Developmental interactions for business students: do they make a difference?

Author:D'Abate, Caroline


Internships, mentoring, and collaborative projects are three forms of developmental interactions that students can use to acquire knowledge, gain advice, and get support to guide them through the transition to post-college life. The current research used data from undergraduate senior business majors and a cohort of alumni 3 to 5 years after graduation to examine the short-term and early career outcomes of such developmental experiences. The results suggest that, compared with not having developmental interaction experiences, (a) being mentored leads to more psychosocial support in the short-term and more career development, business knowledge, and psychosocial support once a student has graduated and is working for 3 to 5 years; (b) engaging in a collaborative student project leads to more career development, business knowledge, and psychosocial support; and (c) doing an internship results in more career development support, more job satisfaction, more career satisfaction, more organizational commitment, and faster promotion rates. These findings suggest that making multiple developmental interactions part of a management education curriculum can help students better prepare for the working world.


internship, mentor, developmental interaction, management education


Picture today's college student. Many are strapped with loans, anxious about finding a job in a recessionary economy, and, at the same time, eager to show the world what they can do. According to recent studies, these students (particularly undergraduates) are looking to mentors, their professors, and individuals in the marketplace for guidance, advice, skill development, and support. Current estimates suggest that about three out of four students (slightly more than 75%) complete internships before graduation; compared with about 1 in 36 students in 1980 (or 3%), this represents a significant shift in how students are preparing for the world of work that awaits them (Coco, 2000;, 2000). Mentoring, too, has been shown to enhance student knowledge, learning, and motivation--assisting in the academic-to-professional life transition, offering a way to develop skills for the real world, and opening doors to individuals who can help their careers (Barker & Pitts, 1997; Hezlett, 2005; Mehlman & Glickauf-Hughes, 1994; Mullen, 2008; Schlee, 2000; Smith, 2007; Sorrentino, 2006-2007; Soucy & Larose, 2000). Despite these findings, researchers suggest that there is limited data available on mentoring college students (McDonald, Erickson, Johnson, & Elder, 2007; Schlee, 2000) and that there is an increased call for the types of experiential learning that can come from out-of-class interactions with business people, real-world applied projects, and internships (Navarro, 2008).

BizEd, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business publication, has published numerous articles on the need for these types of experienced-based learning opportunities that mirror the workplace--ones in which business students can move beyond the classroom to interactively develop skills, perspective, understanding, knowledge, and savvy for the realities of the corporate world ("A Mentor Program," 2007; Bisoux, 2007, 2009; Gupta, 2005; Posner, 2008; "The Future is Now," 2008). Three ways that students can acquire such knowledge and gain needed advice and support to guide them through the transition to postcollege life is through relationships with mentors, internships, and applied projects where students work closely with a faculty member or on an actual real-world business problem as an unpaid, informal "consultant" to a firm or organization.

In essence, these experiences fall under the umbrella of developmental interactions, in other words relationships or experiences that push individuals to grow, that enhance learning or personal development, and that offer developmental support (Douglas & McCauley, 1999; Eddy, D'Abate, Tannenbaum, Givens-Skeaton, & Robinson, 2006; Reynolds & Brannick, 2009). Mentoring, tutoring, job coaching, apprenticeships, and action learning have been placed under this umbrella (D'Abate, Eddy, & Tannenbaum, 2003; Reynolds & Brannick, 2009), and it could be argued that internships, as well, provide similar developmental functions. According to Baugh and Scandura (1999), Higgins (2000), and Higgins and Kram (2001), individuals tend to rely on relationships with a network of multiple mentors or developers, instead of on a sole developmental relationship, to obtain a broad range of developmental functions including goal setting, problem solving, opportunities for practical application, teaching, collaborating, aiding, calming, confidence building, encouraging, supporting, counseling, introducing, and advocating (D'Abate et al., 2003).

The question that remains, however, is how valuable these developmental relationships are to today's college student. There is evidence to suggest that developmental interactions are valuable in the workplace. Mentoring, for example, has been shown to result in more career satisfaction and commitment, more job satisfaction, more organizational commitment, more promotions, higher compensation, and higher performance evaluations when comparing mentored with nonmentored individuals (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004; Underhill, 2006). Similarly, internships have been shown to result in more job offers, faster job offers, more employability, higher salaries, and more realistic expectations (Coco, 2000; Knouse & Fontenot, 2008; National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2007). Indeed, employment averages for graduating seniors hover around 30%, but increase to nearly 60% when looking at those who have held internships (Coco, 2000), and three quarters of employers report making more job offers to recent graduates with internships or similar applied academic projects (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2009). But how beneficial are these experiences in terms of the short-term outcomes to the student while in college, as well as in terms of the benefits found in the early stages of one's career? The current study set out to answer such questions. Specifically, do developmental interactions such as mentoring, internships, and collaborative projects have a substantial impact on a student's skill development, perceived support, and preparation for the real world? And do these developmental interactions result in measurable benefits (i.e., more job/ career satisfaction, more career/organizational commitment, faster promotion rates) once the students have graduated and are in the early stages of their career?

Relevant Literature and Hypotheses

Although confusion has surrounded the meaning of mentoring (Bozeman & Feeney, 2007; Campbell & Campbell, 1997; de Janasz & Sullivan, 2004; Gray, 1988; Harmon, 2006; R. E. Mayer, 2002; Merriam, 1983; Russell & Adams, 1997), in general, it is agreed that when career development, psychosocial support, role modeling, and skill development are provided to a less experienced individual from a more experienced individual, mentoring occurs. Mentors can operate in formal or informal ways, in group or one-on-one settings, face-to-face or at-a-distance, and as peers or superiors (D'Abate et al., 2003; de Janasz & Sullivan, 2004). Despite the various forms mentoring can take and the lack of consensus about its definition, scholars and practitioners agree that mentoring has the potential to provide a variety of functions. Falling into instrumental/career and psychosocial functions, mentoring includes direction and goal setting, guidance and advice, advocacy and sponsorship, transfer of knowledge and expertise, role modeling, protection and assistance, exposure and networking, socialization, coaching and motivation, and opportunities for learning and skill development (Bozeman & Feeney, 2007; Broadbridge, 1999; Burke & McKeen, 1997; Chao, 1997; Fowler & O'Gorman, 2005; Kram, 1983, 1985; McCauley & Young, 1993; Noe, 1988; Ostroff & Kozlowski, 1993; Sanchez, Bauer, & Paronto, 2006; Scandura, 1997; Scandura & Ragins, 1993; Scandura & Williams, 2001; Sosik & Godshalk, 2000; Tenenbaum, Crosby, & Gliner, 2001; Turban & Dougherty, 1994). Jacobi (1991) argues that "mentoring is a critical component of effective undergraduate education" (p. 505), and Walker and Taub (2001) advocate its importance at the beginning of college; yet, is its value in management education as clear, particularly in the context of transition from college to career?

Another developmental interaction examined in the current study is internships. Internships are "a natural bridge" (Coco, 2000, p. 41) from college to work, which place students in situations where they interact with coworkers and superiors in a work setting, complementing lessons from the classroom with practical real-world situations and resulting in knowledge, skill, and career development (Clark, 2003; Coco, 2000; D'Abate, Youndt, & Wenzel, 2009; Daugherty, 2000; Knouse, Tanner, & Harris, 1999; Raymond & McNabb, 1993; Wesley & Bickle, 2005). Taylor's (1988) work on internships examined their ability to establish work values, reduce the shock of the corporate world, and offer better job opportunities and found support for some of these outcomes. In addition, Knouse and Fontenot (2008) reviewed some of the benefits of internships, particularly those related to employment and career transitions, and offered a list of tips for making internships more effective. However, there is limited research on internships (Feldman & Weitz, 1990; Taylor, 1988), so this study sought to add to that body of knowledge by evaluating additional outcomes of internships, particularly ones in the early career stage.

The third developmental interaction examined in this study is labeled "collaborative student projects." As students work with faculty on senior theses, on collaborative (e.g., summer) projects, or on applied...

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