Sociology Majors on the Job Market
If you are one of the many people seeking a job right now, you know that the market is pretty tight. With unemployment rates still close to ten percent nationally—and even higher in some areas—a job search can be pretty discouraging.
Some of you might not quite be at the job search stage, but find that you are really interested in sociology and wonder what kind of career it could lead to, aside from being a sociologist.
The American Sociological Association (ASA) published a report in January 2008 that details the jobs held by sociology majors who graduated three years prior. The largest proportion (26.5%) went on to have social service related jobs, while others became teachers, managers, or worked in sales or public relations. Some of my former students have also gone into the criminal justice field, advertising, law school, and medical school. According to the ASA study, of those reporting that their job was closely related to their major, 67.7% said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs.
In reality most undergraduate majors today do not necessarily provide clear vocational paths. Not all psychology majors become psychologists, not all business majors become entrepreneurs, and not all biology majors go on to medical school. Some people might be on a traditional career trajectory only to discover that they really don’t like the work it entails, so they change careers.
Sociology majors can leverage their unique expertise to be successful in many different kinds of careers. As you look for a job, it’s important to remember that you are your best asset; your skill set is only as attractive as your ability to market yourself. Each type of job will require different skills and experiences. For those of you who might not have a lengthy job history to draw from, you can use your resume to demonstrate how your sociology degree can enhance your qualifications. Here’s my advice for how to market the skills you learn earning a sociology degree:
- Emphasize your data collection skills
If you have taken a research methods class, chances are you have conducted your own research project. Think about what skills you developed in the process and translate them into resume language. Did you develop, distribute, and collect surveys? If you conducted interviews, you likely composed questions and learned to build rapport with others.
Potential employers will like to know that you can create a work plan and follow through with your plan systematically. They would also like to know if you work well with others. If you completed any group projects, you might emphasize your leadership, negotiation, and teamwork abilities.
- Emphasize your ability to analyze data
Along with collecting data, sociology students learn how to analyze information they collect. If you have taken statistics, you have developed tools that many employers will find useful. Knowing how to use a basic spreadsheet and do simple kinds of number crunching (calculating averages, graphing trends, creating charts) is very useful in many different industries. And if you are comfortable using software like SPSS or STATA that’s an added benefit (I have gotten several jobs and job offers for having these skills).
Sociology majors also learn to interpret information they collect. Even if a prospective job doesn’t require you to do any calculations, you can highlight your ability to interpret statistical findings. And if you are currently or will soon be taking a statistics class, pay close attention—what you learn there could be your edge in getting a job over someone who is afraid of numbers.
- Emphasize your familiarity with diversity issues
As the ASA report mentioned about notes, a large proportion of sociology majors go on to work in social service kinds of jobs. These kinds of jobs require an awareness of and sensitivity to many forms of diversity. If you have studied issues of social stratification, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration you can note you have familiarity with diversity issues. This is especially important if you apply for work in human resources or in any kind of service profession. Your awareness of cultural differences and the problems of ethnocentrism can set you apart from others without this background.
- Note how sociology promotes leadership skills
At its core, sociology is about the study of people in both large and small groups. If you have studied organizations, social psychology, urban sociology, or any other focus on group dynamics, you can emphasize how this training has prepared you for a management-track position (be patient--you might not get hired as a manager right away). Sociologists also learn to think critically. Learning about a variety of sociological theories, social problems, and social inequality gives you a background in how to consider a variety of different viewpoints, recognize, and solve problems.
As a job seeker, the burden is always on you to demonstrate how your unique skills and experiences can benefit a potential employer. Many people aren’t exactly sure what sociology is all about (I still have to remind some people that I’m not a psychologist), so it’s your responsibility to inform prospective employers what special skills sociology majors can bring to their work.
You might even create a section of your resume listing these skills—just as a good research report explicitly highlights its specific findings, you should clearly delineate how your sociology background will make you an outstanding employee.