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The socialization of expatriate interns.

The use of internships as a career development experience has increased substantially over the past twenty-five years. When designed and implemented effectively, internships can generate numerous benefits to both interns themselves and their employers. Surprisingly, though, most of the research on internships has been anecdotal in nature. With few exceptions (e.g., Feldman and Weitz, 1990; Taylor, 1985, 1988), there has been little empirical research on the factors which are most critical to the successful design and implementation of internship programs. Moreover, despite the increased use of overseas internships, there has been no empirical research on this growing segment of the internship market at all. The present study, then, has two goals.

First, this study examines the factors which are most critical in the socialization of interns on overseas assignments. In doing so, we focus on the two sets of variables which have been most consistently examined in the domestic internship literature, namely, the design of the internship job (Feldman and Weitz, 1990; Hackman and Oldham, 1980) and the "people processing strategies" used to integrate newcomers into their jobs and work groups (Jones, 1986; Van Maanen, 1978).

Second, this research examines the consequences of the effective socialization of expatriate interns. Drawing on both the internship literature (e.g., Feldman and Weitz, 1990; Taylor, 1985, 1988) and the expatriate literature (e.g., Black et al., 1991; Guzzo, 1996; Mendenhall et al., 1987), we consider here such outcomes as satisfaction with the internship experience, the amount of learning about international business, the likelihood that expatriate interns will receive and accept job offers from their internship employers, and the perceived career instrumentality of the internship.

In the next section, we present the formal hypotheses on the effects of job characteristics and people processing tactics on intern socialization and the effects of that socialization on important outcome variables. In the following two sections, we describe the research methodology used to test the hypotheses and present the results of the data analyses. In the final section, we discuss the findings of the research in more detail and present some implications of the results for future research on overseas internships and for the design and management of overseas internship programs.

THEORY

Job Characteristics

Past research suggests that the "motivating potential" of the work itself (Hackman and Oldham, 1980) will influence how satisfied interns are with their internships and how much effort they will exert on them (Taylor, 1985, 1988). Although a wide array of job characteristics have been studied in the job design literature, three consistently emerge as especially critical in the context of overseas assignments (Feldman and Tompson, 1993).

First, the amount of job autonomy should be positively related to the effective socialization of overseas interns (Hypothesis 1). Because internships are used as a developmental tool, opportunities to work independently are critical in helping students plan and schedule their own time and derive a sense of accomplishment from working without close supervision.

H1: Job autonomy will be positively related to the socialization of interns on overseas assignments.

Second, task identity should be positively related to the effective socialization of overseas interns as well (Hypothesis 2). By task identity, Hackman and Oldham (1980) mean the ability to take an assignment from beginning to end or to complete a meaningful part of that assignment. In the context of expatriate internships, students do not get much sense of accomplishment by simply filling in for others who are on vacation or by rotating each week from task to task. Rather, expatriate interns' sense of task accomplishment is heightened by personal ownership of some project and by tangible progress on (or completion of) that assignment.

H2: Task identity will be positively related to the socialization of interns on overseas assignments.

On any internship, domestic or otherwise, opportunities to develop social skills, to learn how to interact effectively with superiors and coworkers, and to enhance communication and negotiation skills are all highly desirable. As Hypothesis 3 suggests, in the context of expatriate internships, these opportunities are particularly desirable, since one of the major attractions of expatriate internships is the chance to learn how to deal effectively with members of other cultures.

H3: Internship assignments involving a high degree of interaction with others will be positively related to the socialization of interns on overseas assignments.

People Processing Tactics

The second set of factors which influences the socialization of expatriate interns is the "people processing tactics" by which newcomers are integrated into their jobs and work groups (Van Maanen, 1978: Van Maanen and Schein, 1979). Jones' (1986) empirical work suggests these tactics can be classified as the context, content, and social aspects of the socialization process.

According to Jones' (1986) classification scheme, the context tactics can be arrayed on two continua: (1) from formal to informal and (2) from collective to individual. In formal socialization programs, new recruits take part in standardized training activities; in informal socialization programs, recruits learn more informally from on-the-job experiences. In collective socialization programs, recruits go through their training and orientation activities together as a group; in individualized programs, new recruits are socialized one by one as they arrive. Previous research suggests that younger workers get socialized more quickly when they have structured training and learning experiences. As Hypothesis 4 suggests, this should be particularly true for interns who are only on their jobs for a limited period of time and need to get up to speed quickly to get anything of substance accomplished during their internship (Feldman and Weitz, 1990). Moreover, some empirical evidence suggests that both new interns (Baker and Feldman, 1990) and new expatriates (Black et al., 1991; Mendenhall et al., 1987) are more likely to succeed when they have social support from others going through the same experiences as themselves (Hypothesis 5).

H4: Formal socialization programs will be more effective in socializing expatriate interns than informal programs.

H5: Collective socialization programs will be more effective in socializing expatriate interns than individualized programs.

The content factors in Jones' classification scheme can also be arrayed on two continua: (1) from sequential to random and (2) from fixed to variable. At the "sequential" end of the continuum, newcomers are given much information about the sequence of experiences they will undergo in training and orientation to become integrated into the organization. At the "random" end of the continuum, newcomers are given very little such information; how the socialization process will unfold is left largely undisclosed. At the "fixed" end of the continuum, newcomers are given specific information about the timetable of training activities they will go through. In contrast, at the "variable" end of the continuum, new recruits have little idea when they will get new assignments or additional training.

Since interns are typically younger than other workers and have less work experience, they have a greater desire for more information about what their upcoming assignments will be like. As Hypotheses 6 and 7 suggest, this will be particularly true in international assignments, where the intern will have to cope not only with new jobs but with new cultures as well (Feldman and Tompson, 1993; Folkman et al., 1986).

H6: The more the socialization tactics are sequential in nature, the more effective the expatriate interns' socialization will be.

H7: The more the socialization tactics are fixed in nature, the more effective the expatriate interns' socialization will be.

The social factors in Jones' classification scheme are likewise arrayed on two continua: (1) from serial to disjunctive and (2) from investiture to divestiture. The extent to which veteran organization members act as role models for newcomers is called the "serial-disjunctive" dimension. With serial socialization tactics, newcomers are trained by senior colleagues; with disjunctive tactics, socialization programs are run by staff groups or other employees not in the newcomer's work unit. The extent to which veteran organization members provide positive social support for newcomers is called the "investiture-divestiture" dimension. At the investiture end of the continuum, newcomers are given a high degree of social support from co-workers and supervisors. In contrast, at the divestiture end of the continuum, organizations engage in "debasing" activities that try to strip new recruits of their self-confidence and self-esteem.

In the context of international internships, the serial component should be especially critical because new interns will be more uncertain about how they are coming across interpersonally to members of different cultures and will be more reliant on successful role models (Hypothesis 8). Moreover, as Hypothesis 9 suggests, when newcomers are given a high degree of support from senior colleagues, they have greater commitment to their jobs, greater motivation to perform them well, and greater desire to pursue job opportunities in the same occupation or organization (Baker, 1995; Baker and Feldman, 1990; Feldman and Weitz, 1990; Jones, 1986).

H8: Serial people processing tactics will be more effective in socializing expatriate interns than disjunctive tactics.

H9: Investiture people processing tactics will be more effective in socializing expatriate interns than divestiture tactics.

Outcomes of Socialization

In previous research on internships, five outcome variables have consistently been used to assess the effectiveness of the socialization process: (1) satisfaction with the internship experience; (2) amount of learning on the internship; (3) likelihood of receiving an offer of permanent employment from the internship organization; (4) likelihood of accepting such an offer if presented; and (5) perceived instrumentality of the internship for one's career. Hypotheses 10 through 14 suggest these links will occur in the context of overseas internships as well.

Expatriate interns who master their assignments and are accepted into their work groups are more likely to be satisfied with their internship experiences (Taylor, 1985, 1988) (Hypothesis 10). Moreover, as Hypothesis 11 suggests, the effective socialization of interns (Baker and Feldman, 1990) and new expatriates (Feldman and Tompson, 1995) will be positively associated with greater learning about international business. If the socialization process is successful, interns are also more likely to receive and accept offers of permanent jobs from internship employers (Hypotheses 12 and 15). This is a particularly important concern for expatriate intern employers since the costs of selecting, training, and relocating overseas interns are especially high. Finally, as Hypothesis 14 proposes, another important indicator of internship success is whether interns gain experience that will be instrumental to them later in their careers (Feldman and Weitz, 1990; Taylor, 1985, 1988).

H10: The socialization of expatriate interns will be positively related to job satisfaction.

H11: The socialization of expatriate interns will be positively related to the amount of their learning about international business.

H12: The socialization of expatriate interns will be positively related to their likelihood of receiving job offers from their internship employers.

H13: The socialization of expatriate interns will be positively related to their likelihood of accepting job offers from their internship employers.

H14: The socialization of expatriate interns will be positively related to the perceived career instrumentality of the overseas internship.

METHOD

Sample

Participants in this study were 138 second-year masters students in international business at a large state university. The sample was 61% male and 39% female. The average age of respondents was 28; respondents had an average of three years of full-time work experience before entering the graduate program. Eighty percent of the sample were U.S. citizens. There were no significant differences between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals on any of the independent or dependent variables in the study.

One hundred thirty-eight (138) of the 156 members of a cohort completed both phases of the data collection, representing a response rate of 88%. The first round of data collection occurred approximately two weeks before the interns departed for their overseas assignments. The second round of data collection took place the week the interns returned from their assignments.

Fifty percent of the sample took internship positions in Western Europe; thirty percent took positions in South America or Central America; twenty percent were international students who took their internships in the United States. Most of the six-month internships were in marketing or finance, with smaller numbers in general management, accounting, and operations management. A wide range of industries were represented in the internship assignments, including pharmaceuticals, consumer products and services, banking and finance, information technology, and heavy manufacturing.

Measures

The means, standard deviations, and alphas of all the variables appear in Table 1. Table 1 also contains a correlation matrix of these variables. More detail on the measures appears below.

Internship Job Characteristics

Three job characteristics of the internships were assessed in this research: autonomy, task identity, and dealing with others. The scales used to measure them came from Hackman and Oldham (1980). A sample item from the autonomy scale is: "The internship gave me considerable opportunity for independence and freedom in how I did my work." A representative item from the task identity scale is: "The internship allowed me to do a whole, definable piece of work; for example, I took one or two specific projects to completion from beginning to end." A sample item from the dealing with others scale is: "My job required a lot of cooperative work with other people."

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED]

People Processing Tactics

At the outset, our intention was to use the people processing tactic scales as developed by Jones (1986). However, the alphas for those scales were not systematically high. Indeed, the alphas ranged from .77 (for the formal/informal scale) down to .07 (for the fixed/variable scale). In addition, a confirmatory factor analysis of the people processing tactic scales was not supportive of the structure as advanced by Jones (1986). The Goodness of Fit Index (GFI) was .73, the Adjusted Goodness of Fit Index (AGFI) was .64, and the Comparative Fit Index (CFI) was .45.

Consequently, we decided to use single items of the people processing measures, taking the item from Jones (1986) that was most clearly and explicitly tied to his definition of the construct. In each case, responses were made on a five-point scale ranging from (1) "Strongly Disagree" to (5) "Strongly Agree."

The extent to which the expatriate interns took part in formal training activities (the "formal-informal" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "I went through a set of formal training experiences which were specifically designed to give me the skills and knowledge that I would need on the job." The extent to which the training activities were performed collectively for all newcomers (the "collective-individual" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "During the first couple of weeks on the job, I was largely involved with other new interns or employees in common training activities."

The extent to which the expatriate interns were given explicit information about the sequence of training events they would go through (the "sequential-random" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "I saw a clear pattern in the way early job assignments provided the foundation for later job assignments." The extent to which the interns were given specific information about the timetable of training activities they would go through (the "fixed-variable" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "I had little idea when to expect a new job assignment or training exercise on my internship" (reverse scored).

The extent to which veteran organizational members acted as role models for the expatriate interns (the "serial-disjunctive" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "Experienced coworkers saw advising and training me and other newcomers as one of their most important job duties." The extent to which the interns received positive social support from veteran organizational members (the "investiture-divestiture" dimension) was assessed with the following item: "I felt that experienced employees held me at a distance until I proved I could perform" (reverse scored).

Socialization Measures

The research on socialization suggests this construct is multidimensional (Chao et al., 1994); the two dimensions which occur across typologies tap socialization to the task and socialization to the group. These dimensions were measured with two scales adapted from Feldman (1976). A sample item from the initiation to the task scale is: "I am sure that people around me were pleased with my work." A sample item from the initiation to the group scale is: "I did not feel as if I was a part of what was going on in my work group socially" (reverse scored).

Outcome Variables

The first outcome measure assessed the interns' satisfaction with their overseas internships. Fourteen items assessed the interns' satisfaction with various facets of the expatriate internship experience (e.g., country in which the internship was located and functional area of internship). Responses were made on a five-point scale ranging from (1) "Very dissatisfied" to (5) "Very satisfied."

The second outcome variable assessed the expatriate interns' level of learning about international business. This eight-item scale adapted from Feldman and Tompson (1993) included items such as: "I learned a lot about international business through this internship," and "I now know what the advantages and disadvantages of life as an expatriate are." Responses were made on a scale ranging from (1) "Strongly disagree" to (5) "Strongly agree."

The likelihood of receiving an employment offer from the internship company was assessed with two items. A sample item is: "How likely are you to receive an offer from your internship company for a permanent job after you graduate?". The likelihood of accepting an offer of employment from the internship company was also assessed with two items. A sample item is: "How likely are you to accept an offer from your internship company for a permanent job if such an offer is extended?". For both variables, responses were made on a scale ranging from (1) "Highly unlikely" to (5) "Highly likely."

Career instrumentality of the internship was measured with two items assessing respondents' beliefs about how beneficial the internship would be for their careers. A sample item is: "Overall, the internship will be good for my career." Responses were made on a scale ranging from (1) "Strongly disagree" to (5) "Strongly agree."

Control Variables

In all the regression analyses, we controlled for interns' prior international experience, prior work experience, age, and gender. As in other expatriate research, these variables were controlled so the effects of the current expatriate assignment could be assessed independent of previous international experience and demographic factors which might also influence interns' reactions to their internship experiences.

In addition to these control variables, we also used perceptual control variables when examining the effects of socialization on outcome variables. These perceptual data were collected two weeks before the interns departed for their overseas assignments. These control variables were utilized since prior expectations and satisfaction with their assignments might have some impact on interns' reactions to their assignments independent of the internship experiences themselves.

Specifically, perceptual control variables were used when examining three dependent variables: satisfaction with the internship, learning about international business, and career instrumentality of the internship. In each case, a pre-departure scale corresponding to the post-internship outcome measure was used. For example, a pre-departure measure of expected career instrumentality of the internship was used as a control variable when the dependent variable was the post-internship measure of career instrumentality of the internship. A sample item from this pre-departure scale is: "I expect to learn a lot about international business through this internship."

The alphas, means, and standard deviations for these pre-departure control variables are as follows: initial satisfaction with the internship assignment (alpha = 0.75, X = 4.24, SD = 0.87), expected learning about international business (alpha = 0.78, X = 3.28, SD = 0.68), and expected career instrumentality of the internship (alpha = 0.71, X = 4.07, SD = 0.56).

RESULTS

The first set of results examines the impact of the task characteristics and people processing strategies on socialization (see Table 2). Multiple regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses. As noted above, the impact of the independent variables (job characteristics or people processing strategies) were assessed after controlling for the interns' prior international experience, prior work experience, age, and gender.

Hypothesis 1 was strongly supported. Job autonomy was positively and significantly related to both aspects of socialization: initiation to the task and initiation to the group. Hypothesis 2 was not supported. Task identity was not significantly related to either aspect of socialization. Hypothesis 3 was partially supported. The extent to which the interns' jobs required frequent interaction with coworkers was positively and significantly related to initiation to the group but not significantly related to initiation to the task.

Examining the results of Hypotheses 1, 2, and 3 taken together, the job characteristics account for more variance in task mastery (14%) than in initiation to the group (8%). In addition, the amount of previous international experience the intern had (one of the control variables) was positively related to task mastery but not to initiation to the group.

Neither hypothesis on the "context" people processing tactics was supported. That is, neither collective (Hypothesis 4) nor formal (Hypothesis 5) people processing tactics were significantly related to either aspect of socialization. The hypotheses on the "content" aspects of the people processing strategies were partially supported. Specifically, Hypothesis 6 was strongly supported; the use of sequential people processing tactics was significantly related to both initiation to the task and initiation to the group. However, Hypothesis 7 was not supported; the use of fixed people processing tactics was not significantly related to either aspect of socialization. The two hypotheses on the "social" aspects of the people processing strategies were generally supported. Hypothesis 8 was strongly supported; the use of serial people processing tactics was significantly related to both initiation to the task and initiation to the group. Furthermore, Hypothesis 9 was partially supported; investiture was significantly related to initiation to the group (but not significantly related to initiation to the task).

Examining the results of Hypotheses 4 through 9 taken together, the people processing tactics account for 25% of the variance in explaining task mastery and 23% of the variance [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] in explaining initiation to the group. As above, the amount of previous international experience the intern had was positively related to task mastery but not to initiation to the group.

Multiple regression analyses were also used to examine the impact of the two aspects of socialization (initiation to the task and initiation to the group) on the outcome variables. As noted earlier, in these analyses, several control variables were entered into the equations along with the independent variables (see Table 3).

The results strongly support Hypothesis 10. Both task mastery and group initiation are significantly related to satisfaction with the internship, even after controlling for demographic characteristics, prior international experience, and pre-departure satisfaction with the internship.

Hypothesis 11 received partial support Task mastery is significantly related to learning about international business, but group initiation is not.

The same pattern of results occurs for Hypotheses 12, 13, and 14. Even after the control variables are entered, task mastery is significantly related to the likelihood of receiving a job offer from the internship company (H12), likelihood of accepting a job offer from the internship company (H13), and career instrumentality of the internship (H14). In each of these three cases, though, group initiation is not significantly related to the dependent variables.

Examining Hypotheses 10 through 14, the adjusted R-squares range from .32 for satisfaction with the internship down to .09 for likelihood of accepting a job offer from the internship company. Among the control variables, knowledge of international business at Time 1 was positively related to the amount of learning about international business at Time 2. Also, age and perceived instrumentality at Time 1 were positively related to the perceived career instrumentality of the internship at Time 2.

DISCUSSION

Implications for Future Research

Of the three internship job characteristics studied, two were significantly related to effective socialization (job autonomy and dealing with others). The third job characteristic (task identity) was not significantly related to socialization. One possible explanation for this result is that many expatriate interns did not have the opportunity to complete a whole project from beginning to end within a six-month period, so the variance on the independent variable is lower. Another possibility for this result is that while task identity is an important attribute of expatriate internships, it is not as critical to successful socialization as job autonomy and opportunities for dealing with others.

Of the six people processing tactics investigated, two were significantly related to both aspects of socialization, namely, sequential and serial socialization tactics. These results suggest that intern socialization programs which reduce uncertainty - either by giving new recruits concrete information about how the internship will unfold or by giving them constructive role models - contribute to more effective socialization. Given the shorter nature of internship socialization programs and the cultural (as well as work) adjustment interns had to undergo, people processing tactics that reduced uncertainty quickly were highly desired by newcomers.

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED]

The investiture people processing tactic was significantly related to initiation to the group but was not significantly related to initiation to the task. Perhaps not surprisingly, this people processing tactic is positively associated with new recruits' sense of belonging to the work group but does not directly influence their work skills and abilities.

Three of the six people processing tactics - formality of the training, the collective nature of the training, and fixed people processing tactics - were not significantly related to socialization. One possible explanation for these results is that because most organizations were only hiring one or two overseas interns at a time for temporary projects, most firms did not invest in elaborate or formal socialization programs. The low mean and standard deviation for the collective-individual item lends partial support for this idea.

The results strongly support the proposition that the effective socialization of expatriate interns to their tasks has a wide array of positive outcomes, even after controlling for numerous other factors. On the other hand, with the exception of the significant relationship between initiation to the group and satisfaction with the internship, initiation to the group is not significantly related to the outcome variables used in this study. This result may be due to the high correlation between the two socialization measures (r = .59) or it may be that task initiation is more critical than group initiation on short-term assignments.

Like almost all the research on internships to date, the present study relies on cross-sectional, self-report data. Much stronger inferences could be drawn from the results with longitudinal designs and with more archival measures of performance.

The present study used graduate students who were pursuing degrees in international business as a sample. In terms of sample size, this sample is as large or larger than most existing studies of interns. However, the results may not necessarily generalize to younger, undergraduate interns or to expatriates already in the workforce. In terms of heterogeneity of the sample, the participants in this study had internships in 23 countries, providing a much broader base of participants than previous studies. Nonetheless, there were not enough students in each country to provide stable results on cross-country or cross-culture experiences (Hofstede, 1980).

Two other measurement issues need to be addressed in future research. First, the measures of people processing tactics in this study were solo items and future research in this area would benefit from the use of reliable multi-item scales. The scales as proposed by Jones (1986) did not have high reliabilities and were not supported by a confirmatory factor analysis. Whether this is due to sampling characteristics (expatriate interns) or to a lack of conceptual distinction among some of these dimensions is not clear from the current data set.

Second, there was little variance among respondents' perceptions of the people processing tactics utilized, perhaps because many multinational corporations use similar procedures when handling overseas interns. Consequently, the results here have to be interpreted conservatively.

Implications for Management Practice

There are four important implications of the present study for the design and implementation of effective expatriate internship programs.

First, expatriate internships should be designed so that participants have an identifiable project, autonomy in carrying out their work, and plenty of opportunities to interact with supervisors, colleagues, and clients. Utilizing interns mainly to fill in for vacationing full-timers, assigning them unimportant or low-priority projects, and isolating them from the regular workforce does not create a positive expatriate internship experience.

Second, the results here highlight how important it is for firms to reduce uncertainty for newcomers into the workforce, especially when they are entering overseas assignments. All transitions into new jobs require newcomers to come to terms with the surprises and contrasts in their new environments (Van Maanen, 1978). However, when the newcomers are also making the transition from school to work and are entering foreign cultures as well, the amount of uncertainty can be overwhelming (Feldman and Tompson, 1995; Feldman and Weitz, 1990). The results here suggest that carefully sequenced training activities, coupled with the availability of good senior colleague role models, help reduce that uncertainty in constructive ways.

Third, many organizations can derive greater benefits from the use of expatriate interns than they currently do. Internships provide multinational corporations an ideal situation to identify future managers with both the skills and the interest in pursuing expatriate careers. Moreover, because many interns who are identified by corporations as potential hires have mutually positive impressions of their employers, the effective socialization of overseas interns may increase the organization's success in hiring desirable candidates (Harris, 1989; Zeira and Banai, 1987). In addition, should these interns accept permanent offers of employment, their entry as full-timers should be much quicker because their internships served as their "anticipatory socialization."

Finally, while overseas internship assignments and long-term expatriate assignments are very different in character, there may be some potential applications of these results for the management of expatriates more broadly. For example, the desire for senior role models suggests the particular usefulness of on-site mentors for new expatriates along with more pre-departure training (Heimann and Pittenger, 1996; Ragins, 1997). In addition, the results here suggest that while social activities may help new expatriates adjust interpersonally to their new colleagues and to the new culture, it is task assistance which is most vital in terms of yielding positive internship outcomes.

References

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Author:Feldman, Daniel C.; Folks, William R.; Turnley, William H.
Publication:Journal of Managerial Issues
Date:Dec 22, 1998
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