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Acting professional: An exploration of culturally bounded norms against nonwork role referencing


  • The first and last author shared lead author responsibilities on this paper.

Correspondence to: Eric Luis Uhlmann, Management and Human Resources Department, HEC Paris, 78351 Jouy-en-Josas, France. E-mail:;

Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, 701 Tappan Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1234, U.S.A. E-mail:


This article presents three studies examining how cross-cultural variation in assumptions about the appropriateness of referencing nonwork roles while in work settings creates consequential impressions that affect professional outcomes. Study 1 reveals a perceived norm limiting the referencing of nonwork roles at work and provides evidence that it is a U.S. norm by showing that awareness of it varies as a function of tenure living in the United States. Studies 2 and 3 examine the implications of the norm for evaluations of job candidates. Study 2 finds that U.S. but not Indian participants negatively evaluate job candidates who endorse nonwork role referencing as a strategy to create rapport and shows that this cultural difference is largest among participants most familiar with norms of professionalism, those with prior recruiting experience. Study 3 finds that corporate job recruiters from the United States negatively evaluate candidates who endorse nonwork role referencing as a means of building rapport with a potential business partner. This research underlines the importance of navigating initial interactions in culturally appropriate ways to facilitate the development of longer-term collaborations and negotiation success. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.