Career Options

Why Study Sociology?

Students and their parents often ask, "What can you do with a major sociology? If that question is not asked before becoming a major in sociology, it surely is a question as seniors begin their search for a job after graduation. In the pages that follow, we offer you many insights, suggestions, and tips about pursuing a career.

There are many job opportunities for BA graduates in Sociology. The following ideas do not exhaust the possibilities:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Business and Non-profit Organizations--advertising, marketing, consumer research, insurance, real estate, personnel work or training.
  • Community Work--fund raising, social service organizations, child-cared agencies.
  • Corrections--probation, parole or other criminal justice work.
  • Colleges and Universities--admissions, alumni relations, placement.
  • Publishing, computer work and public relations.
  • Federal, state and local government jobs--in such areas as transportation, housing, education, agriculture and labor relations.
  • Go on to graduate work to teach or do research in sociology and get higher degrees in other areas such as social work, education (teach sociology to kids), public health, business administration and urban planning, not to mention law, medicine and divinity school.

For more information on these and other career ideas write to ASA; request the ASA Publications brochure and/or pamphlets on careers for BAs (see Career Resources below).

Job Hunting Hints for Undergraduate Sociology Majors

  • Since an advanced degree is usually required before calling oneself a "sociologist," most undergraduate majors use their training in pursuit of other occupations. How does one find out about these other occupations? Here are some hints.
  • First, become thoroughly familiar with the placement services at the College. Make sure reference forms are put on file, filled out by professors or employers. Do this in your senior year -- even if you are not going to work right away.
  • Prepare a proper resume.
  • Locate local private and public employment agencies.
  • Prepare a file of public social service agencies--use the phone book to begin, follow up with United Way literature.
  • Try to get volunteer jobs before graduation to open up opportunities.
  • Contact hospitals (mental, general, veterans). Contact Halfway Houses (prisoners, users, JD's, etc.).
  • Search out opportunities in: personnel work, labor relations, race and ethnic relations agencies, sales, business administration, public relations, advertising, journalism, marketing, public opinion, public action, research organizations.
  • Federal jobs--Request announcements and applications for Federal Service Entrance Examinations from U.S. Civil Service Commission or one of its regional offices (U.S. Civil Service Commission, Washington, D.C. 204l5).

Inquire about or consult:

  • Federal Career Directory--a Guide to College Students
  • The "Management Intern Option"
  • If you find an agency that appears interesting, contact it directly to find out what examinations are necessary.

Most federal jobs are filled from registers on which candidates are placed as a result of qualifying on a Civil Service examination. These should be taken quite a time BEFORE graduation.

A Few More Job Hunting Hints

Many job openings are not listed in newspaper classified ads, and you should follow other leads from Career Services, employment offices, professional associations, Civil Service newsletters at local libraries, etc. However, do follow the classified newspaper ads daily to get an edge on the competition. Watch out for "no experience necessary" ads, since they often signal low wages and poor working conditions. Don't give up. The jobs are out there, but you do have to "beat the bushes" to find the one that suits you. And remember, your first job is an entry level job, one that later opens up better jobs. Don't expect everything at once.

"There's no such things as being too prepared for a job interview."

by Eli Amdur

Expect interviewers to ask questions falling into five broad categories: questions about you, your job search situation, your work, your abilities and experience, and hypothetical questions.

Though you can never be prepared for every question you'll ever get, you can understand the types of questions, and decide how you'll answer them when they come up. Most interview questions are not easy. Be prepared to answer them forthrightly, honestly, and with conviction, and answer them without delay or uncertainty, a sure way to "shoot yourself in the foot."

Your most important consideration clearly is to tie your answer to what will make you succeed in the job for which you're applying. Here are some of the most frequently asked "tough questions." Expect one or more of them every time you interview, so start preparing.

Questions about you. "Why do you want to work for us?" How do you handle change?" "Do you perform well under pressure?" "What motivates you-money, authority, or recognition?" Answer questions about yourself with short, positive answers that tie your motives to what the interviewer sees as reasons you'll succeed for that company. You might answer you want to work for them because, as you found out in your research, it is a progressive company that values team players and that's how you view yourself. Or, when change is necessary, you try to collaborate with your peers and your boss to assess it, create a plan to deal with it, and then carry out that plan with the team.

Questions about your job search situation. By far the most common question in this category is, "Why are you looking for a new job?" Assuming you're not unemployed, your response should be something like, "I'm doing well in my current position, but I'm looking for challenges that are not available at my company. I've grown significantly in the past [year(s)] and I've always performed better and contributed more to my company's performance when the organization was growing. From my viewpoint, your company looks like a place where that might happen."

Questions about your work. "What do you like most (least) about your present job?" Do you prefer to work with others or alone?" "With what kind of supervisor do you work best?" Any of these questions could be a trap. For instance, if you state you work best alone, and they're looking for team players, you just shot yourself in the foot. A better answer would be, "I'm a self starter and work well independently when needed, but I'm a very supportive team player." You're not waffling here; on the contrary, your are just displaying multiple abilities. Also, don't pick one kind of supervisor or another with whom you work best (hands-on or laissez faire) because you don't know which one the interviewer is. If you describe ideal characteristics to which any boss aspires, you'll be better off. Here's an example: "Management styles can very, but I'm most productive when I help reach those goals." No possible problem there.

Questions about your abilities and experience. "What are your strengths?" What are your weaknesses?" "Talk about strengths in a modest but confident way, don't brag. If you're interviewing for a sales position, talk about your persistence in prospecting, your energy, and your ability to solve customer's problems. In more general terms, talk about strengths such as honesty, skill sets - communication, interpersonal - that are important to the job, and ability to work well within a team. As far as weaknesses, discuss those things that you have been improving, but do it in a forward-looking way. "I've felt like I needed to improve my time-management skills, so I've been working on those over the past few years, and I think I've really improved them."

Hypothetical questions. "How would you handle the following situation?" This is usually followed by something specific about their company. Don't fall into the trap of diagnosing and offering a solution right on the spot because you'll probably fall short, and your decision-making process will appear weak.

Try, instead, to show how you think and how you work. Rather than address the specific situation about which you do not know enough, describe the general process you would use to solve a problem. For example: "I would get the input of those involved, especially those who have had similar experiences, and use any other resource I can gather, to determine the best course of action. I'd monitor the results and make any adjustments as needed." In short, answer hypothetical questions with general answers.

There is no such thing as being too prepared for any interview, and that includes anticipating questions, preparing good answers, practicing them so they are smooth (not recited), and then being comfortable when you encounter them.

Although you may be incredibly intelligent, you still have to talk someone into hiring you. So before you interview for a job, be prepared to answer some personal questions.

  • Research the position in order to give the interviewer solid reasons why you're good for the job, and to demonstrate that you are already knowledgeable about their operation.
  • Think about your weak points and how you plan to improve them. They may want to know this.
  • Have a specific job in mind, but be willing to take a lesser job with a opportunity for advancement.

Q: Why did you major in sociology?
A: This job requires me to have social skills, to relate well to people--customers, co-workers, and superiors. Sociology has given me a strong base in behavioral science, to understand why and how people behave as they do. You can teach me the specifics of this particular job, but my sociology studies have already prepared me to work with people.

Q: Where do you see yourself 5 or l0 years from now?
A: Here you should be honest, telling of your long-range goals. Employers like ambitious applicants, those who have their sights set higher. This shows them you are a go-getter, willing to work hard, assume responsibility, and move ahead. Be prepared to give a good answer within the context of the job area to which you are applying.

Tips for Resume Writing

A resume gives employers their first impression of you. It lists your education and past work experience, which is very important. A well-written resume can open the door for your first interview.

  • Don't use slang.
  • Have someone else proofread it for grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos.
  • Keep it to one page.
  • Summarize all of your qualifications for the job in the first paragraph.
  • Give the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and occupations of at least three references, but let them know first.  


Emphasize your Skills

Dr. William R. Brown, University of Central Florida, did research about careers for sociology students. He asked employers to list skills they would want in students as potential employees. His list concentrated on non-methodological skills because those are easier to identify and develop. What other skills might a sociology major foster? Some of the more important skills are the following:

  • Ability to clearly conceptualize realistic problems
  • Ability to communicate effectively in work situations
  • Skills in writing manuals and reports
  • Competence in setting goals/objectives
  • Ability to use various problem solving techniques (how to achieve goals)
  • Ability to plan organizational projects
  • Evaluations of programs and projects
  • Developing team work skills among work group members
  • Designing new projects/programs
  • Effective speaking skills


Career Resources Help You Be Competitive

The Professional Development Program is a wealth of resources on careers in sociology. Many of the items (single copies) are free with a self-addressed stamped envelope. For a complete catalogue, write to the American Sociological Association, 1307 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005 (202-383-9005). Here are the items that might be of special interest:

  • Careers in Sociology provides a description of the various careers available in sociology and offers an understanding of the scope of sociology and its areas of specialization.

  • Career Possibilities for Sociology Graduates answers "what do you do with a sociology major?" Delineates job titles of sociologists currently employed by industry, government, and non-profit groups. Separate lists for the BA, MA, and Ph.D degrees.

  • Majoring in Sociology: A Guide for Students is designed for high school and undergraduate students seeking information about how to apply to college and secure a degree in sociology, what programs are offered in sociology departments, how and where to seek employment information, and what the areas of specialty are.

  • The Sociology Major as Preparation for Careers in Business provides information on the options available to sociology majors interested in pursuing careers in business or industry. Includes sections on the roles of practitioners and academics, job prospects and post-BA education. Advice for the student interested in practicing sociology in the context of a business career.

  • How to Join the Federal Workforce and Advance Your Sociological Career describes advantages of Federal employment. Gives tips on the formal and informal processes in finding employment in the Federal government well suited to one's skills.

  • Embarking Upon a Career with an Undergraduate Sociology Major is designed for undergraduate sociology majors seeking employment. It highlights those sociological skills that are valued in the eyes of employers. Tips on resume writing and interviewing. $3.50

  • Mastering the Job Market: Using Graduate Training in Sociology for Careers in Applied Settings provides tips on how graduate students can find employment in the public and private sectors. Includes discussion of interest and skills how to identify appropriate jobs, informal interviewing, resumes and employment interviews. $3.50

  • The Industrial Sociologist as Teacher and Practitioner: A Career Bulletin for Graduate Students describes in detail the career options available to sociologists with a special interest in industrial relations and the sociology of business. Roles of teachers, trainers, consultants, mediators, divisional staff, owners and managers are described. Aimed at under graduate students planning graduate work in industrial sociology. $4.00