Self-monitoring refers to the extent to which one attends to social cues and attempts to adapt behavior to control the image one presents to others. First introduced by Mark Snyder in 1974, this construct identifies individual differences in how people react to their social environments. Snyder believed that people differ in the extent to which they rely on their environments to guide their behaviors versus relying to a greater degree on their inner beliefs or states. Self-monitoring is typically assessed through the use of a 25-, 18-, or 13-item true-false, self-administered questionnaire consisting of such items as “I would probably make a good actor/actress,” “I may deceive people by being friendly when I really dislike them,” and “In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons.” Several subscales of the self-monitoring scale have been identified, such as Acting, Extraversion, and Other-Directedness, although the majority of studies consider the scale as a whole.
Individuals high in self-monitoring are considered to be “social chameleons,” better able to understand their social environment, more flexible and skillful in their use of expressive behaviors, and acting more in anticipation of the outcomes of their own behavior than individuals low in self-monitoring. Low self-monitors, on the other hand, tend to show greater behavioral stability across social situations, displaying behaviors that they believe are consistent with the images and beliefs they hold about themselves, and focusing less on the consequences that might be associated with the display of those behaviors.
It is possible for individuals to attempt to manage the impressions they make on others at all levels of career development. For instance, prospective employees may attempt to market themselves to interviewers, interviewers may attempt to impress interviewees in order to draw the best candidates, workers may attempt to impress their bosses and sell products to their clients, and so on. Typically, job selection involves matching one’s own skills and abilities to the jobs available; therefore, it is not surprising that researchers have found significant correlations between self-monitoring and job search preparation. Specifically, studies indicate that high self-monitors engage in greater analysis of their own interests and abilities and conduct more research on the companies with whom they wish to work than low self-monitors. In relation to job choice, low self-monitors indicate a preference for jobs that are compatible with their personalities, while high self-monitors show a preference for jobs involving well-defined roles and responsibilities. This information should be of interest to recruiters; the more clearly they can specify the attributes necessary for a job, the better high self-monitors can determine their abilities to meet the requirements and low self-monitors can determine the extent to which their personalities are consistent with the job requirements.
Once job seekers have identified careers of interest, they must engage in interviews. These interviews provide ample opportunity for job seekers to manipulate images of themselves. Although limited, research indicates that high self-monitors may be more likely to tailor the images they present in interview situations, expressing greater positive emotions and hiding negative emotions. These differential emotional presentations have been linked to higher ratings of competence by mock interviewers. Although low self-monitors may also manipulate their self-presentations, some research indicates that when low self-monitors attempt to create false images for interviewers, they feel greater amounts of stress and lower self-esteem than high self-monitors, who actually feel more successful following their self-presentations.
Interviewers can also differ in their level of self-monitoring, and research indicates that these differences are related to the types of information about candidates they deem important, as well as hiring decisions. Generally speaking, high self-monitors seem more willing than low self-monitors to form stereotypes and use them in rating interviewees’ appropriateness for jobs. For instance, high self-monitors are more likely to select an applicant for a job whose appearance fits the image expected for the position, whereas low self-monitors are more likely to select an applicant whose personality and qualifications seem appropriate for the job.
Most occupations involve a great deal of interpersonal interaction on a daily basis; therefore, it is not surprising that self-monitoring is linked to differences in job performance and promotion. Low self-monitors attend to more internal cues while working, while high self-monitors attend to external cues, including the expectations of coworkers and bosses. High self-monitors exhibit stronger communication abilities and perceived persuasive ability. Job level has also been shown to be associated with self-monitoring, particularly when the job involves interacting with different types of people. For instance, individuals high in self-monitoring have shown greater success in boundary-spanning positions (jobs requiring employees to serve as go-betweens, filtering information between parties) as compared to individuals low in self-monitoring, even independent of job experience. Low self-monitors, however, may perform better in relatively homogeneous groups, in occupations with lesser amounts of interpersonal contact, and in jobs requiring a great deal of self-motivation and direction. Finally, there are some findings of significant correlations between leadership and self-monitoring such that individuals with higher self-monitoring scores are perceived as more effective leaders, although these findings have primarily been for female rather than male managers. It has been suggested that in many fields, leadership behaviors are perceived as primarily masculine; therefore, females high in self-monitoring may benefit the most from their abilities to adapt to specific occupation expectations.
As with the interviewing processes, those making the ratings of job success may also be influenced by their own levels of self-monitoring. Some studies indicated that high self-monitors are more lenient and inaccurate in their ratings of coworkers, and seek to manipulate information to justify their ratings more than low self-monitors, especially in situations in which there are obvious consequences contingent on the ratings.
The final stage of career development that has been studied for its relationship to self-monitoring is organizational commitment and retention. High self-monitoring has been linked to lower levels of interpersonal commitment, less stable social bonds, and less organizational commitment and retention.
In addition, although high self-monitoring is related to greater occupational success for some types of jobs, this success may come with a price. High self-monitoring is associated with greater occupational stress and more stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure. The constant monitoring of their behaviors and situational cues may cause high self-monitors to experience more physical and psychological distress than their low self-monitoring counterparts.
Any situation involving the opportunity for people to strategically present themselves may be impacted by the interactants’ levels of self-monitoring. A weakness of the research regarding self-monitoring and career development overall, but most particularly in regard to job interviews, is its overreliance on college students as both the source and the target of evaluation in many of these studies; however, increasing numbers of field studies are examining the relationship of self-monitoring to workplace issues, increasing the external validity of these findings.
- Day, D. V., Schleicher, D. J., Unckless, A. L. and Hiller, N. J. 2002. “Self-monitoring Personality at Work: A Meta-analytic Investigation of Construct Validity.” Journal of Applied Psychology 87:390-401.
- Gangestad, S. W. and Snyder, M. 2000. “Self-monitoring: Appraisal and Reappraisal.” Psychological Bulletin 126:530-555.
- Snyder, M. 1974. “Self-monitoring of Expressive Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 30:526-537.
- Snyder, M. and Copeland, J. 1989. “Self-monitoring Processes in Organizational Settings.” Pp. 7-19 in Impression Management in the Organization, edited by R. A. Giacalone and P. Rosenfeld. Hillside, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.