Anticipatory socialization and the influence of media on perceptions of international job assignments.

AuthorWilliams, B.E. 'Bernie'

    As the globalization process continues to unfold, more and more workers consider the possibility of seeking or accepting expatriate job assignments (Latta, 1999). Worker mobility has increased dramatically in recent years, and the rate of growth is projected to continue (Dollins, 1999). As this trend continues, there is a growing concern regarding the costs associated with expatriate employment, and particularly the costs associated with expatriate failures (Black and Gregersen, 1999). A number of researchers have theorized reasons for expatriate failures, and have developed prescriptive guidelines to help employers minimize costs, and to assist expatriate workers in adjusting to the many changes associated with relocating to a foreign country (Lee, 2007; Black and Gregersen, 1999; Hirschkorn, 1999; Harrison, 1994; Latta, 1999).

    The literature on expatriate failures, and antithetically on guidelines for success, has focused on a number of issues. Issues considered include compensation (Latta, 1999), career planning and career opportunities upon repatriation (Hauser, 1999), family adjustment strategies (Harvey, 1997), and the development of cross-cultural aptitude and awareness for employees and their families (Harrison, 1994). An area that has not been fully explored, however, is the area of socialization. Foundational research and theorizing on organizational socialization was developed in the late 1970's and early 1980's (Feldman, 1976; Van Maanen, 1977; Schein, 1978, Louis, 1980). More recently, in the international human resource management literature, it has been suggested that socialization in the host country can be a key factor in reducing expatriate turnover (Lueke and Svyantek, 2000).

    In this paper we make three key contributions that will aid in understanding the process of expatriate failures. First, we review the concept of anticipatory socialization and suggest that prevailing conceptualization do not pay sufficient attention to pre-employment factors and timeframes. Secondly, we explore the role that media plays in anticipatory socialization and point on the extent to which media portrayals and depictions may be inaccurate and misleading. Finally, we propose four different coping strategies and develop a matrix for understanding the effects and possible outcomes of the four strategies that may be used by expatriates who are faced with false expectations based on discrepant information.


    Feldman (1976) theorized that the socialization process typically involves a series of steps beginning with anticipatory socialization. He suggests that anticipatory socialization commences when a person starts to seek out or is recruited for a job. In considering the prospects of a particular job or working for a particular organization, job candidates begin to learn about the organization, the characteristics of the job, the demands and benefits of the job, and begin to visualize themselves in that position (Feldman, 1976).

    We suggested that the process of anticipatory socialization in fact begins long before a person consciously becomes a candidate for a job, or gives any consideration to a job, a career, or even the prospect of working. In the high-tech, multi media world we live in today, people are routinely bombarded with depictions, characterizations, and images of people, jobs, and organizations on an ongoing and continuous basis. Thus, many people enter the job market with well-developed preconceptions of what they are getting into. What is more important, however, is the inherent discrepancy that often exists between media portrayals and characterizations of jobs, and the reality of actual job content. This discrepancy is important, not only in terms of how it affects job candidates, but also how it influences the opinions and behaviours of human resource personnel involved in various aspects of the employment process including job classification, advertisement, recruitment, and selection.

    2.1 Media as a Conduit for Socialization

    From the very first time an infant or toddler is placed in front of a television set, exposure to media depictions of the world begins. And typically, this influence continues throughout a person's lifetime. From the point of view of expatriate success or expatriate adjustment, there are three important types of information that exposure to television provides: (1) information about professions, careers and jobs; (2) information about organizations; and (3) information about foreign countries.

    Television dramas, designed to entertain and attract viewers, show us many different depictions of various jobs. We see emergency workers, firefighters and paramedics, rushing to emergency scenes, saving lives and being involved in tense situations that are dangerous and exciting. We see law enforcement personnel chasing criminals, being involved in shoots-outs and solving complex and sophisticated premeditated crimes. We see lawyers involved in courtroom drama and office romances. We see accountants and stockbrokers living lavish lifestyles and being involved in complex financial transactions. And we see medical professionals, doctors and nurses, involved in complex emergencies involving life-saving interventions and complex surgical procedures. All of these television images provide the basis for people to form characterizations and perceptions of various jobs, as well as preferences and opinions regarding which jobs are interesting and desirable, and which are not.

    2.2 Information about Professions Careers and Jobs

    Television portrayals that are depicted in fictitious dramas are reinforced and supported by images shown on the evening news. The television news reports the fires, the car accidents, the shootings, the financial deals, the scandals, and the successes. Printed media depictions and stories in newspapers and magazines further reinforce these images. These images are also reinforced by Hollywood movies intended to provide entertainment and escapism. Movies such as Ladder 49 reinforce the image of the job characteristics of firefighters. Movies such as L.A. Confidential reinforce images of police officers. Movies such as The Firm reinforce the image of world of high finance, and movies such as The Rainmaker provide images of lawyers and insurance agents.

    More recently, and increasingly often, people also receive information about jobs from the Internet. The Internet provides a rich combination of information including written text, fixed images, video clips, music, and sound bites. This information medium often uses the generalized characterizations of job as a way to concisely package and display information. For example, the web sites for many fire departments use visual graphics of fires or fire trucks, and sound bites of sirens, as a method of signifying their identity ( Law enforcement agencies use a badge or a shield to symbolize their mission on their web sites ( Financial institutions utilize calculators (, and so on. Through the Internet there is a growing reliance on symbolism and the use of pictures, artifacts, and icons to depict particular jobs, occupations and employment groups.

    2.3 Information about Organizations

    The media also provides important information about organizations. Television may be used by organizations as a deliberate and direct method of providing information. This may take the form of advertising, sponsorship, or public service announcements. Information about a particular organization may also be disseminated in an indirect manner through news stories, or by reference or inference in television programs. This may be conscious and deliberate on the part of an organization or may...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT