‘Green by Comparison’: CSU study finds job search envy can lead to resume fraud

Woman and man on laptops giving each other angry side-glances

Job seekers who stay in their search longer sometimes turn to destructive behavior due to envy, according to a Colorado State University study.

The new study looked at how the length of a job search and a person’s career situation may lead to unethical behavior because of envy. Published in the Academy of Management Journal, “Green by Comparison: Deviant and Normative Transmutations of Job Search Envy in a Temporal Context,” was authored by Brian Dineen of Purdue University, Michelle Duffy of the University of Minnesota, Christine Henle of Colorado State University and Kiyoung Lee of the University of Buffalo.

Social media and mass layoffs

“Today more than ever, job seekers can compare how they’re doing in their job search because of social media and events like mass layoffs, where co-workers are looking for jobs at the same time,” said Henle, associate professor of Management in CSU’s College of Business.

Two groups were analyzed during the study. The first group was unemployed job seekers, and the second was a cohort of graduate students who were looking for an internship during their first year and a full-time job during their second year. The same results were found to be true with both groups.

With the ability to compare success rates in their job searches, job seekers who were less successful many times became envious.

“Because we can now make those comparisons through social media and other events where groups are searching for jobs at the same time, it led to envy in some job seekers,” said Henle. “Some job seekers became envious of others’ success in the job market.”

Envy leads to two different behaviors

What happens when a job seeker becomes envious of another can lead to two different behaviors. It can lead to constructive job search behaviors or deviant job search behaviors.

“What we found is that some job seekers who were envious tried harder and put more effort into their job search,” said Henle. “But others turned to a deviant behavior like resume fraud. Some started to embellish on their resume.”

In the study, which direction job seekers took depended on how they viewed the situation. If they viewed it as a challenge, they were more likely to put more effort into their job search. Whether they viewed it as a challenge depended on other job search pressures.

Job search pressures

Researchers looked at three different job search pressures:

  • How long the job seeker has been in the search;
  • How critical the job search event was (an internship versus a full-time job, for instance);
  • The job opportunities that the job seeker perceives are available.

“What we found was resume fraud was more common among the envious job seekers when they had been searching for a job longer,” said Henle. “They were more likely to resort to that deviant behavior. In addition, they were more likely to resort to resume fraud if they were envious and it was more of a critical job search behavior, such as a full-time job versus an internship. We found this happened even when the job seekers perceived many job opportunities.”

Researchers found that job search pressures were the key to the deviant job search behaviors.

“Job search envy can lead to both positive and negative outcomes,” said Henle. “We found that it can go either way. It depended on how much pressure the job seeker was feeling.”

Findings benefit recruiters and career counselors

Henle felt the study’s findings would benefit both recruiters and career counselors.

“A benefit of the study is that we can help recruiters identify when job seekers are likely to engage in resume fraud,” said Henle. “The findings also can benefit career counselors to help job seekers, especially if they’ve been in their job search for a long time or if they are coming up on critical job search behaviors. They can help them to re-channel their envy into more constructive things, like putting forth more effort and networking with people. Job seekers who are feeling envious and pressure need to be encouraged.”

The full study can be found in the Academy of Management Journal at http://amj.aom.org/content/60/1/295.short.