American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
March/April 2016
Volume 
44
Issue 
3

Preparing for a 21st Century Job Hunt with a BA in Sociology

Jaime Hecht, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs

The transition from college to the working world can be daunting. Especially for sociology majors, many of whom hope to translate their education into meaningful work, the transition sometimes proves even more complicated. While the sociology major provides students with a variety of transferrable skills, it can leave room for interpretation on how the sociological skill set and sociological imagination can prepare students for successful and meaningful careers. Through resumes, cover letters, and interviews, sociology graduates can promote their critical thinking, research, and analytic skills, which can be applied to a wide range of positions. It is my hope that this article can serve as a primer for the 21st century job hunt, and help alleviate some of the anxiety that often arises as college comes to an end.

Do Some Research

The good news is that you can harness the skills you acquire in sociology and apply them to a variety of fields. To get an idea of the kind of jobs that are out there for sociology majors, look at research on what recent graduates are doing, such as the Bachelors and Beyond research series from the ASA Research Department). The brief, Jobs, Careers and Sociological Skills: The Early Employment Experiences of 2012 Sociology Majors (2015), reported that the largest number of sociology graduates were employed in social services or as counselors (21.9%). Interestingly, those employed in social services or as counselors were also more likely to report overall satisfaction in their careers. And those satisfied with their jobs report higher use and application of sociological concepts in their day-to-day duties.

While social service jobs may seem like a natural application for sociology students, the skills acquired with the degree provide a foundation for a variety of fields. Graduates have gone on to teaching positions, research, information technology, public relations, and sales and marketing roles (ASA 2015). The key is describing how your degree offers the skills employers want.
The task of actually searching for jobs can feel overwhelming. While everyone needs to log a certain amount of time searching online, there are other meaningful and effective ways you can learn about careers, secure interviews, and land rewarding jobs.

Online Job Boards

Most graduates begin their job search on online job boards. Idealist is a job board on which non-profit and non-governmental organizations post directly. Simply Hired and Indeed are Google-like job aggregators. They pull together postings from a wide variety of company websites, job boards, and newspapers.

Below are the results from searches I conducted on Idealist. The search terms listed here can serve as a starting point for your search.

job hunt table
Credit: 

The term “sociology” yielded very few results, which is why creativity is important when doing a job search. In a recent ASA Department Affiliates webinar, Loren Collins, a career advisor at Humboldt State University, shared the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) examples of the top 10 skills employers want. Some examples are communication skills, ability to work in a team, problem solving, organizational skills, and quantitative data analysis. By examining this list, it becomes clear that an applicant with a sociology degree holds many of the traits employers want.

The numbers of job postings drop significantly when you filter for entry-level positions. It is not a requirement to apply for an entry-level position right after college, so if you see other positions posted, consider applying. Draw on job experiences you had during college and skills you learned in your courses. Use any internships or service work as examples of job experience.

Experts in the field of recruitment and human resources say that job boards are a good way to gather information, but may not be the final portal to landing a satisfying job. That isn’t to say applicants don’t have success applying to a position directly from an online job posting, but that may be the exception and not the rule.

So what else can job boards help with? They can assist in learning about your field of interest. Do you dream of working as a social media manager for a nonprofit? Check out some of the job posts in this field. Getting a sense of the daily responsibilities of your ideal job will help you understand what would be expected of you, as well as offer some insight on the reality of the job. If you look at the job boards prior to being on the job market, you can begin to research some of the skills and qualifications needed for your ideal job and work toward gaining them before graduation. Do you see an organization with many openings? Explore their website. Try to find a person within the organization to contact directly with an application. Often job boards direct you to a generic inbox where applications can get lost in the shuffle.

I recommend finding an entry-level employee holding a position similar to one you want for yourself. Ask them for an informational interview. This informal meeting is a great way to learn about their personal experience, how they managed to land their job, and their day-to-day responsibilities.

Resources at Your Doorstep (or closer)

Networking is an important part of searching for a job. By reaching out to personal connections as well as using social media, you can increase your chances of learning about job openings, landing an interview, and receiving a job offer.

You should take advantage of the job search resources you have in your own backyard. If you are a current student, find out what career services your university or college offers. Talk to your department chair. I stress this point: use the free resources available on your campus. Ask about job training and internships and resume writing and interview workshops.

Talk to your professors about your interests and what you hope to do with your degree. It is possible they have a former student who now works for an agency aligned with a field of interest. Even if they don’t have a contact,  they could serve as a professional reference or write a recommendation for graduate school.

LinkedIn: Get on it! Networking is important and LinkedIn can serve as a starting point. I have spoken to individuals in management roles who report checking a candidate’s LinkedIn page as the first step in the applicant review process. It is also a good place to connect with individuals who work for organizations or fields that interest you. LinkedIn can also be an alternative when it’s difficult to make it to the “young professional” face-to-face happy hours, or if you live in a town that doesn’t offer them. When you set up your LinkedIn account be sure to join the ASA LinkedIn group.

Alumni associations: Most major cities have alumni association chapters. They often organize networking events. If you are on the job hunt it may make sense to attend some of these events. People  WHOhave gotten jobs with the help of alumni or other contacts may be willing to pay it forward.

Don’t Forget Why You Studied Sociology

A 2014 ASA "BA and Beyond" research brief revealed that applicants who put sociology-related skills on their resume, regardless of the level of mastery, felt more confident and received more job offers. The takeaway: Remember why sociology inspires you, be confident, and sell yourself. Your degree will get you in the door and then the rest is on the job training. Graduates are happy they chose sociology because its meaning and relevance goes beyond a career; it sets you up to be a critical thinker and a productive and contributing member of society. Good luck with your job search!

Additional Resources

  • 21st Century Careers with an Undergraduate Degree in Sociology. This popular booklet contains profiles of sociology graduates who are applying their degree in a variety of fields, as well as more tips for navigating today’s job market.
  • Nuts and Bolts of Applying for a Job with a Bachelors Degree in Sociology. Chairs in ASA Affiliate departments can access this webinar recording via the department portal. Gather a group of students together for a viewing.

Contact apap@asanet.org with any questions or comments.

Jaime Hecht has a BS in sociology from Florida State University and a MA in applied sociology from the University of Central Florida.

References

  • Senter, Mary Robert Spalter- Roth, Nicole Van Vooren. 2012. Social Capital, Organizational Capital, and the Job Market for New Sociology Graduates Survey. Washington, DC: Department of Research and Development on the Discipline and Profession, American Sociological Association.
  • Spalter-Roth, Nicole Van Vooren, Mary Senter. 2014. Recent Sociology Alumni: Would they Major Again. Washington, DC: Department of Research and Development on the Discipline and Profession, American Sociological Association.
  • American Sociological Association. 2013. 21st Century Careers with an Undergraduate Degree in Sociology. Washington, DC: Teaching Resources Center, American Sociological Association.