How Rude Treatment by Interviewers Affects Job Searching Motivation

Topic(s): fairness, interviewing, motivation, recruiting
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2016
Article: The Long Road to Employment: Incivility Experienced by Job Seekers
Authors: A.A. Ali, A.M. Ryan, B.J. Lyons, M.G. Ehrhart, J.L. Wessel
Reviewed by: Nick Gatto

Job searching can be filled with rejection and disappointment. Despite these difficulties, job seekers must persist in their endeavor in order to secure gainful employment. In this study, the researchers (Ali, Ryan, Lyons, Ehrhart, & Wessel, 2016) investigated whether the motivation of job seekers changes if they experience rude behavior. In previous studies, researchers have explored whether individual differences can influence the job search process. The authors of this study expanded on this by considering how environmental factors can also affect one’s behavior during a job search.


This study provides a better understand of people’s responses to incivility, and how these responses affect their motivation. By incivility, the authors mean behavior that violates social norms and injures the target of the abuse. Examples of incivility during the job search could include a recruiter who dismisses questions or an interviewer who makes disparaging comments.

In order to consider how individual attributes can influence job search motivation, the authors identified different ways that job seekers may be oriented toward their goals. When seekers have a learning goal orientation (LGO), they are motivated to gain new knowledge and skills. However, when seekers have an avoid-performance goal orientation (APGO), they are motivated to avoid situations where they risk failure.

In the first of three studies, the researchers found that people’s goal orientations could affect their explanations for why they experienced rude behavior. Employees with higher levels of APGO were more likely to attribute incivility to internal causes, such as  not having the right skills, professional experience, or education.

The authors also noted that job seekers as a whole experience a wide variety of incivility and they can attribute this to both internal and external causes. They found that job seekers attributed perceived injustice to external causes 60% of the time. One common external cause was the interviewer, such as the fact that he or she was poorly trained, arrogant, or did not care about his or her job. On the other hand, 30% of the time, job seekers attributed it to internal causes, such as not having the right skills, professional experience, or education. A further 10% of the time, seekers said it was due to neither internal or external causes, such as not knowing the cause of the mistreatment.


The researchers also considered the effect of job search self-efficacy, which has to do with job seekers believing that they can follow through with their search-related tasks. In their second and third studies, the authors found that there is a negative relationship between incivility and job search self-efficacy. This means that when employees experience higher levels of incivility they also tend to have lower levels of job-search self-efficacy. Interestingly, this effect is stronger for job seekers who have low levels of  avoid-performance goal orientation (APGO). They also found that people who have low levels of APGO tend to internalize the incivility, which in turn affects their job search motivation and their belief that they will be successful. The researchers argue that when people have lower job search self-efficacy, this will lead them to spend less time and effort searching for jobs in the future. They found evidence that these findings hold true when tested using two diverse samples: new entrants to the job market and unemployed racial/ethnic minority job seekers.


This study has important implications for job seekers, employers, and those creating interventions to aid job seekers. The authors recommend that job seekers be mindful of the fact that even one negative experience could affect their feelings of self-efficacy. They also suggest that organizations hire trainers to develop interventions to decrease the intensity of certain traits that negatively influence self-efficacy. Finally, the authors note that employers should be aware of how subtle, negative cues can influence their level of motivation. Therefore, they suggest that managers train their employees on how to manage relationships with interviewees.


Ali, A. A., Ryan, A. M., Lyons, B. J., Ehrhart, M. G., & Wessel, J. L. (2016). The long road to employment: Incivility experienced by job seekers. Journal of Applied Psychology,101(3), 333-349.