How Can Organizations Operating in a Negative Reputation Industry Attract Job Seekers?

Key Takeaways:

  • Organizations operating in a negative reputation industry need to use purposeful recruitment messaging to contradict, change, or shape job seekers’ perceptions rather than simply communicate job openings.
  • Organizations operating in a negative reputation industry can enhance job seekers’ pursuit intentions by strategically using recruitment messaging to refocus job seekers’ attention on organizations’ positive aspects, including serving the public’s interests and employee development opportunities.

The “war for talent” has intensified and is expected to continue. According to SHRM’s talent landscape report (SHRM, 2016), the low number of job applicants was ranked by HR professionals as the most important factor inhibiting their recruiting efforts. Generating job applicants is a particularly challenging issue for organizations operating in negative reputation industries (Daube & Chapman, 2016).

Research shows employer reputation has a positive relationship with many important recruitment outcomes. Thus, while organizations with a positive employer reputation reap benefits in recruitment, those burdened with an unfavorable employer reputation encounter many difficulties. For these organizations, an important challenge is how to overcome their negative employer reputation in order to attract job seekers.

My coauthors and I (Zhan, Noe, & Klein, 2022) investigated the how organizations can attract job seekers using recruitment messaging to overcome their negative “being known for something” reputation. The “something” we consider is the industry in which the organization operates. Industry affiliation is especially salient to job seekers because it is typically publicly acknowledged and static (Cable & Turban, 2001; Rynes & Cable, 2003). In fact, an organization’s industry affiliation has been found to have the largest effect on job seekers’ generalized employer reputation perceptions compared to other organizational characteristics such as size, location, and culture (Cable & Graham, 2000). Industries (e.g., tobacco, oil) often have a negative reputation in the eyes of job seekers because they are perceived as producing products or offering services harmful to the public (Cable & Turban, 2001). Understanding how an organization in a negative reputation industry can attract job seekers through their recruitment messaging is an important question that has received limited research attention.

Drawing from social identity theory, the reputation repair literature, and signaling theory, we investigated the influence of two recruitment messages (serving the public’s interest and employee development opportunities) on job seekers’ job pursuit intentions for organizations operating in a negative reputation industry. To do so, we conducted two online experiments – one using a fictitious context and student job seekers and the other using actual companies and more experienced job seekers. The results show that recruitment messages focused on serving the public’s interests and employee development opportunities are two effective ways that can bed used to enhance job seekers’ job pursuit intentions for organizations operating in a negative reputation industry.

In conclusion, our results suggest that recruitment messages communicating how they serve the public’s interests and the employee development opportunities are two effective strategies that should be adopted by organizations operating in a negative reputation industry. They should ensure that their messaging reflects the actual employee experience. That is, these organizations need to be actively engaged in activities serving the public’s interests such as sponsoring or supporting volunteer programs, programs helping the disadvantaged, and promoting environmental sustainability. Also, to offset their negative reputation, they can offer employee development opportunities such as free classes, education reimbursement plans, and career planning for employees.


Cable, D. M., & Graham, M. E. (2000). The determinants of job seekers' reputation perceptions. Journal of Organizational Behavior21, 929-947.

Cable, D. M., & Turban, D. B. (2001). Establishing the dimensions, sources and value of job seekers’ employer knowledge during recruitment. In G. Ferris (Ed.), Research in personnel and human resources management (Vol. 20, pp. 115–163). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Daube, M. & Chapman, S. (2016, July 12). The Problem with Selling a Lethal Product: You Just Can’t Get the Staff. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Rynes, S. L., & Cable, D. M. (2003). Recruitment research in the twenty-first century. In W. C. Borman, D. R. Ilgen, et al. (Eds.),Handbook of psychology: Industrial and organizational psychology(Vol. 12, pp.55–76). New York: Wiley.

Society of Human Resource Management (2016). The New Talent Landscape. Retrieved from

Zhan, Y., Noe, R. A., & Klein, H. J. (2022). How can organizations operating in a negative reputation industry attract job seekers? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 132, 103661.

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