Initial employability development: introducing a conceptual model integrating signalling and social exchange mechanisms

Jos Akkermans , Michael Tomlinson, Valerie Anderson

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This article develops a conceptual understanding of initial employability development, specifically the transition into first career destinations. Substantial previous research focuses on the role of individuals in ensuring employment readiness and continued employability development. Studies also identify the importance of employers for sustained employability. However, the interdependence and interaction between employers and individuals are under-theorized. We integrate social exchange theory and signalling theory to conceptualize initial employability development. We propose a cyclical model that comprises interactive and reciprocal signalling and social exchange processes between employers and individuals. The model overcomes the limitations of linear conceptualizations and one-sided models that theorize employability as either the outcome of human capital resources deployed by individuals or as managed by employers in employability development processes. We extend the processual approach to employability by redirecting theoretical attention to the interaction of signalling and social exchange as fundamental to employability development. We conclude by discussing implications in relation to employability research and theory development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology
Early online date6 Mar 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 6 Mar 2023


  • Employability
  • signalling theory
  • social exchange theory
  • careers
  • talent management

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