What happens before full-time employment? Internships as a mechanism of anticipatory socialization

Dailey, Stephanie Layne
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Every day, people seek organizations to join, work in companies, and leave firms; thus, scholars consider socialization a key construct in organizational communication and management. Research explains the socialization process in four stages—anticipatory socialization, encounter, metamorphosis, and exit—yet studies have paid disproportionate attention to “experiences after entry” (Bauer & Green, 1994, p. 221). This study sheds light on an understudied stage by examining the consequences of anticipatory socialization. Research has demonstrated the importance of prior experiences in the socialization process (e.g., Gibson & Papa, 2000), but scholars have yet to explore internships as a mechanism of anticipatory socialization that prepares people for full-time employment.

Whereas less than 3% of students held internships in 1980, 84% of current undergraduates have participated in internships (Kamenetz, 2006), and the number of post-college internships has increased from 5% in 1995 to 20% in 2002 (“Internships for all ages,” 2007). Despite this growth, scholars have yet to theoretically explore internships as a prior experience that fosters socialization. Some studies have used socialization as a framework to study how people adapt to internships, but this research has explored socialization within internships instead of as anticipatory socialization for future employment.

To fill this gap, I collected qualitative and quantitative data over 15 months: before people’s internships, after their internships, and upon full-time employment. Results from interview, observation, and questionnaire data suggest that participants learn about and adapt to organizations and vocations during their internships, but more importantly, internships may provide more realistic anticipatory socialization than other means of anticipatory socialization (e.g., recruitment, vocational messages). This study helps us reconsider the role that anticipatory socialization plays in work. Whereas previous research has described anticipatory socialization as a beneficial endeavor for prospective employees (Phillips, 1998), this study shows an unfavorable side of prior experiences. Internships showed interns and organizations exactly what full-time employment would be like, dissuading most interns or organizations (78%) to continue their relationship. Whereas traditional means of anticipatory socialization (e.g., recruitment, vocational messages) provide just enough of an introduction, internships may provide such an in-depth preview that they make applicants and organizations less desirable.