Factorial survey experiments are increasingly applied to study recruiters’ hiring intentions. Respondents are asked to evaluate hypothetical applicant descriptions that are experimentally manipulated. However, the methodology has been criticized for putting respondents in hypothetical situations that often only partially correspond to real-life hiring situations. It has been proposed that one way to overcome this criticism is to sample real-world vacancies and the recruiters responsible for filling them. In this case, only the presented descriptions of applicants are hypothetical, but respondents are asked about a real hiring problem. In contrast, prior factorial survey experiments typically employed hypothetical job descriptions. In this study, we test whether using real vacancies triggers different responses compared to using hypothetical vacancies in factorial surveys. Despite the potential implications for the validity of the data, this question has been widely neglected so far. We conducted a factorial survey experiment in Luxembourg, in which respondents evaluated hypothetical applicants referring either to a currently vacant position in their company or to a hypothetical job. Overall, we find little evidence for differences in responses depending on the design of the survey experiment. The use of real vacancies might however prove beneficial depending on the research interest.

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