What Skills Do Sociology Students Acquire?
What are my Career Options?
Interviews conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) with several major corporations and small businesses confirm that employers look for the following skills when they screen entry-level candidates. Many of these are skills that sociology graduates should have acquired at least to some extent. These are functional skills and can be transferred from one setting to another:
Communication skills, or the ability to express yourself in both verbal and written form. Employers are looking for people who are "comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas in clear, concise, and meaningful language." If you have written term papers, given class reports, or participated in group projects, you can state that you have developed and refined your communication skills.
Interpersonal skills, including the ability to share leadership and responsibility, work cooperatively, and get along with co-workers. Employers seek graduates who can work on task forces and self-managed task teams, but are also capable of initiating ideas and pursuing a project independently. Many organizations stress a consumer-oriented approach that involves "people who will be good at networking and affiliating."
Leadership skills, or the ability to influence people. Being able to recruit and motivate others toward their top performance is a plus. Leadership includes "tenacity, flexibility, tolerance for risk-taking, and the ability to function well in undefined situations." Employers value those who help other employees adapt to changing priorities within an organization and who can anticipate change."
Analytical skills, particularly problem-solving ability and sharp, critical thinking. These skills are a plus for all kinds of duties and projects.
Statistics and research design, especially for in-house research. Organizations value an employee who can work with others to define a problem or research question, design a study to find answers, design the appropriate instruments, code and analyze the data, report (orally and in writing) on the findings, and make recommendations based on the findings. Being able to conceptualize a project from inception to conclusion is the key.
Computer literacy, including familiarity with word processing, data analysis, and graphics. Most organizations will train you on their own systems--what they really want is employees who are not computer-shy.
Cross-cultural understanding, especially regarding racial, ethnic, and gender differences in values, perceptions, and approaches to work. Employers need workers who can understand and operate within the context of cultural and other diversities. According to several executives interviewed by ASA, corporations increasingly seek employees "who hold a global perspective and have a high degree of intercultural awareness and more sensitivity in race relations". A global outlook is valued: "We need people who are free of traditional stereotypes."
Business sense, especially in combination with technical training and good interpersonal skills. Employers need employees who have "business savvy" and knowledge of advanced quality processes and general principles of performance management.
In addition, the desires to achieve, work hard, and function ethically are increasingly held by employers as important attributes.
In addition to basic functional skills as listed above, a sociology B.A. provides more specialized transferable skills that can be highlighted in your resume. For example:
Classical and Contemporary Theory courses provide training in analytical thought and tighten your grasp on central sociological concepts and theories.
Statistics, Applied Sociology, and computer-based Social Data Analysis courses contribute to your ability to conceptualize problems and develop research strategies. Such courses help prepare you for working in government research offices, public opinion polling agencies, marketing firms and other research or program development settings.
Group Process, Social Psychology or Social Structure courses increase your understanding of team dynamics and informal organization; they also help you develop such interpersonal attributes as empathy and tolerance toward diversity in interpersonal styles and group roles.
Social Problems courses contribute broadly to many careers, as they address the most critical issues facing North American society today, including crime, substance abuse, violence against women, poverty, homelessness, and AIDS.
Minority Groups and Race Relations courses help to develop a keen understanding the complexities of diversity in modern society. This will benefit you generally in any position and specifically if you are seeking employment in the human resources department of a firm or agency with a multiracial work force and/or a multicultural clientele, or plan to work in ethnically diverse communities.
Urban Sociology, Community Sociology, and Sociology of Education courses can be put to good use in an urban planning agency or working with youth.
Criminology, Sociology of Law, Women and Justice, Sociology of Adolescence, Crime and Criminal Justice offer valuable preparation for jobs in agencies that deal with criminal justice, probation, parole, juvenile delinquency, gangs, crime statistics, and policing.
Other areas: If you are planning a career in business, it might be advantageous to supplement your sociology courses with a few courses in economics, management, marketing, accounting, and so forth. Computer science courses are also useful, especially if they enhance your data analysis skills. If you are interested in a career in the social service sector, a few psychology courses can be an asset. Political science is useful if you are considering a career in public administration.
(Reference: American Sociological Association)
In defining your skills, remember that quality is more important than quantity. Do not spend time worrying about whether your skills are varied enough. Effectively highlight those you have. It is worthwhile to be inventive in describing your skills, but never misrepresent yourself. Above all, do not leave it up to prospective employers to define the virtues of a sociology background. Tell them in detail, by clearly spelling out your skills and knowledge areas. For example, if you have taken courses in Social Research Methods or participated in research projects, you can state that you have acquired analytical skills as a result.
For help in defining your skills, developing a resume and writing cover letters, use the resources available to you at the Career Services Center. Be sure to check their workshop schedule.