Anticipatory socialization is a term used to describe a variety of programs and initiatives offered by organizations that allow prospective employees to gain work experience prior to full-time employment. These programs include internships, apprenticeships, cooperative education assignments, and informational interviews. Each program is designed to help individuals, usually high school or college students, develop an accurate self-concept, gain a realistic understanding of various career fields and organizational environments, and allow a check for fit between individual characteristics and the demands of different jobs.
Through these programs, prospective employees can become acclimated to an organization’s formal mission, goals, structure, policies, and culture prior to fully joining the organization as a regular employee. Anticipatory socialization initiatives also allow prospective employees to become accustomed to the informal side of an organization through exposure to the less structured employee networks and norms that exist within the hiring company. Anticipatory socialization initiatives have become increasingly popular as a way to bridge the transition from the classroom to the work world. Indeed, it is estimated that three-quarters of all college students complete some form of an internship or cooperative education assignment during their academic careers.
Research assessment of anticipatory socialization programs has also expanded recently, reflecting greater interest both in the design of these programs as well as the consequences for individuals and organizations. In general, prior research has viewed anticipatory socialization programs as positive developmental experiences for high school and college students, having found linkages with a number of favorable outcomes. For example, anticipatory socialization assignments have been found to improve individual career decision-making self-efficacy, strengthen the crystallization of vocational self-concept, allow for the acquisition of job-relevant skills, and provide a comparative advantage in gaining full-time employment at graduation. In terms of post-assignment effects, prior research has identified subsequent outcomes such as improved perceptions of job fit in the early career, greater objective success in the early career, greater job stability in the early career, and reduced feelings of entry or reality shock upon full-time employment.
In addition, anticipatory socialization assignments provide job experiences that are valued by hiring organizations and give the student greater self-confidence in securing full-time employment. Beyond these instrumental aspects, it is also believed that these assignments provide students with a greater degree of confidence over their job and career selections, since it is believed that the experience gives them the opportunity to develop a more accurate self-concept and test for a fit between their own individual characteristics and the demands of the real-world work environment.
Hiring organizations also benefit from anticipatory socialization programs. First, these programs provide a risk-free method to companies for evaluating prospective hires, and they provide a steady stream of motivated human resources who are comparatively less expensive than regular full-time staff. Furthermore, anticipatory socialization practices can help organizations gain a positive recruiting image and ensure an available pool of talented newcomers. They can also play a secondary recruiting role, since students returning to school can spread the word to other students that a particular organization is a favorable place at which to work.
The wide acceptance of anticipatory socialization programs by students, educational institutions, and employing organizations shows how these programs have become a popular and useful method for ensuring a fit between a prospective employee and the company doing the hiring. For the future, it is expected that anticipatory socialization activities will become more prevalent, given that they lead to improved career decision making and development for individuals and a better prepared and more committed workforce for employing organizations.
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