What supported and constrained my career development?

What is social capital?

The story shows that my career pathways were determined by a wide range of internal and external factors, although the importance of these factors varied at different stages. Of the different employability capitals, I found ‘social networks’ played a significant role in helping me enhance my personal qualities and make important decisions in choosing the best career pathways. Social capital refers to social relationships and networks with family, peers, higher educational institutions, and social organizations that graduates are able to use to access the labour market (Tomlinson, 2017). It is noted that graduates from lower and marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds are disadvantaged in this area and often have to use more economic capital to enrich their social network (Robertson & Dale, 2013; Tomlinson, 2017). The connection between such relationships and employment outcomes has been discussed in various studies about migrants and international students and returnees (Blackmore, Gribble, & Rahimi, 2017; Li, 2013; Popadiuk & Arthur, 2014; Ryan, 2011). However, the significance of each network varies among the groups depending on their contextual backgrounds. For migrants, connections with people in co- or similar-ethnic groups appears significant with respect tolearning about the host country’s labour market and extending of networks and job opportunities (Ryan & Mulholland, 2014; Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2003). Relationships with relatives and authorities were found to help returnees in many Asian countries (i.c. China, Vietnam) navigate barriers in the home labour market (Li, 2013; Pham & Saito, 2019). Popadiuk and Arthur (2014) reported the importance of developing relationships with supervisors and mentors with respect to the career opportunities of international students.

There has also been evidence of negative employment outcomes that social networks can bring to migrants and international graduates. For instance, Pham, Tomlinson and Thompson (2019) found that international students often faced a severe shortage of cultural capital and soft skills at the workplace which is often attributed to their attachments to co- and similar-ethnic communities. This led to slow career progression and unexpected well-being problems due to stress and isolation from host-country networks. In this study, the authors also discussed how migrants positioned themselves within their social networks to determine their employment opportunities. They evidenced several participants enduring career interruptions only because they were afraid of losing their ‘image’ if they accepted a downgraded job.

In my case, social networks, especially relationships with ‘significant others’, did not happen by chance. Instead, all relationships that helped me with decisions in choosing career pathways were built and nurtured based on other capitals like human, social, cultural, psychological, and identity capitals as described by Tomlinson (2017). Possessing a package of these capitals is important, but it is more crucial for graduates to interlink them in effective ways so that employers could see that they can ‘work smart but not work hard’ - now a very popular workplace concept.

In the following section I will discuss how I developed effective social networks based on other capitals and then utilized it to facilitate my career development.

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