Social Networks and Careers

Social_Networks_and_Careers“, Forthcoming in Social Networks at Work, D.J. Brass and S.P. Borgatti (eds.) S.I.O.P. Frontiers Book Series.

Social networks affect a range of career outcomes including job search, promotion and wage determination. Networks also affect major career transitions, including entry into entrepreneurship and exit into retirement. Across a range of studies, individuals are found to use their networks to deal with two perennial problems they face in labor markets and organizations: the scarcity of information and the absence of trust. I review the literature with an eye towards understanding which features of a person’s networks help them solve these problems at different career stages. I conclude by considering how the rising importance of information technology will affect the networks-career link moving forward.

The lives and deaths of jobs: Technical interdependence and survival in a job structure

Organization Science26(6), 1665-1681

(with John-Paul Ferguson and Rembrand Koning)

Prior work has considered the properties of individual jobs that make them more or less likely to survive in organizations. Yet little research examines how a job’s position within a larger job structure affects its life chances and thus the evolution of the larger job structure over time. In this article, we explore the impact of technical interdependence on the dynamics of job structures. We argue that jobs that are more enmeshed in a job structure through these interdependencies are more likely to survive. We test our theory on a quarter century of personnel and job description data for the nonacademic staff of one of America’s largest public universities. Our results provide support for our key hypotheses: jobs that are more enmeshed in clusters of technical interdependence are less likely to die. At the same time, being part of such a cluster means that a job is more vulnerable if its neighbors disappear. And the “protection” of technical interdependence is contingent: it does not hold in the face of strategic change or other organizational restructurings. We offer implications of our analyses for research in organizational performance, careers, and labor markets.

Specialization and career dynamics: Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service

Administrative Science Quarterly58(2), 233-256.

(with John-Paul Ferguson)

In this article, we attempt to resolve the tension between two conflicting views on the role of specialization in workers’ careers. Some scholars argue that specialization is a net benefit that allows workers to get ahead, while others argue that broad experience across several domains is the only way to be truly exceptional. We use rich longitudinal data from 1974 to 2008 on the careers of Indian Administrative Service officers, members of the Republic of India’s elite bureaucratic service, to test both these hypotheses. We find that specialization benefits officers throughout their career. We distinguish between skill-based and signal-based mechanisms that relate specialization to promotion, by exploring the match (or lack thereof) between the skills officers acquire and the jobs to which they are promoted, and we find that both mechanisms operate, but at different points in the career. Specialization is rewarded later in …