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Career Development International

Developmental networks and professional identity: a longitudinal study


Shoshana R. Dobrow Monica C. Higgins
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Shoshana R. Dobrow Monica C. Higgins, (2005),"Developmental networks and professional identity: a
longitudinal study", Career Development International, Vol. 10 Iss 6/7 pp. 567 - 583
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Developmental
Developmental networks and networks
professional identity:
a longitudinal study
567
Shoshana R. Dobrow and Monica C. Higgins
Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA Received 5 February 2005
Revised 26 May 2005
Accepted 19 June 2005
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Abstract
Purpose This paper seeks to examine the relationship between individuals developmental
mentoring networks and a subjective career outcome, clarity of professional identity. How
developmental network characteristics are related to professional identity over time is explored.
Design/methodology/approach This is a three-wave, longitudinal survey study, covering a
five-year span (1996-2001). The participants (n 136), full-time MBA students at the inception of the
study, provided complete developmental network data on each survey. The relationships between
clarity of professional identity and three different measures of developmental network density were
explored: early-career density; general density; and density dynamics (e.g. the change in density over
time).
Findings Developmental network density, which reflects the professional identity exploration
process, is negatively related to clarity of professional identity.
Research limitations/implications The study is limited by the use of graduating MBA students
from a single, top-20 business school as participants.
Practical implications The findings suggest that people might be able to improve their careers
through changing their developmental networks, particularly during their early-career years.
Originality/value This paper provides novel insights to the mentoring, identity, and careers
literatures. Given the previously uncharted territory of understanding the dynamics of developmental
networks and its relationship to career outcomes, this study opens avenues for future research, while
also answering questions about developmental networks and the ways they function over time.
Keywords Mentoring, Career development, Careers
Paper type Research paper

Introduction
One of the most important functions of mentoring is the cultivation of professional
identity (Kram, 1985). Yet the extent to which developmental relationships enhance the
clarity of peoples professional identity has not been examined. Consistent with recent
conceptualizations of the mentoring support individuals receive during their careers,
this paper focuses not just on dyads of mentoring support but on networks of
developmental relationships (Higgins and Kram, 2001; Seibert et al., 2001).
Careers researchers have begun to examine the effects of developmental networks
on a variety of career outcomes (Higgins, 2001; Higgins and Thomas, 2001; van
Emmerik, 2004). However, the dynamic nature of developmental networks has not been Career Development International
Vol. 10 No. 6/7, 2005
examined, and accordingly, the role that an evolving developmental network may play pp. 567-583
in enhancing the clarity of professional identity remains unexplored. This paper begins q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1362-0436
to address this gap by studying developmental network structures over time and the DOI 10.1108/13620430510620629
CDI relationship between these network dynamics and one important subjective career
10,6/7 outcome, clarity of professional identity.
In the challenging career context of the new economy, it is critical that researchers
develop a solid understanding of identity, particularly professional identity, and the
factors that influence its development. Research has suggested that people develop
their professional identities through the exploration of multiple selves, relationships, or
568 organizations (e.g. Hall et al., 1997; Ibarra, 1999; Kram, 1996). This view is consistent
with Arthur and Rousseaus (1996) notion of boundaryless careers (see Sullivan, 1999,
for a review). Compared to traditional organizational settings, boundaryless career
environments act as weaker situations (Bell and Staw, 1989; Weick, 1996), thus
allowing individuals identities to serve as a key force in shaping their careers. Further,
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as recent work suggests, in order for people to successfully realize their career potential
in the current career context, it is imperative to develop two metacompetencies:
self-knowledge or identity awareness and adaptability; only with adequate identity
awareness can this adaptability be utilized appropriately (Hall, 2002).
Professional identity development, such as through the exploration of possible new
identities (Ibarra, 1999) or self-awareness processes (Hall, 2002), occurs over the course of
time. Given that developmental networks deal with professional and psychosocial
support in the context of careers, which by definition unfold over time, the element of
time necessarily plays a key role. Thus, understanding the linkages between professional
identity development and developmental networks necessitates a longitudinal view of
their changes or stability over time, rather than taking a snapshot view of an individuals
network and professional identity at a single point in time. Yet research has not
examined how developmental network dynamics might relate to professional identity
development. In part, this dearth of research stems from methodological constraints,
such as the difficulty of studying both individuals and their networks over time. The
majority of social network research centers on the consequences of existing network
structures and/or employs cross-sectional designs (e.g. Burt, 1992; Burt and Minor, 1983;
Granovetter, 1973; Higgins, 2001; van Emmerik, 2004).
The present research addresses these issues with a unique, longitudinal dataset of
individuals developmental networks. During the five-year timeframe of the study, the
participants made the transition from graduate school into the workforce and spent
several years working. This context allowed us to capture the most important phase of
professional identity development, the early-career years (Ibarra, 1999; Schein, 1978),
and so, examine the relationship between individuals developmental networks and
their professional identities. Thus, the research presented here addresses the following
question: how are developmental network characteristics related to professional
identity over time?

Theoretical background and hypotheses


Developmental networks
Traditionally, mentoring has been viewed as occurring between two people, a junior and
senior person within a single organization. Recent work in this area has broadened this
conceptualization of mentoring. Higgins and Kram (2001) put forth the developmental
network perspective that suggests that individuals gather both professional and
psychosocial support from a number of people who may be connected to one another.
Thus, individuals receive career and psychosocial support from the set of people a
protege names as taking an active interest in and action to advance his or her career by Developmental
providing developmental assistance (Higgins and Kram, 2001, p. 268), rather than networks
necessarily from one focal mentor. Multiple mentoring relationships can occur across
hierarchical levels, including superiors, peers, and subordinates, as well as within and
outside of the organizational context (de Janasz et al., 2003; Higgins and Kram, 2001;
Higgins and Thomas, 2001). Recent research has shed light on the relationship between
multiple mentors and work satisfaction (van Emmerik, 2004), intentions to remain with a 569
firm, organizational retention and promotion (Higgins and Thomas, 2001), career success
(de Janasz et al., 2003), protege attitudes toward the work setting (Baugh and Scandura,
1999), and the decision to change careers (Higgins, 2001).
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Professional identity
Organizational researchers have increasingly paid attention to the importance of career
or professional identity defined as the relatively stable and enduring constellation
of attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences in terms of which people define
themselves in a professional role (Ibarra, 1999, pp. 764-765; Schein, 1978) for
achieving both objective and subjective success (Hall, 2002; Ibarra, 1999). Traditional
adult development researchers (e.g. Levinson et al., 1978; Super, 1957; Super et al., 1996)
suggested that people proceed through a fixed path of alternating stages and
transitions. Accordingly, in this view, the development of professional identities occurs
as a natural byproduct of a progression through each career phase.
In contrast to this passive notion of identity development, more recent career
research has found that people actively develop their identities through acquiring the
ability to process feedback about the self and achieve self-awareness (Hall, 2002) and
through improving their capacity to interact with the complexities of their
environments (Kegan, 1982; Kegan, 1994). A key example of this new line of careers
research is Ibarras idea that people construct their professional identity by first
experimenting with trial identities, or provisional selves, before fully developing
their professional identities (Ibarra, 1999). In her discussion of the individual and
situational antecedents of identity development, Ibarra calls for empirical,
organizational research that investigates the connections between networks and
identity (Ibarra, 1999; Ibarra, 2003). The present research aims to address this need.

Professional identity exploration and developmental network density


Developmental networks may provide a key means by which people can explore their
possible selves and construct their professional identities. Specifically, the mutual
trust, interdependence, and reciprocity that characterize relationships in the
developmental network (Higgins and Kram, 2001, Kram, 1996) offer a powerful
medium for reflecting and shaping the proteges professional identity (Cooley, 1902;
Goffman, 1959; Mead, 1934; Swann, 1987). Ibarra noted that identity adaptation and
change are most likely to occur during career transitions (Ibarra, 1999), such as during
the transition from school to work or between jobs. Thus, career transitions are a prime
opportunity for developmental networks to have a significant impact on a proteges
professional identity development.
Research suggests that professional identity development may be influenced by the
variety of assistance individuals receive in their careers. For example, Ibarra (1999)
proposed that individuals who have a greater variety of role models gain a broader
CDI repertoire of possible selves. Having a broad repertoire enables individuals to engage
10,6/7 in tasks that can increase their likelihood of successful professional adaptation,
including developing a professional identity that suits their present context. The
breadth of the repertoire of possible selves that people have at their disposal is affected
by numerous individual and situational antecedents (Ibarra, 1999). In addition,
research has demonstrated that diversity in developmental mentors is associated with
570 increased career-related cognitive flexibility and career change (Higgins, 2001). This
further suggests that the amount of variety in individuals developmental networks
enables increased exploration of ones professional identity.
Therefore, as successful professional identity exploration and adaptation occurs,
individuals should develop a clearer sense of their professional identity. When
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individuals are clear about their professional identity, they are clear about the
enduring constellation of attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences in terms
of which [they] define themselves in a professional role (Ibarra, 1999; Schein, 1978).
This clarity reflects a cognitive awareness of what ones core professional identity is,
regardless of whether the individual knows how to translate this identity into action or
not. The following quote, from a person about to make the school-to-work transition,
highlights a clear sense of professional identity around being in real estate, even
though the pragmatic plans for how to enact this identity are not articulated:
Although I am positive that I would like to have a career in real estate . . . [t]raditionally, it has
been difficult to enter and to exit the real estate industry. Now is the perfect time to
strengthen my experience in the industry. My professional history clearly points in the
direction of real estate.
At the other end of the spectrum, an unclear sense of professional identity is
exemplified by a lack of understanding, and so, confusion about ones professional
identity. The following quote portrays an unclear sense of professional identity, along
with the heightened anxiety surrounding taking action in light of this identity
confusion:
Im having a hard time narrowing my focus into a specific role. I am considering jobs in
marketing for lifestyle companies like media, entertainment, fashion, or cosmetics . . . or
working in the arts so that I can have enough free time to continue my work on [my
entrepreneurial venture] . . . or at an auction house . . . or in new product development within a
creative company. I know I want to be at a place where I can learn and grow, but Im very
nervous about taking the first step and winding up going in the wrong direction.
These quotes echo Ibarras (1999) notion that professional identity reflects individuals
perceptions regarding a professional role. In this paper, we propose that the extent of
clarity regarding ones professional identity will be related to the variety of support one
receives from developmental others.
In social networks research, variety within a network is represented by the notion of
network diversity. According to this view, a critical attribute of an individuals
network is the degree to which it provides access to different kinds of resources and
information. In particular, the more diverse ones network, the greater ones access to
non-redundant resources and information (Burt, 1992; Burt and Minor, 1983;
Granovetter, 1973). Network diversity is generally conceptualized either as: network
range, the number of social systems from which the network members come; or
network density, the extent to which the members of the network know and/or are
connected to one another (Brass, 1995; Burt and Minor, 1983; Higgins and Kram, 2001; Developmental
Krackhardt, 1994). networks
Developmental network range and density are exemplified as follows: in a
high-range developmental network, developers would be drawn from multiple social
contexts, such as from an employer, an educational institution, a professional
association, and a community organization, whereas a low-range developmental
network would consist of developers coming from a single context, such as all from the 571
employment setting. In a high-density developmental network, developers would know
one another, whereas a low-density developmental network would consist of
developers who do not know one another. Both range and density tap into the degree of
redundancy in the network (Brass, 1995; Burt and Minor, 1983). The greater the range
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or the lower the density of the developmental network, the less redundant the network
is and the greater the access to important information (Higgins, 2001; Higgins and
Kram, 2001). In the present research, we employ density as our conceptualization of
developmental network diversity. We chose to focus on density, rather than range,
because of the precedent set by prior social network research (Wasserman and Faust,
1994).
Developmental network density and the breadth of ones repertoire of provisional
selves fulfill similar functions in the development of professional identity. By
providing access to non-redundant, career-related information, both low-density and
hence high-breadth of repertoire networks facilitate professional identity exploration.
Thus, we expect that our focus on developmental network density provides insight into
professional identity exploration.

Hypotheses: developmental network density and professional identity


Ibarra proposed that the greater the variety of role models, the greater the opportunity
for increased self-knowledge (Ibarra, 1999). A developmental network of highly varied
mentors consists of members who do not know one another. In density terms, this
example translates into in a low density network. At the other end of the spectrum, a
narrow group of mentors in which all members know one another is a high density
network. Prior research suggests that greater diversity of developmental network
structures is associated with greater variety in information and resources as well as
greater cognitive flexibility (Higgins, 2001), which should enhance an individuals
professional identity exploration. Thus, since, as Ibarra (1999) suggested, exploration
leads to enhanced understanding of ones professional identity, overall, we expect that
the relationship between developmental network density and clarity of professional
identity will be negative.
In this study, we examine several aspects of the time and timing of developmental
network density as it relates to professional identity clarity. First, H1 investigates the
relationship between early-career density levels and professional identity clarity
several years into ones career. As previously argued, we expect to find a negative
relationship, such that:
H1. Early-career density is negatively related to clarity of professional identity.
Early-career density represents a snapshot view of individuals developmental
network density at the beginning of their careers. In addition, we explore the
relationship between general density or the density level that characterizes a broader
CDI timeframe of ones early career and clarity of professional identity. In line with prior
arguments, here, too, we expect to find a negative relationship:
10,6/7
H2. General density is negatively related to clarity of professional identity.
Finally, we examine a third view of density, density dynamics, and its relationship to
clarity of professional identity. The importance of understanding identity as the
572 product of an unfolding, dynamic process has been highlighted by careers researchers,
including Halls recent depiction of the relationship between self-awareness, identity,
and leader development (Hall, 2004). More generally, careers researchers have
proclaimed the need for understanding the evolution of career phenomena over time
through longitudinal methods (e.g. Barley, 1989; Hall, 2002).
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Examining how change in density relates to clarity of professional identity provides


some insight into the professional identity exploration process. If the density of an
individuals developmental network increases, such that the network is becoming more
insular, this indicates that the exploration process is diminishing, yielding, we expect, a
decreased sense of clarity with respect to professional identity. In contrast, if density
decreases, such that the network is broadening, this reflects a greater engagement in
the exploration process and so, should lead to increased clarity of professional identity.
Hence, we hypothesize the following:
H3. Density dynamics are negatively related to clarity of professional identity,
such that a positive change in density (e.g. density is increasing over time) is
associated with a decrease in clarity of professional identity and such that a
negative change in density (e.g. density is decreasing over time) is associated
with an increase in clarity of professional identity.

Methods
Sample and procedures
Participants in this three-wave, longitudinal study were students from a top-20, East
Coast, full-time MBA program. The first survey was administered during the spring of
1996, the peak career search and decision-making period for this group of individuals.
After extensive survey development, including open-ended interviews and surveys
and pilot testing, the final version of the first survey in the longitudinal study was
administered in March 1996.
The 136 participants in study, all from the MBA class of 1996, were solicited
through two different methods. One MBA section of 87 students was invited to
participate (n 67, 77 percent response rate) and 300 randomly selected students were
mailed a survey (n 69, 23 percent response rate). There were no statistically
significant differences found with respect to any of the main variables of interest
between these two subsets of participants, and they were thus pooled into a total of 136
initial participants (50 percent response rate). Of this sample, 28 percent were women,
34 percent were non-US citizens, 32 percent were married, and 24 percent had one or
more graduate degrees when they entered business school. The average age of the
respondents was 27 years (SD 2:23), and their average full-time work experience
was 3.85 years (SD 1:84).
The second data collection in this longitudinal study occurred two years after the
initial data collection, in Spring 1998 (n 108, 78 percent response rate). The final
survey was completed in 2001 (n 87, 63 percent response rate). These second and
third surveys, which were sent to participants by mail, consisted of repeated measures Developmental
from the initial survey, including measures of participants developmental networks, networks
and questions about up-to-date employment information. No significant differences
between those who did and those who did not return these surveys were found along
any of the main variables of interest, including developmental network characteristics.

Developmental network measures


573
The name-generator device used in this study asked respondents to list those people
who currently (i.e. at some time over the last year) [took] an active interest in and
concerted action to advance [their] career[s] . . . [and who] may assist [them] in personal
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and professional development. Consistent with recent research that has encouraged
researchers to examine both extraorganizational as well as intraorganizational helping
relationships (Higgins and Thomas, 2001; Thomas and Higgins, 1996), respondents
were given clear instructions to think broadly when they named individuals,
including those they work or have worked with, friends, or family members. On
average, participants identified four people in their developmental networks, which is
consistent with prior content-specific network research (Podolny and Baron, 1997). In
total, detailed information was collected on 583 relationships.
Developmental network diversity: density. On the surveys, participants filled out a
complete network chart. For each possible pair of people in the network, participants
indicated whether the members of the pair knew one another or not. Consistent with
social networks research, density was calculated as the number of these knowing ties
divided by the number of possible ties in the entire developmental network (Anderson
et al., 1999).

Clarity of professional identity measure


We measured clarity of professional identity on both the second and third surveys in
this longitudinal study. Measuring this construct at the end of the study (survey 3)
allows us to view it as an outcome of the developmental network dynamics that
occurred in the years preceding this measurement, while also controlling for
professional identity in the previous time period (survey 2). Four items were used to
measure clarity of professional identity:
(1) I have developed a clear career and professional identity.
(2) I am still searching for my career and professional identity (reverse coded).
(3) I know who I am, professionally and in my career.
(4) I do not yet know what my career and professional identity is (reverse coded).

These items were rated on a seven-point agreement scale, where 1 strongly disagree,
4 neutral, and 7 strongly agree. These items reflect previous theory and research
on identity (Markus and Nurius, 1986; Yost et al., 1992).
The clarity of professional identity scale items were subjected to psychometric
analyses to establish internal consistency reliability and discriminant validity from
other career outcomes scales. The internal consistency reliabilities (Cronbachs alpha)
for the four items was 0.90 on both survey 2 and survey 3. These values are well above
the threshold of acceptability for scale consistency (Rosenthal and Rosnow, 1991).
CDI Discriminant validity analyses examined whether the clarity of professional
10,6/7 identity scale could be differentiated from three other potentially related scales
measured in survey 3:
(1) Career planning (e.g. I have a strategy for achieving my career goals).
(2) Career self-efficacy (e.g. I believe that I can do what I need to do in order to
make my career successful).
574
(3) Perceptions of career success (e.g. rating how successful my career has been
on a scale of not at all to completely).

The internal consistency reliabilities for these scales were all acceptable (0.94, 0.82, and
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0.76, respectively), as were our discriminant validity analyses. In sum, these


psychometric analyses showed that the clarity of professional identity scale was both
internally consistent and distinct from other subjective outcomes, the latter two of
which may reflect more general affective assessments regarding ones career and
prospects.

Statistical analysis
To investigate the longitudinal relationship between developmental network dynamics
and professional identity, we utilized multiple regression models. The models for
testing H1, H2, and H3 included the following identical elements: the dependent
variable was professional identity at time 3 and independent variables included
professional identity at time 2 and controls for gender, years of work experience, age,
self-esteem (items based upon Rosenbergs (1965) scale), and post-MBA job industry
(dummy variables for working in the financial services industry and the consulting
industry). The model to test H1, which addresses the relationship between early-career
developmental network density and professional identity, includes the measure of
developmental network density at time 1 as the key predictor of interest. The model to
test H2, which addresses the relationship between general developmental network
density and professional identity, includes a measure of the average density at time 1
and time 2 as the key predictor of interest. Lastly, the model to test H3, which
addresses the relationship between developmental network density dynamics and
professional identity, includes a difference score between density at time 1 and time 2
as the key predictor of interest.

Results
Descriptive statistics for the control variables in these analyses are reported in Table I.
Of all the control variables included in the analyses, the only significant predictor of
clarity of professional identity was post-MBA job industry; in our H3 model, the
dummy variable for financial services was significantly and positively associated with
clarity of professional identity (b 0:70, p 0:03) (see Table II).

Clarity of professional identity


The four-item scale of clarity of professional identity, measured on the time 3 survey,
served as the dependent variable in the multiple regression analyses for H1, H2, and
H3. On the seven-point scale, the mean clarity of professional identity score was 4.69
(SD 1:36, n 76). Thus, on average, the research participants felt a slight degree of
professional identity clarity after they had been out of graduate school for about five
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X SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
a
1. Gender 0.26 0.44
2. Self-esteemb 6.05 0.89 0.05
3. Years of work experience (prior to
MBA) 3.75 1.55 2 0.33 * * 2 0.15
4. Age 27.78 2.14 2 0.15 2 0.17 0.65 * *
5. Post-MBA job industry: financial
servicesc 0.30 0.46 0.00 0.06 20.10 2 0.11
6. Post-MBA job industry: consultingd 0.32 0.47 2 0.02 0.03 0.02 0.02 2 0.45 * *
7. Clarity of professional identity at
Time 2 4.00 1.50 2 0.01 0.39 * * 20.03 0.09 0.17 20.13
8. Clarity of professional identity at
Time 3 4.69 1.36 2 0.12 0.24 * 0.08 0.11 0.18 20.07 0.64 * *
9. Early career developmental network
densitye 0.56 0.31 2 0.14 0.10 0.05 0.01 0.03 20.04 0.04 20.06
10. General developmental network
densityf 0.62 0.23 2 0.05 0.17 20.03 2 0.04 0.16 0.05 0.01 20.16 0.81 * *
11. Developmental network dynamicsg 0.11 0.36 0.18 0.04 20.12 2 0.06 0.16 0.13 2 0.05 20.09 20.66 * * 2 0.10
Notes: *p , 0.05, * *p , 0.01, * * *p , 0.001; n 76, the subset of the 136 participants who provided full responses across all three timepoints of data
collection; a0 male, 1 female; b1 lowest self-esteem, 7 highest self-esteem; c1 in financial services industry (n 23), 0 not in financial
services industry (n 53); d1 in consulting industry (n 24), 0 not in consulting industry (n 52); eDensity at time 1; fAverage of density at time 1
and density at time 2; gDifference between density at time 2 and density at time 1
networks
Developmental

correlations
Means, standard
deviations, and
575

Table I.
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CDI

576
10,6/7

Table II.

H3: the effects of

identity at time 3
Multiple regression

density variables on
clarity of professional
developmental network
models for H1, H2, and
Hypothesis 1 Hypothesis 2 Hypothesis 3
Parameter Standard Parameter Standard Parameter Standard
estimate error estimate error estimate error

Intercept 2.46 2.30 2.54 2.23 2.45 2.22

Control variables
Gendera 2 0.40 0.30 2 0.38 0.28 2 0.32 0.29
Self-esteemb 0.00 0.16 0.05 0.16 0.06 0.16
Years of work experience (prior to MBA) 0.09 0.11 0.08 0.10 0.07 0.10
Age 2 0.01 0.08 0.00 0.08 0.00 0.08
Post-MBA job industry: financial servicesc 0.44 0.31 0.59 0.30 0.70 0.32
Post-MBA job industry: consultingd 0.24 0.31 0.35 * * * * 0.30 0.44 * 0.31
Clarity of professional identity at time 2 0.57 * * * 0.10 0.55 * * * 0.09 0.54 * * * 0.09

Developmental network density variables


Early career developmental network
densitye 2 0.69 * * * * 0.42 2 1.60 * * 0.55
General developmental network densityf 2 1.49 * * 0.54
Developmental network dynamicsg 2 1.22 * 0.50

R-square 0.44 0.48 0.48


Adjusted R-square 0.38 0.41 0.42
Notes: *p , 0.05, * *p , 0.01, * * *p , 0.001; * * * *p # 0.10; n 76, the subset of the 136 participants who provided full responses across all three
time-points of data collection; a0 male, 1 female; b1 lowest self-esteem, 7 highest self-esteem; c1 in financial services industry (n 23),
0 not in financial services industry (n 53); d1 in consulting industry (n 24), 0 not in consulting industry (n 52); eDensity at time 1; fAverage
of density at time 1 and density at time 2; gDifference between density at time 2 and density at time 1
years. The mean of clarity of professional identity at time 2, which was used as a Developmental
control variable in these analyses, was 4.00 (SD 1:50, n 76). Overall, there was a networks
statistically significant increase in professional identity clarity from time 2 to time 3
(M 0:69, SD 1:22, t 4:94, p , 0:0001).

Hypothesis 1
The first hypothesis examined early developmental network density as a predictor of 577
clarity of professional identity. The mean for early-career density was 0.56, and the
standard deviation was 0.31, thus demonstrating that there was variance in
early-career density across the participants in the study. We found weak, not
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statistically significant evidence for H1. Still, the results were in the predicted direction
(b 20:69, p 0:10). This result provides weak and only suggestive evidence that
the denser ones early-career developmental network, the less clear ones professional
identity several years later.

Hypothesis 2
The second hypothesis focused on general developmental network density (the
average of time 1 and time 2 density) as a predictor of clarity of professional identity.
The mean for general density was 0.62 (SD 0:23). This standard deviation again
reflects the variance that exists in the participants general density levels. There was a
statistically significant and negative relationship between general density and clarity
of professional identity five years later (b 20:49, p 0:008). Therefore, H2 was
supported.

Hypothesis 3
The third hypothesis tested whether developmental network dynamics, as measured
by a difference score between time 1 and time 2 density, predict clarity of professional
identity. The mean of 0.11 (SD 0:36) for this difference score shows that on average,
density increased from time 1 to time 2. Here, we found a statistically significant and
negative relationship between density dynamics and clarity of professional identity
five years later (b 21:22, p 0:02), controlling for initial density levels. The
negative coefficient on the parameter estimate indicates that as the difference score
increases (e.g. as density increases from time 1 to time 2), clarity of professional
identity decreases. Thus, we found significant evidence to support H3.
In sum, the pattern of results is consistent across all three of these hypotheses: as
density increases, clarity of professional identity decreases.

Discussion
Recent research has broadened traditional views of both mentoring and professional
identity development. These new views, as exemplified by Higgins and Krams (2001)
conceptualization of developmental networks and Ibarras (1999) notion of provisional
selves, offer fascinating theoretical frameworks for approaching their respective topics.
However, there has been no work to investigate the links between developmental
networks and professional identity development. Furthermore, there has been a call for
research that lends insight into the longitudinal nature of career-related phenomena
(e.g. Barley, 1989; Hall, 2002). The present research engages in these lines of inquiry by
CDI investigating how developmental network characteristics relate to professional
10,6/7 identity over time using a unique longitudinal context.
The longitudinal study presented here began when the participants were
second-year MBA students and followed them through the subsequent five years of
their careers. Regarding the relationship with professional identity, we found that as
developmental network density increased, suggesting less access to valuable,
578 non-redundant resources, clarity of professional identity decreased. Specifically, our
analyses showed a statistically significant and negative relationship between both
general career density levels and density dynamics with clarity of professional identity
several years later.
This study offers an important first glimpse into the uncharted territory of the
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longitudinal impact of developmental networks. In particular, since our longitudinal


study spans our participants transition from graduate school into the first few years of
work, we gained insight into a critical, formative time period for professional identity
exploration: the early-career stage (Ibarra, 1999; Schein, 1978). Further, our study
makes a significant contribution through its focus on an interesting, but under-studied,
subjective career outcome, clarity of professional identity.

Implications for theory


This study contributes to two main lines of research. The first is research on
mentoring, and in particular, developmental networks, a relatively new perspective in
mentoring research. Our underlying assumption that people construct their
identities through their developmental networks constitutes a relational perspective,
consistent with recent career theory (Hall et al., 1996). We know little about the
dynamics of identity development through the cultivation of important relationships
over time.
Our research advances the understanding of developmental mentoring networks
through examining these networks connection with a salient career outcome. Whereas
previous research has attempted to measure developmental networks and career
outcomes either simultaneously (on the same survey) (e.g. Higgins, 2001; Higgins and
Thomas, 2001; van Emmerik, 2004) or across two time points (Higgins and Thomas,
2001), this is, to our knowledge, the first empirical study that includes three time points
of data. This amount of data allowed us the flexibility to examine network
characteristics from time 1 alone (early-career density), the average of time 1 and
time 2 (general career density), and the change between time 1 and time 2 (density
dynamics) as predictors of our outcome, clarity of professional identity, at time 3,
controlling for this outcome at time 2. While our study cannot proclaim a causal link
between increasing developmental network density and decreasing clarity of
professional identity, our methods provide a much more rigorous initial step toward
examining this question than pre-existing studies.
Additional research that examines why and how developmental networks change
over time would lend insight into the dynamics of network structures, an area that
remains open to future research. Furthermore, research that explores the content of
help provided by developmental relationships along with developmental network
structures would lend further insight into the proposed linkages between
developmental network structures and identity development suggested here.
The second research stream to which our research contributes is professional Developmental
identity development. In particular, our work builds on Ibarras notion of provisional networks
selves (Ibarra, 1999) by proposing that developmental network density is an indicator
of ones breadth of professional role models. This breadth, or lack thereof, may
represent the degree of ones opportunity for professional identity exploration through
ones developmental network. The negative relationships we found between
developmental network density and clarity of professional identity is in line with 579
our conjecture that increased professional identity exploration is reflected in increased
clarity of professional identity at a later point in time. Our research identifies that the
link between developmental network density and clarity of professional identity exists,
and encourages future research to examine underlying mechanisms, such as identity
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exploration, suggested here.


In the present study, we focused on clarity of professional identity, but did not
account for the multiple dimensions that might comprise an individuals identity (e.g.
Deaux, 1996). For example, given Ibarras definition (Ibarra, 1999) that professional
identity centers around understanding ones roles at work, then while one may have a
clear sense of ones professional identity (e.g. as an academic), ones various roles (e.g.
as a researcher, teacher, practitioner) could comprise several different dimensions of a
clear sense of professional identity. Future research that empirically investigates how
clarity of professional identity and dimensionality of professional identity are related
could provide a more rich and nuanced view of how developmental network structures
influence the evolution of professional identity over time.
At a broader level, our focus on professional identity builds on the recent trend in
careers research to examine subjective career outcomes. Beginning their work in the
late 1930s to 1950s, the pioneers of career theory known as the Chicago School
developed the notion that careers comprise both objective and subjective elements (e.g.
Hughes, 1937). In spite of this early, broad vision of careers, recent careers research has
been limited in scope. For instance, Arthur and Rousseau found that of the careers
articles published in major interdisciplinary journals between 1980 and 1994, more
than 75 percent focused on objective perspectives (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996). Within
the last several years, there has been a call for research that includes not only a
subjective viewpoint of careers (e.g. Barley, 1989; Derr and Laurent, 1989; Hall, 2002),
but also the extension of career research beyond the confines of a particular
organization (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996; Higgins, 2005; Sullivan, 1999). Thus, the
present research contributes to careers research by exploring a subjective element of
careers, clarity of professional identity, which transcends organizational boundaries.

Limitations
As unusual as our dataset is, in terms of its longitudinal measurement of complete
developmental networks, the present study is limited by our use of graduating MBA
students from a single elite business school as our participants. Given the relative
homogeneity of this population in terms of education and profession, we might have
expected individuals density dynamics to be strikingly similar to one another. We
found just the opposite, however: not only was there variance in peoples early-career
density levels, but there was also variance in peoples density dynamics. Still, future
studies with other populations are warranted.
CDI Second, although we explored the structure of developmental networks, we did not
10,6/7 examine the exact content of the help that was provided to the protege nor the
help-giving interactions. Given this, we were not able to discern the actual processes
through which developmental network density affects professional identity
exploration. Such an investigation would advance the present research.

580
Implications for practice
This research takes a first step toward painting a picture of developmental networks
over time, and thus offers several practical implications. While much remains to be
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understood about both why developmental networks change as they do and the
relationship between developmental networks and a wide range of career outcomes, the
fact that they do change and that we find a relationship between network density and
clarity of professional identity offers the prospect that people might be able to improve
their careers through changing their developmental networks.
This opportunity for intervention may be most striking during the early phases of
peoples careers. Our finding that general density is significantly associated with
clarity of professional identity supports the overarching notion that beginnings are
critical (e.g. Gersick, 1988; Lieberman, 1956). Building on the idea that less density in a
network is associated with greater access to important, non-redundant resources and
information (e.g. Burt, 1992), the present study provides additional support for
advising young people to strive for diversity in their developmental networks. Not only
can this diversity improve short-term outcomes, as described in previous research (e.g.
Higgins, 2001; Higgins and Thomas, 2001; van Emmerik, 2004), but it can also lead to
improved long-term outcomes, as our findings suggest.
At the same time, it is important to note that there may be substantial benefits to
having other kinds of developmental network structures. For example, and related to
work that has stressed the strength of strong ties (Krackhardt, 1992), the possibility
remains that benefits may be derived from dense, more homogeneous developmental
networks, such as the receipt of social support. Such an avenue also remains open for
future research.

Conclusion
In summary, this study presents the results of a unique, longitudinal study of
developmental networks and their relationship to a subjective career outcome, clarity
of professional identity. We found that developmental network density, which we
suggest reflects the professional identity exploration process, is negatively related to
clarity of professional identity. This research provides novel insights to the mentoring
and careers literatures. Given the previously uncharted territory of understanding the
dynamics of developmental networks and its relationship to career outcomes, our
study opens up avenues for future research, while also answering questions about
developmental networks and the ways they function over time. It is our hope that
future research will build upon the present study to examine how and why
developmental networks evolve, and the impact of this evolution on multiple aspects of
individuals careers.
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