Little Green Lies

Prof’s research links résumé fraud to job search envy

Unemployed job seekers can be motivated to embellish their résumés when they are envious of peers, according to a recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal.

“Job search envy has the potential to produce negative or positive reactions,” says the study’s co-author, Brian Dineen, associate professor at Purdue’s Krannert School. “We propose the envious reactions of job seekers can be negative in the form of résumé fraud, but can also be positive in the form of greater job search effort.”

For the first part of the study, researchers surveyed 335 unemployed job-seekers. When job seekers compared their search efforts with those of peers, they expressed greater likelihood to commit résumé fraud — intentionally embellishing or fabricating information — to keep up.

“Envy resulted in résumé fraud to a greater extent after a longer search, while it resulted in greater job search effort during a shorter search,” Dineen says.  

For the second part of the study, 49 graduate students were surveyed. Envy led to greater résumé fraud during the job search phase, and to greater effort during the less critical internship-seeking stage.

Researchers found that both groups — the unemployed job seekers and the graduate students — responded to envy with résumé fraud to a greater extent when job markets were strong. “Can envy be more painful when jobs seem available? It was a surprising finding,” Dineen says.

Titled “Green by Comparison: Deviant and Normative Transmutations of Job Search Envy in a Temporal Context,” the study was supported by a grant from the SHRM Foundation and co-authored by Michelle K. Duffy, University of Minnesota; Christine A. Henle, Colorado State University; and Kiyoung Lee, University at Buffalo. 

The study provides professional recruiters insights into job seekers’ motivation, allowing recruiters to screen applicants more closely or provide counsel on managing envy. Future research could offer qualitative insights into job search methods available to job seekers to help lessen comparisons to peers.