The nonlinear relationship between atypical applicant experience and hiring: the red flags perspective

Heidi M. Wechtler, Colin I. S. G. Lee, Mariano L. M. Heyden, Will Felps, Thomas W. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Hiring managers regularly encounter job applicants with atypical levels of experience across several common domains—For example, occupational experience, general work experience, educational experi-ence, and life experience. Surprisingly, few large-scale studies have investigated how hiring managers respond to applicants with atypical experience for the job, leaving a substantial lacuna in our knowledge. The primary goal of the present study is to examine the association between relative under and over-experience in the aforementioned domains and the likelihood of applicants being subsequently interviewed and eventually hired. We draw on insights from attribution theory to introduce the concept of red flags in the judgment of applicant experience. In doing so, we propose that hiring managers may avoid interviewing and hiring applicants with atypical experience relative to the applicant pool (i.e., relative over or under-experience). Overall, our red flags perspective posits that job applicants with typical amounts of experience will be favored by hiring managers, which may be a useful lens for explaining why highly experienced applicants are not always considered. We test these predictions on a unique dataset parsed from 53,194 résumés and the corresponding application forms from 42 different organizations. Our results are broadly consistent with the red flags perspective, notably uncovering some intricate nonlinear effects. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)776-794
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • attribution theory
  • employee selection
  • experience
  • red flag

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