Recruit Top Talent with Web Sites That Combat Industry Stereotypes
In a recent article in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment, De Goede, Van Vianen, and Klehe examine the role of web site design in the formation of opinions about organizations to which they plan to apply to work. They do so in the context of fit – a concept defined as the congruence between a person’s values, beliefs, traditions, etc. and those of an organization or other entity.
This means that for any particular job, an applicant “fits” differently with different aspects of that job. In this article, De Geode and colleagues discuss two specific kinds of fit: person-organization fit and person-industry fit. While person-organization fit is as I described above, person-industry fit refers to the congruence between the person’s values, beliefs, traditions, etc. and their stereotypes about industry culture.
Most industries have a certain stereotypical culture about them. Programmers, for example, are stereotyped as working day and night, eyes on the monitor, somewhat asocial, and only pausing for a few sips of Mountain Dew. When a programmer applies for a new job, that programmer already has preconceived notions about what “being a programmer” means and what jobs for programmers typically look like. The extent to which that programmer is comfortable with that sort of lifestyle is person-industry fit.
For any particular organization, there will be deviance from the stereotype. Google, for example, advertises itself to potential employees with all sorts of atypical cultural elements – food service at work, on-site daycare, lots of flextime, personal projects, pets at work, casual environment, etc – which is uses to distance itself from the typical programming job. Life at Google is better - at least that’s how they want you to feel about it.
But what about smaller organizations? When you don’t have a multimillion dollar HR/employee wellness budget, pretty much the only thing prospective employees will see is the your website. So how do people’s perceptions of a potential employer change as a result of seeing these websites? If they already have a poor perception of person-industry fit, how can that perception change?
De Goede et al. examined this question by collecting two samples. In the first, 80 Master’s students in I/O Psychology provided their values for organizations, and 5 weeks later, they observed the websites of and provided their perceptions of the values of four I/O Psychology firms to which they could potentially apply. This allowed for an assessment of person-organization fit, by examining differences between personal values and perceived organizational values.
In the second sample, the researchers examined person-industry fit by asking 37 additional I/O Psychology students made assessments of values of the I/O Psychology industry. This sample was used as a reference for the first sample, since the researchers did not want to contaminate either set of ratings (individual web sites or industry stereotypes) by having participants make ratings on both.
Here’s what they found:
- Consistent with prior research, the greater person-organization fit, the greater the perception of that organization being an attractive place to work.
- Also consistent with prior research, better website design was correlated with organizational attractiveness.
- Person-industry fit was related to person-organization fit were correlated (the better your perception of the industry, the more you like organizations within that industry).
- The relationship between website design and organization-industry similarity (how well the values of the organization match those of the industry stereotype) was negative, but was stronger when person-industry fit was low.
That last bullet is the most important one here, so let’s explore it a little more carefully. What this means is that when an applicant feels like she really belong in an industry (high person-industry fit), web design quality does not really influence the applicant’s perception of how well the organization fits in that industry. But when an applicant feels like they don’t belong in an industry (low person-industry fit), web design quality does matter. In fact, if there are negative stereotypes surrounding your industry (as in the case of programmers), a well-designed website can lead an applicant to believe that your organization is different (and hopefully better) than the rest of the industry.
So even if an applicant would be a great employee, they may never even apply to your organization if they’ve developed a poor impression of the industry and your website does nothing to combat that stereotype. Instead, they’ll just lump you in with the rest of them, which is just like handing over your top talent to the competition.
- De Goede, M., Van Vianen, A., & Klehe, U. (2011). Attracting Applicants on the Web: PO fit, industry culture stereotypes, and website design International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 19 (1), 51-61 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2389.2010.00534.x [↩]
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