1992; Rynes, 1991; Wanous, 1992), one finds a mix of optimism
and pessimism. Reviewers were pleased that research on recruitment had in-
creased, and they were confident that progress in understanding the effects of
recruitment activities was being made. Yet, they also seemed frustrated that more
progress in understanding the recruitment process had not occurred.
Given Barber’s excellent review of recruitment research (Barber, 1998), it
seemed unnecessary for us to provide a systematic review of the same research in
this article. However, we also are aware that many readers of this journal will not
have read Barber’s book. Thus, we felt it was important to provide a selective
review of the recruitment literature. We encourage readers who are interested in
more detailed coverage of recruitment research to refer to the works of Barber
(1998), Breaugh (1992), Rynes (1991), and others cited herein. In addition to
providing the reader with a selective review of recruitment research, a second
objective in writing this paper was to stimulate the type of research that will help
answer many of the research questions that remain even after so many recruitment
studies have been conducted. In attempting to stimulate research, we have
highlighted unresolved issues and several overlooked topics.
There are a number of possible approaches for structuring a review. For
example, given that many readers may not be overly familiar with the recruitment
literature, we could begin with a review of this research. However, we believe that
it makes the most sense to offer an organizing framework prior to reviewing
available research. This framework will make apparent the complexity of the
recruitment process, complexity that has frequently been overlooked (Barber,
1998). It also will show the narrowness of the recruitment literature (i.e., the
number of key issues that have not been examined). On a more positive note, we
hope the framework we offer will stimulate future research that will lead to a
better understanding of the recruitment process (i.e., the interaction among re-

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cruitment variables and the relationship between recruitment variables and other
variables). The organizing framework presented in Figure 1 is based upon models
that have been offered by Barber (1998), Breaugh (1992), and Rynes (1991). We
acknowledge that our framework represents a simplified view of reality. In
addressing the segments of this framework, we will introduce the theoretical
explanations that have been offered for the relationships between variables. We
will not discuss specific research findings until the entire framework has been
Before presenting our organizing framework, it seems appropriate to offer a
definition of what we mean by the term recruitment. Although the term recruit-
ment is commonly used, it is not easy to define (see Barber, 1998: 5– 6). For our
purpose, the definition offered by Barber will suffice: “recruitment includes those
practices and activities carried on by the organization with the primary purpose of
identifying and attracting potential employees” (p. 5).

An Organizing Framework for Understanding the Recruitment Process

As noted by Rynes (1991), much recruitment research has focused on the
effects of recruitment sources (e.g., Do individuals referred by current employees
have a lower turnover rate than persons recruited via newspaper ads?), recruiters
(e.g., Do recruiters who offer more information about a job make a better
impression on job applicants?), and realistic job previews (e.g., Does providing
accurate job information result in a higher level of job satisfaction for new
employees?). As depicted in Figure 1, all of these topics can be considered
recruitment activities. Although it is understandable why researchers have fre-
quently focused on the effects of recruitment activities (e.g., most companies
document how applicants heard about job openings), we believe that more
attention should be focused upon the entire recruitment process in order to better
understand whether an employer’s recruitment activities will accomplish its
Establishing Recruitment Objectives and Strategy Development
In discussing the recruitment process, Barber (1998) delineated three phases
(i.e., generating applicants, maintaining applicant status, and influencing job
choice decisions). That is, (a) certain recruitment activities (e.g., advertising on a
Spanish-speaking radio station) may influence the number and type of individuals
who apply for a position, (b) certain activities (e.g., professional treatment during
a site visit) may affect whether job applicants withdraw during the recruitment
process, and (c) certain recruitment actions (e.g., the timeliness of a job offer) may
influence whether a job offer is accepted.
In planning a strategy for generating applicants, a fundamental question that
should be addressed is, What type of individual does the organization want to
recruit (e.g., What knowledge, skills, and abilities are important? Is a diverse
applicant pool desired?)? Until an employer determines the type of applicants it
seeks, it is difficult for it to address several other strategy-related questions:
Where should the organization recruit (e.g., colleges versus state employment

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Figure 1. A Model of the Organizational Recruitment Process


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offices)? What recruitment sources should it use to reach the desired applicant
population (e.g., the Web versus job fairs)? When should the employer begin
recruiting (e.g., at the start of a college student’s senior year versus during the
second semester)? What message should it convey to potential applicants (e.g., a
good deal of job-related information versus information on a few key aspects of
the job)? In order for an organization to intelligently answer these basic questions,
it must have a clear sense of what its recruitment objectives are (Breaugh, 1992).
For this reason, we have portrayed the establishment of objectives as the first
phase of the recruitment process (see Figure 1).
In the past, it appears that many organizations have had the simple recruit-
ment goal of attracting a large number of job applicants (Wanous, 1992). For a
variety of reasons (e.g., the cost of processing applications), several researchers
have questioned the wisdom of simply trying to attract a large number of
applicants. Instead, it has been suggested (Rynes, 1991) that employers would be
wise to consider a wider range of possible recruitment objectives. For example,
some employers might be interested in trying to influence one or more post-hire
outcomes by the way they recruit. Such post-hire outcomes include: the job
satisfaction of new employees, their initial job performance, whether the organi-
zation is seen as living up to the psychological contract that has been established,
and the first-year retention rate of new hires. In establishing recruitment objec-
tives, organizations might also focus their attention on post-hiring outcomes that
can be measured the day employees begin work (Breaugh, 1992). Such outcomes
might include: the cost of recruiting, the speed with which jobs were filled, the
number of individuals hired, and/or the diversity of the new employees.
Although recruitment activities have been linked to some of these post-hire
outcomes, some researchers (e.g., Williams, Labig, & Stone, 1993) have argued
that in recruiting many employers are not overly concerned with post-hire out-
comes. Rather, they are interested in pre-hire outcomes such as the number of
individuals who apply for a position, the quality of these applicants, their diver-
sity, and the number of individuals who accept job offers that are extended. If an
employer is interested in these more proximal outcomes of the recruitment
process, its strategy development should be focused on how to accomplish them.
In summary, we believe that the first stage of the recruitment process should
be the establishment of objectives. If clear objectives have not been established,
it is difficult to develop a sound recruitment strategy (Rynes & Barber, 1990).
Having established a core set of objectives, an organization can more intelligently
answer the strategy development questions posed earlier (e.g., What recruitment
sources to use?). Having developed a recruitment strategy, an employer can then
undertake the recruitment activities that are likely to lead to its desired objectives.
Intervening/Process Variables
Although we believe that the recruitment process should proceed in the
manner portrayed in Figure 1 (i.e., recruitment objectives3strategy
development3recruitment activities3recruitment results), it is useful to add
intervening/process variables to this model and to work backwards through the
model. That is, in order to make decisions about what recruitment activities to

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undertake (i.e., strategy development), an employer needs to understand why

certain recruitment activities may result in certain recruitment outcomes (Rynes,
1991). We use the term intervening/process variable as a label for the factors that
have been hypothesized to explain the relationships between recruitment activities
and outcomes. A number of potential intervening variables are portrayed in Figure
In terms of generating applicants, it is critical that an employer’s recruitment
actions attract the attention of potential job applicants (Barber, 1998). Research
suggests that the following attributes are likely to generate attention: (a) messages
that are vivid in nature (e.g., include pictures) and include concrete language
(Tybout & Artz, 1994), (b) messages that convey unexpected information (Kulik
& Ambrose, 1993), (c) messages that provide personally relevant information
(Chaiken & Stangor, 1987), and (d) messages that are conveyed in face-to-face
conversations (Tybout & Artz, 1994).
In addition to attracting attention, recruitment communications need to be
understandable and viewed as credible by the individuals whom the organization
is interested in recruiting (Breaugh & Billings, 1988). In terms of a message being
understood, such mundane factors as using an appropriate level of expression and
choosing the correct language (e.g., Spanish) are clearly necessary (Jablin, Put-
nam, Roberts, & Porter, 1987). The medium used to deliver a message can also
influence comprehension. For example, Stiff (1994) suggested that, in contrast to
a verbal message, a written message may increase understanding given that the
message can be reread and studied. In contrast, Lengel and Daft (1988) suggested
that in-person communication may lead to greater understanding, especially when
the message is somewhat complex. Lengel and Daft argued that in-person com-
munication is a richer medium in that tone of voice, non-verbal cues, and other
variables exist that are lacking in a written message.
With regard to message credibility, research (Stiff, 1994) has consistently
shown that communicator expertise and trustworthiness lead to a message’s being
believed. In terms of expertise, generally those who are closest to the work
situation (e.g., job incumbents) are seen as being an informed source of job-
related information (Fisher, Ilgen, & Hoyer, 1979). With regard to trustworthi-
ness, research has shown that receiving information that is different than that
expected from the message source results in credibility (Stiff, 1994). For example,
in persuasion research, it has frequently been found that communicators who
convey information that detracts from their position are rated as more trustworthy
than communicators who cite only information that supports their position
(Chaiken & Stangor, 1987). In contrast, communicators who are likely to derive
personal benefit from misleading the communication recipient frequently lack
credibility (Stiff, 1994). Research (Harkins & Petty, 1981) also has shown that
receiving a consistent message from multiple sources results in an attribution of
In order to be effective, a recruitment message also needs to generate initial
interest from potential job applicants. Such interest is more likely to be forth-
coming if a job opening (e.g., the job itself, the organization, the location) is
viewed positively (Barber & Roehling, 1993). Interest is also more likely to be

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forthcoming if an applicant perceives that he/she has a reasonable likelihood of

receiving a job offer (Rynes, 1991).
As noted by Barber (1998), the recruitment process does not end with the
generation of job applicants. An organization also should be concerned about
maintaining the interest of job candidates and influencing their job choice deci-
sions. With regard to intervening variables, many of the same ones that affect the
generation of job applicants also are important for these later two stages of the
recruitment process. For example, individuals are likely to remain job candidates
if they continue to see a job opening as attractive and if they perceive themselves
as likely to receive job offers as they move through the recruitment process
(Rynes, Bretz, & Gerhart, 1991). Similarly, the attractiveness of a job opening
should have a major influence on a job applicant’s decision whether to accept a
job offer (Turban, Eyring, & Campion, 1993).
In attempting to understand the effects of recruitment activities, two key
intervening variables are the accuracy of applicants’ job expectations (Wanous,
1992) and their degree of self-insight (Breaugh, 1992). If an employer is inter-
ested in influencing such post-hire outcomes as job satisfaction, initial job
performance, perceptions of violations of the psychological contract, and first-
year retention rate, it should be particularly concerned with whether job applicants
have an accurate perception of what a job entails and whether they have insight
into their own capabilities (e.g., knowledge, skills) and desires (e.g., what they
want from a position and an employer). For example, given that the labor market
allows job candidates who do not perceive a good person-job fit to self-select out
of job consideration, applicants who have an accurate perception of a job situation
and have self-insight should, if hired, find their jobs satisfying (otherwise, they
would be unlikely to accept job offers). Being satisfied, new employees should be
less likely to quit during the initial employment period (Wanous, 1992). Self-
selection also should favorably influence the initial performance of new hires
(e.g., Downs, Farr, & Colbeck, 1978). This assertion is based upon the assumption
that, if a person does not perceive he or she has the ability to perform well, the
person will be less likely to accept the job offer.
Regardless of whether the labor market allows applicants to self-select out of
job consideration, having realistic job expectations should influence new employ-
ees’ perceptions of psychological contract violations (Rousseau, 1995). For ex-
ample, if an applicant has no better options, even after receiving information that
makes a job appear undesirable, he or she may accept a job offer. However, if the
employer has been honest with the individual during the recruitment process, even
though he or she may not like the new position, the person should not feel that the
organization has failed to live up to its side of the employment contract. It also has
been argued (Wanous, 1992) that first-year retention rate may be positively
affected by individuals having had accurate job information during the recruit-
ment process, even when the labor market does not allow for self-selection. This
argument is based on the assumption that, having made an informed job choice
decision, new employees will feel an obligation to remain in the job for at least
a few months. In summary, in order to understand why certain recruitment

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activities may impact certain recruitment outcomes, it is necessary to understand

the role that several intervening/process variables play.
Recruitment Activities that are Likely to Influence Key Intervening/
Process Variables
To date, most of the research conducted has addressed recruitment sources,
recruiters, and realistic job previews (Barber, 1998). Given this fact, we will focus
most of our attention on these three activities, their hypothesized relationship with
intervening variables, and how such process variables influence several outcome
variables. As noted earlier, in introducing our framework of the recruitment
process, we are focusing upon theoretical rationales that have been offered for the
relationships between recruitment activities and the intervening variables.
Recruitment sources. Although employers use a variety of recruitment
sources, little recent data exist on the frequency of usage. The most commonly
cited study of source usage was conducted by the Bureau of National Affairs
(1988). This study examined the frequency of source usage across five job types
(office/clerical, production/service, professional/technical, commission sales, and
managers/supervisors). Although the results of the BNA study are too complex to
fully discuss here, a few general trends are worth noting. Regardless of job type,
newspaper ads, employee referrals, direct applications (i.e., individuals who apply
for a job without having received information that a job opening existed), and
recruiting at schools were commonly used sources. A few sources were closely
tied to the type of job opening. For example, state employment service offices
only were commonly used for filling office and production jobs. The National
Organizations Study, which involved a national probability sample of employers,
reported findings similar to those of the BNA survey (Kalleberg, Knoke, Marsden,
& Spaeth, 1996). Reports from a national probability sample of employees
(Vecchio, 1995) concerning how they found their current positions further support
the general finding that firms rely heavily upon employee referrals, newspaper
ads, and direct applications.
With regard to recruitment sources, two theoretical explanations (i.e., the
realistic information hypothesis and the individual difference hypothesis) for why
sources may be differentially associated with recruitment outcomes have attracted
the most attention (Barber, 1998). The realistic information hypothesis proposes
that persons recruited via certain sources are likely to have more accurate
information about what a job entails (Rynes, 1991). Possessing such information
is thought to enable an applicant to make a more informed decision about whether
to pursue a job. For example, with regard to employee referrals, it has been
suggested (Breaugh, 1992) that before referring a person for a job with their firm,
current employees would provide the individual with realistic information about
what a job involved. Concerning direct applications, it has been suggested (e.g.,
Breaugh & Mann, 1984) that they may possess more realistic information con-
cerning a job opening as a result of having done more research on potential
employers than applicants coming from other sources. Conversely, it has been
argued that individuals recruited by other sources (e.g., school placement offices,
newspaper ads) may lack realistic job information (Williams et al., 1993). Lacking

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such information, these individuals are thought to be less likely to be able to

self-select out of consideration for jobs that may not be a good fit in terms of their
skills or interests. If hired, these less informed individuals are more likely to be
unhappy with their job choice and may be more likely to resign.
The second explanation commonly offered for recruitment source differ-
ences is known as the individual difference hypothesis (Rynes, 1991). This
explanation is based on the premise that sources differ in the types of individuals
they reach, and that these differences result in different outcomes. For example,
Ullman (1966) speculated that persons recruited via employee referrals may be
more capable than individuals recruited from such sources as newspapers. This
assertion is based on the assumption that current employees would screen indi-
viduals before making job referrals because they may see their own reputation as
being affected by the quality of the referrals. Other researchers have speculated
that different recruitment sources reach applicant groups that may differ on
characteristics such as motivation or perceived job mobility (Barber, 1998).
Unfortunately, researchers have not specifically described which sources should
be linked to which individual difference variables (e.g., Would direct applicants
have a higher motivational level to find a job because applying for job openings
that may or may not exist takes more effort than simply responding to advertised
Given the organizing framework we presented, it should be apparent that we
believe that more theory development needs to take place with regard to recruit-
ment sources and their relationship with process variables. For example, as Barber
(1998) noted, “recruitment scholars have largely ignored the question of how to
attract attention to recruitment materials” (p. 39). In terms of attracting the
attention of potential job applicants, one may be able to build a theoretical case
that the use of direct mail (a rarely examined recruitment source) or employee
referrals (which involve actively seeking out individuals who may be interested in
a job opening) would be attention-getting recruitment sources compared to such
passive sources as newspaper advertising (a potential job candidate may not be
looking for a position). Based upon psychological research (Stiff, 1994), one
might hypothesize that job advertisements placed in atypical locations in a
newspaper may be attention-getting (Breaugh, 1992). With regard to message
comprehension and credibility, theory development also is lacking. One might
hypothesize that employee referrals would be a particularly credible source if
made by job incumbents as opposed to supervisors who may be perceived by
applicants as under pressure to fill vacant positions. Given that most employee
referrals involve two-way interactions, referrals may be a source that facilitates
message comprehension (Lengel & Daft, 1988). Although we could offer further
speculation about what intervening processes explain why recruitment sources
have the effects on outcome variables (e.g., job survival) that have been docu-
mented (see Wanous & Colella, 1989), such theory development is beyond the
scope of this paper.
In summary, in terms of the relationships between recruitment sources and
key intervening variables (e.g., applicant attention), it suffices to say that much
theoretical work remains. In the future, researchers need to move beyond simply

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considering recruitment source effects that are associated with realistic job ex-
pectations and individual differences. Once theoretical linkages have been spec-
ified between various recruitment sources and key intervening variables, it is more
likely that the type of theory-driven empirical research called for by Rynes (1991),
Barber (1998), and others will be conducted.
Recruiters. Researchers have offered a number of explanations for why
recruiters may have an effect on job candidates. The first of these has to do with
recruiter informativeness. Researchers (e.g., Powell, 1991) have theorized that
some recruiters provide more information and more specific information to
applicants than other recruiters. Given that the information provided is of personal
relevance to the job candidate and is believed, interacting with more informative
recruiters should have numerous beneficial effects (e.g., enhanced ability of
applicants to remove themselves from consideration for jobs that ultimately would
not be satisfying). In terms of recruiter informativeness, it has been suggested
(Breaugh, 1992) that an individual’s prospective supervisor or coworkers should
be particularly informative in contrast to other recruiters (e.g., a person from the
human resources department) who may not possess as much information.
Researchers (e.g., Maurer, Howe, & Lee, 1992) also have hypothesized that
recruiter credibility helps explain the differential effects of recruiters on appli-
cants. For example, Fisher et al. (1979) hypothesized that, in comparison to job
incumbents, corporate recruiters would lack credibility. Fisher et al. based their
assertion on the assumption that corporate recruiters would be viewed by appli-
cants as lacking expertise concerning what a job involves and would be perceived
as having a vested interested in filling open positions.
It also has been suggested (Rynes, 1991) that recruiters may have an impact
because job candidates view them as signals of unknown organizational attributes.
For example, researchers (e.g., Connerley & Rynes, 1997) have suggested that
recruiter personableness may be important because it “signals” how the person
may be treated if hired or how likely the person is to receive a job offer. In a
similar vein, interacting with female or minority recruiters may signal to an
applicant that an employer values diversity. Such a value system may make a job
more attractive to certain job candidates (Highhouse, Stierwalt, Bachiochi, Elder,
& Fisher, 1999).
Although researchers have theorized about the positive effects of recruiters
who are informative, credible, personable, and demographically diverse, research-
ers have not focused heavily on the underlying reasons why different types of
recruiters may influence the attention potential applicants give to a job opening or
the interest applicants have in a position. Given the significance of attracting
applicant attention and generating their interest, clearly these two issues merit
future attention. A topic related to the informativeness of a recruiter is the degree
to which the message conveyed by a recruiter involves sharing realistic as
opposed to only positive information. Because the topic of providing realistic
information is generally covered in the context of realistic job previews, we will
discuss this issue in the next section.
In summary, a strong case can be made that the choice of a recruiter can
make a difference (Rynes et al., 1991). However, at present, although researchers

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have provided some theoretical foundation for why recruiters may have beneficial
effects, more theory development needs to take place.
Realistic job previews. According to Phillips (1998), “no recruitment issue
has generated more attention than realistic job previews (RJPs), the presentation
by an organization of both favorable and unfavorable job-related information to
job candidates” (p. 673). Given the attention that RJPs have attracted, it seems
reasonable to ask, “Is possessing inaccurate job expectations really a major
issue?” Unlike recruiting sources, national sample data on realistic expectations
have not been gathered. However, data from individual studies suggest that unmet
expectations are a frequent occurrence. In a review of several RJP studies,
Wanous (1992) suggested that unmet expectations on the part of new employees
are frequently reported. In the context of psychological contracts, Rousseau
(1995) provided ample evidence that new hires often see their organizations as not
having lived up to agreed-upon arrangements.
Compared to the topics of recruitment sources and recruiter effects, there has
been considerable theory development with regard to RJPs. For example, Breaugh
(1992); Wanous (1992); Fedor, Buckley, and Davis (1997); Hom, Griffeth, Palich,
and Bracker (1998); and Saks and Cronshaw (1990) have all offered models of the
process by which RJPs affect such outcome variables as job survival, work
attitudes, and job performance (an adaptation of Breaugh’s model is portrayed in
Figure 2). Given the numerous models in existence, it is not possible to discuss all
of their subtle nuances. However, it is worthwhile to discuss key conceptual
variables that most of the models have in common.
Most RJP models hypothesize that providing realistic job information to
applicants results in their having their job expectations met. It is further hypoth-
esized that providing an RJP influences role clarity (which is thought to affect job
performance) and individuals’ perceptions that the organization was honest with
them. Given that candidates perceive alternatives to accepting an undesirable job,
providing an RJP is hypothesized to result in applicant self-selection, which, in
turn, is hypothesized to result in a higher level of job satisfaction, a lower level
of voluntary turnover, and a higher level of performance.
Although the various models of RJP effectiveness include a number of
variables, many models have failed to address some key process variables. For
example, as pointed out by Phillips (1998), “all theories about the effectiveness of
realistic job previews share the underlying assumption that their message is
received and processed by applicants” (p. 673). Given the significance that we
have attached to job applicant attention and comprehension, it should not be
surprising that we think that more theory development should address these two
variables. From our review of the research literature, it appears that Colarelli
(1984) is the only researcher who has given much attention to many of the process
variables we highlighted.
In establishing a theoretical framework for his study, Colarelli addressed
process variables only in the context of providing an RJP via a brochure versus
providing an RJP by means of a face-to-face conversation with a job incumbent.
Colarelli hypothesized that, in comparison to receiving an RJP in written form,
RJPs received via a face-to-face interaction would attract greater attention, be

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Figure 2. The Formation of Job Expectations and their Influence on Important

Employee Attitudes and Behaviors: A Process Model (adapted from Breaugh, 1992)


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more understandable, and be more credible. Although he did not address why he
thought a face-to-face conversation would attract attention, Colarelli suggested
that a conversation aided comprehension due to the fact that an applicant could
ask questions to clarify ambiguous information. He argued that job incumbents
have considerable credibility given that they are generally seen as “more knowl-
edgeable than other sources of information” (Colarelli, 1984: 634) and because
they are generally seen as more trustworthy.
Over the years, a number of researchers have suggested some theoretical
refinements to the basic processes that have been hypothesized for explaining RJP
effects. We will highlight three of these suggestions. In an important (but
somewhat overlooked) paper, Greenhaus, Seidel, and Marinis (1983) questioned
the emphasis that researchers have placed on met expectations. Greenhaus et al.
argued that, if a person’s job expectations were negative and met (e.g., the person
was not able to turn down an undesirable job), one would not generally predict job
satisfaction. Alternatively, a person could be pleasantly surprised about certain
aspects of a job upon beginning work (i.e., not all unmet expectations are
unpleasant). Instead of focusing so heavily on met expectations, Greenhaus and
his colleagues argued that more attention should be paid to whether a job provided
for value attainment (i.e., a match between a person’s job values and job
experiences). These researchers not only proposed value attainment as an inter-
vening variable between having realistic expectations and experiencing satisfac-
tion, they tested their assertion. In two studies, they found that “value attainment
accounted for significantly more variance in facet satisfaction than did realistic
expectations” (p. 394).
In order to better understand the effects of RJPs, Fedor et al. (1997) argued
for more attention being given to the attributions new employees make for any
discrepancies that occur between what they expected and what they experienced.
For example, they suggested that new employees who perceive that an organiza-
tion misled them about job features would likely react more negatively than if
they attributed unmet expectations to the fact that the job had changed since the
position was described to them or to some other reason.
Researchers also have suggested that more attention needs to be given to
characteristics of the RJP recipients. For example, Meglino, DeNisi, Youngblood,
and Williams (1988) hypothesized that RJP effects would be stronger for more
intelligent applicants given that they could better comprehend the information
conveyed. Breaugh and Billings (1988) hypothesized that RJP effects would be
stronger if the RJP information addressed aspects of a job that were seen as
particularly important by job candidates.
In summary, although researchers have given considerable attention to the
reasons why RJPs “work,” more theory development is needed. In particular, we
believe that researchers need to move beyond viewing RJPs as the primary
mechanism for influencing the accuracy of applicant job expectations. The realism
of job expectations can be influenced by individuals having similar prior work
experience (Breaugh, 1992) or having completed internships (Taylor, 1988).
Other message attributes. Although researchers have given the majority of
their attention to whether a recruitment communication contains realistic (as

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opposed to only positive) information (Phillips, 1998), three other message

attributes (i.e., the breadth of topics addressed, the specificity of the information
provided, the timing of communications) merit attention. It has been well docu-
mented that during the job search process individuals frequently lack information
about job and organizational attributes. For example, Maurer et al. (1992) found
that engineering students who were job hunting reported they lacked information
about such issues as starting salary, how raises are determined, benefits, and the
success of new hires. The students who reported they lacked information about
positions also reported they were less likely to accept job offers. Similarly, Barber
and Roehling (1993) found that individuals who reported having more informa-
tion about a job and/or an organization were more attracted to the organization.
In attempting to explain why a lack of information may result in a negative
reaction from recruits, Barber and Roehling suggested that job applicants may see
the failure of an organization to provide sufficient information as an “indicator of
sloppy, disinterested recruiting practices” (Barber & Roehling, 1993: 853). In
other words, an employer’s failure to supply information may be viewed as a
signal of its lack of professionalism or of its lack of interest in the candidate.
Although some researchers (Breaugh & Billings, 1988) have theorized that an
employer’s failure to provide information about a range of important job attributes
(e.g., supervisory style, coworker relations) can hurt its ability to recruit, High-
house and Hause (1995) have qualified this general prediction. These authors
agreed that decision makers seek to avoid uncertainty. Thus, in general, job
applicants should tend to devalue a job opening for which job attribute informa-
tion is lacking. However, Highhouse and Hause suggested that there is an
exception to this general tendency to avoid uncertainty. They hypothesized that
decision makers might actually prefer a job opening with missing information on
a job attribute over an alternative job opening for which information was available
on the attribute but the attribute was viewed as being below average.
Concerning information specificity, Breaugh and Billings (1988) argued that,
even when an employer tried to present realistic job information, frequently the
information presented was so general (“salaries are competitive”) that it did not
allow for informed recruit decision-making. More recently, Barber and Roehling
(1993) addressed the issue of information specificity from a different perspective.
These researchers hypothesized (and confirmed) that job applicants pay more
attention to specific than to general information. Given that attracting applicant
attention is a key variable in the recruitment process, it appears that by providing
more specific information an employer may be able to generate more applicant
With regard to the timing of recruitment communications, relatively little
theory development has taken place (Barber, 1998). Based upon research in
decision making, Breaugh (1992) hypothesized that a desire for uncertainty
avoidance on the part of job applicants might make it wise for an organization to
make job offers early in the recruitment cycle. Thurow (1975) suggested that the
advantage of early recruitment may only hold for more desirable employers.
Rynes et al. (1991) focused upon the timing of recruitment communications in
terms of signaling. These authors hypothesized that delays in responding to

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applicant inquiries or in making job offers may be viewed as a sign that the
organization does not have a strong interest in the candidate.

A Review of Recruitment Research

Having introduced a framework for understanding the recruitment process
and having summarized theoretical rationales that have been offered to explain the
relationships portrayed in our model, we now will provide a selective review of
empirical recruitment literature.
Research on Recruitment Sources
One of the first issues that an organization needs to address in trying to fill
job openings is how to reach individuals who may be qualified for and interested
in the openings. Over the years, several researchers have investigated the use of
different recruitment sources and whether certain sources are linked to beneficial
outcomes. A study by Ullman (1966) was one of the first to examine recruitment
sources. He found that new employees who were recruited by means of informal
sources (i.e., employee referrals, direct applications) had a lower turnover rate
than individuals recruited via formal sources (i.e., newspaper advertisements,
employment agencies).
The publication of Ullman’s study (Ullman, 1966) stimulated several addi-
tional recruitment source studies (e.g., Blau, 1990; Gannon, 1971; Saks, 1994).
Some of these studies attempted to test whether the two explanations (the realistic
information hypothesis and the individual difference hypothesis) that have been
offered to explain source effects were supported by empirical data. For example,
Taylor and Schmidt (1983) examined source differences in absenteeism, turnover,
and performance for employees who were recruited by a variety of sources (e.g.,
referrals, rehired former employees). They also measured several individual
difference variables that might explain any source differences they found. Taylor
and Schmidt reported that, compared to the other sources, rehires had longer
tenure and lower absenteeism. They also found some support for the individual
difference explanation for their findings. One would also presume that those in the
rehire group had a fairly accurate view of what the job involved.
Although the results of recruitment source studies with regard to outcome
variables are not entirely consistent, it frequently has been found that employee
referrals and direct applications had lower levels of turnover and higher levels of
satisfaction than persons recruited by more formal sources (Breaugh, 1992).
However, empirical data have not consistently supported either the information
realism or the individual difference explanations for the recruitment source
differences reported (Barber, 1998). The failure of research to support these
explanations for source differences clearly raises concern about their validity.
However, methodological weaknesses of studies is an alternative explanation for
the failure to find support for the information realism and individual difference
hypotheses. We will discuss two of these methodological limitations (i.e., the
samples utilized, the measurement of variables).
In order to adequately test whether different recruitment sources result in job
applicants who differ in terms of the realism of job expectations or with regard to

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individual differences, a researcher needs to gather data from job applicants. Yet,
as noted by Barber (1998), in the great majority of recruitment source studies, data
have been gathered from new employees. Consider the study by Breaugh and
Mann (1984). In this study, it was reported that recruitment sources did not affect
the ability level of new employees. Although this may be the case, one can
question how relevant the data reported by Breaugh and Mann (1984) are to
testing the individual difference hypothesis. Although new employees in this
study may not have differed in terms of their ability, applicants recruited from
different sources may have. However, such an applicant ability difference may
have been eliminated as a result of selection procedures used by the hiring
organization. In summary, given that Breaugh and Mann tested for ability differ-
ences using new employees rather than job applicants, it is not clear what one can
conclude from their results.
In contrast to the results reported by Breaugh and Mann, the two studies that
have examined source differences on applicants suggest that informal recruitment
sources were linked to more qualified job applicants. For example, Kirnan, Farley,
and Geisinger (1989) found that persons recruited from informal sources (e.g.,
employee referrals) were of higher quality (and were more likely to be offered
jobs). Williams, Labig, and Stone (1993) also found that informal sources
“reached differently qualified applicants in terms of nursing experience and
education which, in turn, were valid predictors of subsequent nurse performance”
(p. 163). In summary, in order to advance our understanding of why recruitment
sources may influence work outcomes, more attention needs to be focused on
applicant differences on key intervening variables.
A second methodological weakness of many recruitment source studies
concerns the measurement of variables. In order to provide a fair test of the
realism and the individual explanation for source effects, it is critical that these
variables be measured precisely and measured at the appropriate time. With
regard to measurement precision, researchers have suggested that recruitment
source effects may be due to individual differences in such factors as motivation,
ability, or perceived ease of movement. However, instead of measuring variables
such as ability, “investigators all too often chose demographic proxies bearing
little theoretical relevancy to criteria of source effectiveness” (Griffeth, Hom,
Fink, & Cohen, 1997: 20). Even when researchers have attempted to measure
individual difference variables more directly, problems emerge. For example,
although Griffeth et al. assessed quality in a rigorous fashion (i.e., during inter-
views, ratings were made of work experience, training, etc.), these authors
reported data on new hires rather than applicants. Measurement precision also has
been a problem in testing the realism explanation for source differences. For
example, although Williams et al. (1993) gathered data from job applicants, they
tested the realism explanation for source differences indirectly (i.e., they mea-
sured the amount of pre-hire information the applicant possessed, rather than the
accuracy of this information).
Conceivably, the reason that Williams et al. focused upon information
quantity is due to the time frame for measuring variables in their study. These
authors measured several key variables during the job application process. Given

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this time frame, it would have been difficult for individuals to assess the accuracy
of their job expectations. In contrast to Williams et al., who measured variables
during the application process, several researchers can be criticized for waiting
too long to measure variables. For example, in attempting to measure recruitment
source effects, many researchers (e.g, Griffeth et al., 1997) have measured job
satisfaction, performance, and turnover at the end of one year of employment. It
is quite likely that recruitment effects would be stronger if measured closer to the
time of hiring (Wanous, 1992). Similarly, some researchers (Breaugh & Mann,
1984) measured the accuracy of job expectations after a year on the job. In
contrast to relying so heavily on a person’s memory, Saks (1994) measured the
realism of job expectations after one month of employment.
Having reviewed the research on recruitment sources, Barber (1998) con-
cluded that past research has not made a strong case for the importance of source
differences. We agree. However, based upon the findings of the two studies
(Kirnan et al., 1989; Williams et al., 1993) that presented data on job applicants,
we believe that it is premature to conclude that recruitment sources do not merit
attention. Instead, we believe that research in this area needs to be reoriented.
Future research should focus more heavily upon job applicants, rather than new
hires, and should give more attention to the measurement of key variables. With
regard to future research, there are two remaining themes we would like to
emphasize (i.e., expanding the range of intervening variables that are considered,
giving more attention to the employer’s perspective).
If one reflects on the reasons why recruitment sources have been hypothe-
sized to be associated with certain work outcomes, several factors that may
explain inconsistent results become apparent. Consider the use of employee
referrals. Researchers have suggested that one reason that employee referrals may
be associated with beneficial work outcomes is due to the fact that employees
making referrals may pre-screen potential applicants. As was noted by Breaugh
(1992), pre-screening is most likely to occur when the person making the referral
is concerned about his or her reputation in the organization. Given that some
recruitment source studies have involved work situations (e.g., summer jobs) in
which the employees making referrals may not always have been concerned about
their reputations, one may question how much pre-screening actually took place
in certain studies. In order to better understand the recruitment process, in future
research, it is important that data be gathered from those who made referrals to
assess whether pre-screening actually occurred. In a similar vein, it has been
suggested that individuals recruited via different sources may differ in terms of
their motivation to find a job and/or their perceptions of job mobility. Clearly, it
is time for researchers to start measuring such explanatory variables directly
rather than measuring demographic variables that may be related to them (Griffeth
et al., 1997).
In the first part of this paper, we argued that more attention should be given
to several process variables. With regard to recruitment sources, we think this is
a critical need. For example, consider the issues of attracting applicant attention
(Does an attendee at a job fair stop at a particular employer’s booth?) and
generating applicant interest (Does an attendee submit an application?). To our

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knowledge, no recruitment source study has addressed the issues of attracting

attention and generating interest. Yet, in a labor market in which jobs are plentiful,
these are critical issues for employers.
In addition to focusing upon process variables such as applicant attention,
researchers also need to focus more heavily upon important pre-hire variables on
which recruitment sources are likely to have a more immediate impact than they
do on post-hire variables. For example, corporate recruiters tend to be interested
in such factors as whether the quality of job applicants is higher for certain
recruitment sources, whether certain sources are more likely to yield a higher
percentage of new hires, and whether certain sources are likely to generate
minority applicants (Barber, 1998). Given that only two studies (Kirnan et al.,
1989; Williams et al., 1993) have presented data on applicants as well as new
hires, it is difficult for current research to shed much light on these key concerns
(Kirnan et al.’s findings suggested that individuals recruited via referrals tended
to be of higher quality than persons recruited by means of more formal sources
and that minorities were more likely to use formal recruitment sources).
As noted by Barber (1998), it is curious that little research has investigated
why employers recruit as they do. Two studies by Rynes and her colleagues are
exceptions. Rather than looking at how employers determined what recruitment
sources to use, Rynes and Boudreau (1986) examined how 145 companies
conducted college recruiting programs. Among the issues they investigated were
the factors that affected the companies’ selection of colleges. Rynes and Boudreau
reported that the factors given the most weight were a college’s reputation in
critical skill areas, the general reputation of the school, and the performance of
previous hires from the school. As pointed out by Rynes, Orlitsky, and Bretz
(1997), much of recruitment research has focused on recruiting college students.
In an attempt to understand how employers make decisions about whether to
recruit new college graduates as opposed to targeting more experienced individ-
uals, Rynes et al. gathered data from staffing professionals at 251 companies.
They found that experienced hires were evaluated more highly in terms of their
technical skills, their interpersonal skills, the realism of their job expectations, and
their likelihood of success on the job. New college graduates received higher
ratings for being willing to learn new things. Rynes et al. also asked the staffing
professionals to rate the overall effectiveness of several recruitment sources.
Among the sources receiving above-average ratings were informal referrals,
newspaper ads, private search firms, and direct applications. College placement
services, professional associations, and on-line employment exchanges received
below-average ratings.
Given the problems that have plagued recruitment source research (e.g., the
focus on new employees rather than applicants), it is difficult to draw many firm
conclusions. On a more positive note, this is an area that is ripe for real progress
to be made. In this paper, we have emphasized the importance of further theory
development. However, we also think that more researchers should follow the
lead of Rynes and her colleagues in investigating why employers make the
decisions that they do (e.g., why certain recruitment sources are selected).

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Research on Recruiters
Given the central role that recruiters play in the recruitment process, it is not
surprising that considerable research has addressed the issue of recruiters and their
impact on job candidates. Alderfer and McCord (1970) conducted one of the first
studies of recruiter characteristics. They found that applicant perceptions of
recruiters’ behaviors (e.g., their willingness to provide information) and attitudes
(e.g., their interest in the candidate) were associated with applicants’ expectations
of receiving a job offer and their reported probability of accepting the offer.
Following the publication of Alderfer and McCord’s study, several other
researchers (e.g., Harris & Fink, 1987; Macan & Dipboye, 1990; Taylor &
Bergmann, 1987) examined the impact of recruiter informativeness and person-
ableness. Although these studies differed in terms of their research designs (e.g.,
Taylor and Bergmann gathered longitudinal data while most researchers gathered
cross-sectional data) and their data analysis strategies (e.g., unlike most research-
ers, in order to better evaluate recruiter effects, Harris and Fink controlled for
pre-interview impressions of job attributes), they generally replicated the results
of Alderfer and McCord. That is, in several studies, job applicants who perceived
recruiters as being informative and personable also rated the prospective job and
the prospective employer as being more attractive. These positive impressions of
the job and the employer were, in turn, related to applicants’ reporting a higher
expectancy of receiving a job offer and a higher likelihood of accepting a job
At the same time that researchers investigated the relationship between
applicant perceptions of recruiter behavior and their reactions to the recruitment
process, they frequently also examined whether recruiter demographic character-
istics or other recruiter attributes (e.g., training) were related to applicant reac-
tions. In terms of recruiter demographic characteristics, a few studies have linked
them to applicant reactions to the recruitment process. However, in general,
studies have either not found a relationship or the relationships reported were
small in magnitude (Barber, 1998). As an example, consider recruiter gender.
Barber and Roehling (1993) and Taylor and Bergmann (1987) found that inter-
acting with male recruiters had a small positive association with applicants’
reactions to the recruitment process. In contrast, Connerley (1997), Connerley and
Rynes (1997), Harris and Fink (1987), and Turban and Dougherty (1992) found
no evidence that recruiter gender was related to applicant reactions.
Instead of looking directly at recruiter demographic variables, a few studies
have examined whether being similar to the recruiter on certain dimensions might
be important to job applicants. For example, Turban and Dougherty (1992)
studied whether applicants and recruiters’ being of the same gender or from the
same university might have a beneficial effect on applicants. They found that both
types of similarity were related to job attractiveness. In contrast, Cable and Judge
(1996) did not find demographic similarity (e.g., age, race, gender) between
applicants and recruiters to be associated with such variables as job choice

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In trying to understand why certain recruiters may have a more positive

effect on applicants than other recruiters, researchers have looked at several other
possible explanatory variables. With regard to recruiter experience and training,
results have been mixed. For example, Connerley and Rynes (1997) reported that
more experienced recruiters were viewed more positively by job applicants. In
contrast, Connerley (1997) found no effect for experience. In general, recruiter
training has not been linked to applicant reactions (e.g., Connerley, 1997; Stevens,
1998). Researchers also have investigated whether a recruiter’s functional area
(e.g., personnel department vs. a line function) made a difference. Connerley
(1997) and Taylor and Bergmann (1987) reported that the use of line managers as
recruiters had a positive influence on applicants. In contrast, Harris and Fink
(1987) and Connerley and Rynes (1997) did not find a recruiter’s functional area
to make a difference.
In trying to make sense out of research on recruiters, it is useful to consider
the reasons that have been offered by researchers for why recruiters might have
an effect on job candidates. Recruiters have been hypothesized to be important
because they serve a key role in directly communicating information about a
position (e.g., types of duties) and an organization (e.g., its values) to applicants.
In order to carry out this communication role effectively, a recruiter needs to have
both the ability to communicate effectively (e.g., sufficient time) and personal
credibility. In addition to intentionally conveying information to a job candidate,
a recruiter may also have an impact on applicants for unintentional reasons. It has
been argued (Rynes, 1991) that applicants often view a recruiter as a signal of
unknown aspects of the organization. Concerning recruiters being used as a
signal, Rynes, Bretz, and Gerhart (1991) reported evidence of signaling. In
particular, they reported that applicants were likely to view the recruiter as being
“symbolic of broader organizational characteristics” (p. 487) when applicants
lacked detailed knowledge of the hiring organization and when the recruiter was
from their functional area. This signaling effect occurred both during the initial
campus interview and during site visits.
Although there is considerable evidence that recruiters who are perceived as
being more personable and more informative are associated with beneficial
outcomes for the organization (e.g., applicants reporting a higher likelihood of
accepting a job offer), the results of some studies have not found such associa-
tions. Furthermore, in many studies these associations have been modest in
magnitude. There are a number of possible explanations for inconsistent findings
and for the modest magnitude of some of the results reported (e.g., recruiters
frequently do not have sufficient time to present all of the information they would
like to). Although space limitations do not allow for a discussion of potential
limiting factors, the topic of recruiter credibility does merit some attention.
Research on recruiter credibility has shown that job incumbents are per-
ceived as a more credible source of information than are full-time corporate
recruiters (Coleman & Irving, 1997; Fisher et al., 1979). If one considers the two
factors (expertise and trustworthiness) that are seen as resulting in perceptions of
credibility, this finding is not surprising. During the recruitment process, appli-
cants want specific information about several job-related issues. Recruitment

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research (e.g., Maurer et al., 1992) regularly has shown that applicants report not
having received as much job-related information as they would like. If one
considers the issue of expertise, the reason for this lack of information is apparent.
Frequently, recruiters are not very familiar with the job and the job environment.
One can imagine the difficulty that a full-time recruiter would have trying to
answer questions about a particular supervisor’s style or a work group’s climate.
A few researchers (e.g., Harris & Fink, 1987) have investigated whether inter-
acting with a recruiter from the candidate’s functional area as opposed to one from
the human resource department makes a difference. Although such a distinction
may be worth examining, a better line of inquiry may be whether the person with
whom a job candidate interacts is the candidate’s potential supervisor or coworker
(e.g., a person in one’s functional area may know little about important aspects of
a particular job). One would expect that such a supervisor or coworker would be
seen as having much more expertise than other types of recruiters.
It is not sufficient for a person to have expertise to be seen as a credible
source; the person also needs to be seen as trustworthy. Research (e.g., Coleman
& Irving, 1997) has shown that recruiters from a human resource department are
seen as less trustworthy than job incumbents. Given that full-time recruiters may
be evaluated in terms of the number of individuals they bring into the selection
process (Breaugh, 1992), it is not surprising that applicants may sometimes see
them as presenting an overly positive view of a job opening. In contrast, potential
coworkers may be seen as being more trustworthy because they will have to
interact with the job candidate if the person is hired. From this brief discussion of
recruiter credibility, the need for future research that examines the influence of
whether the recruiter is one’s potential supervisor or coworker should be apparent.
It is likely that recruiter effects would be stronger if distinctions were made
between potential supervisors and coworkers versus full-time corporate recruiters.
Over time, recruiter-oriented research has become more complex and more
methodologically sound. For example, early studies of recruiters (e.g., Alderfer &
McCord, 1970) often involved simply gathering survey data from college students
immediately following a campus interview. More recently, research on recruiters
has involved: (a) gathering data both before and after interviews (e.g., Harris &
Fink, 1987), (b) gathering longitudinal data over various stages of the recruitment
process (e.g., Taylor & Bergmann, 1987), (c) gathering data on recruiter behavior
from both recruiters and job applicants (e.g., Connerley & Rynes, 1997), and (d)
more intensively studying recruitment interactions by means of in-depth inter-
views (e.g., Rynes et al., 1991) and the audiotaping of applicant-recruiter inter-
actions (e.g., Stevens, 1998). This increasing sophistication of research has
resulted in a better understanding of recruiters and their potential effects. For
example, in the 1980s, some researchers questioned whether recruiters had an
important effect on job applicants (Rynes, 1991). Today, this view is less
commonly held (Barber, 1998). For instance, in their intensive study of the
recruitment process, Rynes et al. (1991) found that recruiters had a powerful
impact. In a number of cases, poor recruiters resulted in individuals’ losing
interest in jobs.

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In terms of future research directions, clearly the trend toward more complex
research should continue. As others have suggested (e.g., Barber, 1998), we too
believe that relatively less attention should be given to recruitment on college
campuses and to the initial stage of the recruitment process. In the future,
researchers need to explore the influence of recruiters at job fairs or during site
visits (Turban, Campion, & Eyring, 1995 have presented evidence that the host of
a site visit can influence job applicant perceptions of job attractiveness and their
likelihood of accepting a job offer).
Research on Realistic Job Previews
Over the last thirty years, realistic job previews (RJPs) have attracted
substantial attention. As described earlier, several different RJP models have been
offered. These models suggest that providing realistic information to job candi-
dates should have beneficial effects for a number of reasons (e.g., RJPs allow
candidates to self-select out of consideration for jobs that would not meet their
expectations, RJPs cause individuals to be more committed to their job acceptance
decision). To provide a sense of the research on RJPs, we will review a few typical
In one of the early RJP studies, Wanous (1973) examined the effects of
applicants for the job of telephone operator viewing either a traditional recruit-
ment film or an experimental film that provided both positive and negative
information about this position. He found that viewing the RJP film had no effect
on job offer acceptance rate (78 of the 80 individuals in his study accepted offers),
but did result in lower job expectations. Wanous reported there was no RJP effect
for turnover, but that receiving an RJP did positively affect job satisfaction.
RJPs generally have been provided by means of a booklet or a video
(Phillips, 1998). Colarelli (1984) felt that an interview with a job incumbent might
be a more powerful RJP medium given that such a two-way conversation may (a)
increase an applicant’s attention and comprehension, (b) enhance the amount of
personally relevant information conveyed, and (c) increase the importance at-
tached to the information conveyed as a result of job incumbents’ being a highly
credible source of information. Colarelli’s study involved applicants for the
position of bank teller. His research design involved comparing a control group
against individuals who received an RJP via a brochure or through an interview
with a teller or a teller trainer. Given that everyone offered a job accepted it,
Colarelli found no evidence of self-selection. He did find that the incumbent group
had a lower turnover rate than the other two groups. With regard to the realism of
job expectations, Colarelli reported that both of the RJP groups felt they had more
realistic expectations than those in the control group. In terms of the personal
relevance of the information received, the incumbent group had higher scores than
the brochure group, which had higher scores than the control group. Colarelli did
not find an RJP effect for job satisfaction. Unfortunately, although Colarelli
hypothesized that receiving an RJP from a job incumbent would increase appli-
cant attention and comprehension, he did not measure these variables.
In 1985, two RJP meta-analyses were published. McEvoy and Cascio (1985)
compared the effects on turnover of providing an RJP versus using a job enrich-

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ment strategy. They reported the average phi coefficient between turnover and the
use of an RJP was .09. They also reported that RJPs had a stronger effect on
turnover for more complex jobs. Premack and Wanous (1985) reported a similar
phi coefficent (.06) between the use of an RJP and turnover to that reported by
McEvoy and Cascio. Premack and Wanous also examined RJP effects on several
other variables (e.g., job satisfaction, performance, initial expectations). For the
most part, the RJP effects they reported were in the expected direction but were
small in magnitude.
Despite the somewhat pessimistic conclusions of some authors (e.g., McE-
voy & Cascio, 1985) concerning RJP effects, RJPs have continued to attract
attention. During the 1990s, researchers examined such issues as (a) whether the
RJP medium (written vs. oral) makes a difference (Saks & Cronshaw, 1990), (b)
whether having prior exposure to a job moderates the impact of receiving an RJP
(Meglino, Ravlin, & DeNisi, 1997), and (c) whether RJPs make higher quality
applicants less likely to pursue job openings (Bretz & Judge, 1998). Although it
is not possible for us to provide a review of all of the recent RJP studies, a recent
paper by Phillips (1998), which includes a meta-analysis of empirical research,
provides an excellent summary of the current state of RJP research. Overall,
Phillips found that RJPs were related to higher job performance and to lower
levels of initial job expectation, attrition from the recruitment process, and
voluntary turnover. Phillips also reported that RJP effects were stronger when the
RJP was provided verbally rather than via a videotape or a booklet. Phillips
emphasized that many of the RJP effects were quite modest in magnitude.
A review of Phillips’ paper (Phillips, 1998) may help explain some of the
confusion in the RJP literature. For example, in almost one-half of the studies
included in her meta-analysis, the RJP was provided after an individual had been
hired. Given that RJPs have been hypothesized to “work” because they increase
self-selection, provide a sense the employer is trustworthy, and increase commit-
ment to the job choice decision, providing an RJP after hiring should lessen its
effect (e.g., having already accepted a job offer, a person may not see the
organization as being particularly trustworthy and may not feel committed to the
“uninformed” decision he or she made). RJPs also are thought to be most effective
when an applicant has unrealistic expectations and feels capable of turning down
a job opportunity that is not seen as desirable. Given the visibility of several of the
jobs (e.g., bank teller, grocery store checker, gas station cashier) that have been
addressed in RJP studies (see Phillips, 1998: Table 1), one has to consider the
degree to which the job applicants in a number of these studies had unrealistic job
expectations. In a similar vein, it appears that economic conditions may have
made self-selection unlikely in some RJP studies. For example, 78 of the 80
individuals offered jobs in Wanous’ study (Wanous, 1973) accepted them. Wa-
nous noted that a difficult labor market “probably reduced an individual’s freedom
to reject a job offer on the basis of a preview” (p. 331).
Another possible reason for some of the modest RJP effects that have been
reported is the nature of the job previews that have been provided. Research (e.g.,
Barber & Roehling, 1993) suggests that applicants want specific information
about job and organizational attributes. Dean and Wanous (1984) pointed out that

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the RJPs provided in many studies did not involve the communication of specific
RJP information.
In summary, there are several potential explanations for the modest RJP
effects that have been reported. One can only imagine the potential effects RJPs
might have if future studies involve situations in which RJPs (a) provide specific
information about a wide range of important job attributes, (b) are conveyed by
a credible source such as a future coworker, and (c) are targeted at applicants (not
new employees) who lack realistic job information and have other viable job
Recently, Meglino et al. (1997) and Bretz and Judge (1998) have raised the
issue of whether providing realistic job preview information may hurt an employ-
er’s chances of hiring desirable job applicants. For example, based upon their own
research and a meta-analysis of other relevant research, Meglino et al. (1997)
concluded that providing realistic information to applicants who had prior expo-
sure to that type of position resulted in their overestimating the negative aspects
of the job. This overestimation could result in individuals with prior job experi-
ence, individuals who are frequently viewed as desirable job candidates, rejecting
job offers. Bretz and Judge (1998) also suggested that higher quality job candi-
dates may be less willing to pursue jobs for which negative information has been
provided. They provided some evidence that supports this position. Although
neither set of authors recommended that RJP information should not be provided,
others may come to this conclusion from their research. In a recent paper,
Buckley, Fedor, Carraher, Frink, and Marvin (1997) took a very different position.
These authors argued that an employer has an “ethical imperative to provide
recruits with realistic job previews” (p. 468).
One of the reasons that RJPs are thought to have positive effects on turnover
and satisfaction is because they lower job expectations. In a recent paper,
Buckley, Fedor, Veres, Wiese, and Carraher (1998) advocated the wider use of
RJPs but also noted that creating an RJP can be an expensive process. Given this
fact, they experimented with an alternative expectation lowering procedure (ELP).
In their study, an ELP involved an individual participating in a workshop that (a)
stressed the fact that individuals tend to have unrealistically high job expectations,
(b) addressed the likelihood that such expectations are likely to be unfulfilled, and
(c) discussed the common outcomes attached to unfulfilled expectations. To test
the impact of receiving an ELP, Buckley et al. conducted an experiment with
newly hired employees who had yet to start work. These individuals were divided
into four groups. One group went through the traditional orientation program. A
second group received a written RJP that was based upon a detailed job analysis.
A third group was composed of those who participated in the ELP workshop. The
fourth group was a control group. Buckley et al. found that the RJP and the ELP
were equally effective in lowering job expectations. They reported a strong
association between expectation level and subsequent employee turnover. In our
opinion, ELPs merit future research as a potential low-cost alternative to RJPs.
Given that many new employees appear to have incorrect expectations
concerning what their new jobs entail (Wanous, 1992), we believe that a realistic
job preview represents an important recruitment mechanism. However, we think

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there may be value in focusing less on an RJP as a specific event (e.g., showing
a 10-minute video) and instead focusing more on the process of providing
accurate job information at several points during the recruitment process. For
example, an employer could begin to provide realistic information with its job
advertisement. Following this, it could increase the amount of information con-
veyed during the initial interview by selecting recruiters who are likely to really
understand the job situation. Additional realistic job information could be com-
municated by a visit to the work site and/or through applicants taking part in a
work sample (Wanous, 1992). By viewing realistic recruitment as a process, an
employer may more thoughtfully plan out recruitment events. Trying to provide
realistic job information at a series of points via different mechanisms may also
lessen the likelihood of a recruit’s becoming overloaded with information (Barber,
In summary, we believe research on RJPs has resulted in a better under-
standing of the consequences of hiring individuals who have realistic expecta-
tions. Our hope is that in future years researchers will focus more attention on the
conditions in which RJPs are utilized (e.g., Did job candidates lack accurate job
information?) and on the psychological variables (e.g., the credibility of the
message) that are hypothesized to underlie RJP effectiveness.
Other Recruitment Topics
Recruitment advertising. Although firms spend considerable money on job
advertising, little research has addressed this topic. Previously, we reviewed
research (e.g., Barber & Roehling, 1993) that documented the positive effects of
providing a recruitment message that conveyed both more information and more
specific information. Other research dealing with recruitment ads has also shown
the benefits of their including specific information (Mason & Belt, 1986) and
more information (Yuce & Highhouse, 1998). Recently, Highhouse, Beadle,
Gallo, and Miller (1998) examined whether the wording of an advertisement for
a restaurant position affected college students’ perceptions of the estimated hourly
pay, the company’s image, and their job pursuit intentions. The only difference
Highhouse et al. reported was a position scarcity effect on pay (e.g., when only a
few jobs were advertised, pay was estimated to be over $1.70 more than if many
openings were advertised). The results of Highhouse et al.’s study suggest that job
applicants may infer certain information (i.e., pay rate) from the wording of an ad.
It is important for future research to investigate what other inferences may be
drawn from recruitment ads.
The site visit. To date, little research has addressed the importance of the
site visit. The findings of the studies that have are mixed. For example, Taylor and
Bergmann (1987) reported that, after entering expected job attributes as predictor
variables in regression analysis, the site visit (e.g., how well recruits were treated)
had no effect on applicants’ ratings of company attractiveness or of their likeli-
hood of accepting job offers. In contrast, Rynes, Bretz, and Gerhart (1991) found
that for their sample the site visit played a significant role in the recruitment
process. In particular, job seekers noted the importance they attached to the status
of the people they met, whether they felt “specially treated,” and the organiza-

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tion’s professionalism during their visit. Turban, Campion, and Eyring (1995)
reported that various ratings of the site visit (e.g., host likeableness) were
predictive of the recruits’ ultimate decision of whether to accept a job offer. An
interesting feature of this study was the fact that the site visit host would be a
coworker of the recruit if he or she were hired. As noted by Barber (1998), in
comparison to the issue of generating job applicants, the topic of maintaining
applicant interest has attracted relatively little research attention. Given that a site
visit may have an important influence on whether job applicants remain interested
in a position, we believe the site visit deserves more research attention.
Timing issues. Although being timely in terms of recruitment actions is
generally viewed as being important (Barber, 1998), only a few studies have
addressed timing issues. With regard to the timing of recruitment actions, Rynes,
Bretz, and Gerhart (1991) reported that for their sample: (a) long delays between
various phases of the recruitment process were common, (b) job applicants
frequently drew negative inferences about the delays (e.g., “I am not their favorite
candidate”), (c) delays affected the willingness of individuals to accept job offers,
and (d) the most marketable job seekers frequently saw delays as reflecting
something was wrong with the organization. In contrast to the results reported by
Rynes et al. (1991), Taylor and Bergmann (1987) reported no timing effect for
their study (conceivably, large sample attrition in this study could have affected
results). Given the limited amount of research that has been conducted, it is
premature to attach too much significance to the timing of recruitment actions.
However, this appears to be yet another area that is ripe for research.

Concluding Remarks
Over the last three decades, the amount of research on recruitment topics has
increased substantially. In spite of this increase, recent reviews of the recruitment
literature (e.g., Barber, 1998; Rynes, 1991) have had a somewhat pessimistic tone.
For example, reviewers frequently have concluded that we still do not know a
great deal about why recruitment activities (e.g., using certain recruitment
sources) have the effects they do. In particular, reviewers have criticized many
recruitment studies for being poorly designed, narrow in focus, and not grounded
in theory. Based upon our review of recruitment research, we think that these
criticisms are valid. We also believe that, in order for future research to lead to a
better understanding of recruitment issues, studies need to be designed with an
appreciation of the complexity of the recruitment process.
In order to stimulate the type of research that has been called for in previous
reviews, we presented an organizing framework of the recruitment process. In
introducing this framework, we gave particular attention to the process variables
(e.g., applicant attention, self-insight) that theory suggests should mediate the
relationships between recruitment activities and recruitment outcomes. In review-
ing the empirical recruitment literature, we highlighted how often these process
variables have been ignored.
Given Barber’s recent review of recruitment research (Barber, 1998), we
were able to be selective in reviewing research. In selecting studies to review, we

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tried to choose studies that (a) gave the reader a sense of the typical study that has
been conducted (e.g., Wanous’ paper [Wanous, 1973] on realistic job previews),
(b) called into question conventional thinking (e.g., Greenhaus, Seidel, & Mari-
nis’s paper [Greenhaus et al., 1983] on the issue of value attainment), (c)
highlighted a better research design for investigating an issue (e.g., the focus by
Williams et al. [1993] upon recruiting source effects on job applicants), or (d)
suggested new streams of research.
Although one can view the existing recruitment literature as a hodgepodge of
inconsistent results, we feel there are certain themes that emerge. For example,
research on recruiters makes apparent the critical role these individuals can play
both in terms of being informative and in terms of treating applicants in a
personable fashion. These themes of informativeness and personable treatment
also permeate other areas of recruitment research, such as research on the site visit
and the timing of recruitment actions. The importance of providing realistic job
information (e.g., via employee referrals or realistic job previews) has also been
an important research theme in the recruitment literature. Another theme that
emerged in our review of the literature is the importance of “signals” that
employers may unintentionally be sending to job applicants. For example, Rynes
et al. (1991) showed that applicants used information with regard to recruiter
friendliness and informativeness as an indicator of how a firm treated an em-
Although our review frequently criticized past research, our objective in
doing this was not to chastise previous researchers. Rather, our intent was to use
the deficiencies of past research to stimulate future research that is not subject to
these criticisms. Having critiqued past research, we should acknowledge the
difficulty of doing research on recruitment topics. To begin with, it is difficult to
define the term recruitment and to distinguish what falls within the definition. For
example, we began this paper by citing Barber’s definition of recruitment (“re-
cruitment includes those practices and activities carried on by the organization
with the primary purpose of identifying and attracting potential employees”;
Barber, 1998: 5). This definition says nothing about recruiting individuals who are
likely to be successful on the job. Some would argue that the notion of success
should be part of this definition. In a similar vein, consider an employer that uses
a work sample as a selection device. If going through a work sample provides a
job candidate with realistic information about a position, should the work sample
be considered a selection device, or recruitment device, or both? The topic of
organizational image also blurs the boundary between recruitment and other
topics. For example, Turban, Forret, and Hendrickson (1998) found that an
organization’s reputation influenced job applicants. We chose not to review the
organizational image literature given that an employer’s reputation frequently is
not directly a function of recruitment activities (e.g., media accounts of business
successes or failures are more likely to affect a company’s image than are job
advertisements). However, an organization’s image can clearly influence organi-
zational recruitment.
In closing, we choose to end on an optimistic note. In our opinion, this is an
exciting time for recruitment researchers. The difficulty in filling jobs has focused

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organizational attention on the importance of well-designed recruitment activities.

Recent research has been more theory-based and more methodologically sophis-
ticated (e.g., Stevens [1997] used audiotapes to better understand recruiter/
applicant interactions; Barber & Roehling [1993] used verbal protocol analysis).
The continued use of such methods should prove fruitful in investigating the many
unanswered questions that surround the recruitment process.

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