Regardless of whether applying for a place at a university, school, charity or job, we are inevitably and subconsciously influenced by the the forces of the organisation, usually before stepping inside it. Through the numerous and meticulous processes of an application, organisations prescribe tight limits upon what is seen as acceptable behaviour. In doing this, they essentially seek a homogenous group of people conforming to a similar cultural ethic and thereby mould the way we, as applicants, present ourselves. Take for example, Google, Apple, Facebook and Nike, all organisations that promote the values of autonomy, individuality and "fun." Regardless of our actual abilities, obtaining a job at one of these companies would require conformity to its cultural values. In this way, applicants are influenced to present themselves as more "fun," "individualistic" and "autonomous" than may actually be the case.
This all ties down to the basic persuasive principle of social norms; socially accepted standards of behaviour, which tap into our evolutionary instincts - we alter our behaviour to fit a socially constructed standard in order to avoid exclusion, which would threaten our ability to survive in an interdependent world. Goldstein et al (2008) investigated this concept in an attempt to persuade hotel guests to participate in an environmental conservation programme by reusing their towels. Two different messages were used to urge guests’ participation in the towel reuse program and these were printed on signs positioned on washroom towel racks. The standard message focused attention on the importance of environmental protection but made no reference to normative information. The normative message further stated that 75% of hotel guests participate in the towel reuse programme.
As can be seen by the figure below, the normative message received significantly higher response at 44.1% than the standard message at 35.1%. Thus, descriptive norms were able to motivate individuals to engage in an environmental conservation programme. Although this is a little different to the case of recruitment in that the norm was more explicitly stated, the message is similar; we tend to comply with what we believe to be the social standard of behaviour.
Goldstein, N.J., Cialdini, R.B., & Griskevicius, V. (2006). A room with a viewpoint: Using normative appeals to motivate environmental conservation in a hotel setting. Manuscript submitted for publication.