Careers in Sociology
Training in sociology provides students with a perspective on human development and social life that is an especially important part of a college education. Social theory and research methods provide the foundation for study in sociology. On this foundation, programs with electives can be built to meet the needs of students with different goals and interests. The research emphasis trains in data gathering, analysis, and report writing - these are valuable in many careers. In addition, an understanding of the relationships between individuals and groups can prove useful in everyday life as well as at work.
Students trained in sociology at California State University, Fresno have entered a wide variety of occupations. A few have become professional sociologists. While most professional sociologists teach at colleges and universities, an increasing number hold research, administration, or policy positions in a variety of settings. Many students have used sociology as a preparation for law or other professions such as social work, counseling, public health, library science, criminology, and public administration. Students who begin work immediately after completing a bachelor's degree in sociology usually enter careers in human services, administration/management in public or private agencies, or research in a variety of organizations.
Advice from the American Sociological Association
Sociology Majors, Before and After Graduation: Social Capital, Organizational Capital, and the Job Market for New Sociology Graduates (a longitudinal survey focused on job search strategies, including connections and contacts, used by the class of 2012, among other topics).
(The following narrative is from the ASA website.)
A Valuable Preparation
A degree in sociology is an excellent springboard for entering the world of business, industry, and organizations. The sociological perspective is crucial for working in today's multiethnic and multinational business environment
An undergraduate sociology major provides valuable insights into social factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, and social class that affect work and how organizations operate.
An advanced degree specializing in the sociology of work, occupations, labor, and organizations can lead to teaching, research, and applied roles.
Many applied fields are grounded in sociological theories and concepts. Sociological research influences the way we think about work and organizational life, and enables us to discover new knowledge. Sociology is a valuable preparation for careers in modern organizational settings.
Students who graduate with a B.A. or B.S. in sociology and enter the job market directly will find themselves competing with other liberal arts students, but with an advantage--knowledge of key social factors and a firm grasp on research design and methods. This advantage of the B.A. sociology program provides breadth and the potential for adaptability.
Although few occupations include "sociologist" in their title at the bachelor's level, the sociological perspective is excellent preparation for a wide variety of occupations. You should look for an entry-level job, gain experience through internships, and watch for opportunities of specialized training or advanced education.
If you are approaching graduation (or have recently graduated) and are seeking a job in the business world, focus on general areas of interest that motivate you. Sociology majors who are interested in organizational theory gravitate toward organizational planning, development, and training. Those who study the sociology of work and occupations may pursue careers in human resources management (personnel) and industrial relations. Students who especially enjoy research design, statistics, and data analysis seek positions in marketing, public relations, and organizational research. Courses in economic and political sociology, cultural diversity, racial and ethnic relations, and social conflict can lead to positions in international business.
Regardless of your career path, the breadth of your preparation as a liberal arts major is very important.
The Employer's Perspective
Corporate interviewers are looking for applicants who display purpose and commitment to their future occupation. This does not mean that B.A. graduates will be hired as industrial sociologists, but that applicants may be considered for junior positions in corporate research, human resources, management, sales, or public relations.
Interviewers will seek to determine if applicants can easily adapt to organizational life in the private sector. In particular, this means the ability to work well with others as part of a team. Employers value graduates who have a keen understanding of the impact of cultural, racial, and gender diversity in the workplace, and who comprehend the global nature of business and industry.
During the job search, B.A./B.S. sociology graduates should stress their work and internship experience, analytical skills, oral and written communication skills, computer literacy, and knowledge of statistics and research design.
Those who are determined to succeed will be at an advantage. Ambition, drive, and competition are positive words in the world of business and organizations.
Tips for the job search...
Acquire a broad educational background
Gain experience through jobs, internships, and volunteer work
Obtain skills in public speaking, writing, and computer applications
Focus on an area that interests you (for example., human resources, industrial relations, management, marketing, public relations, or sales) and learn as much as you can before applying for positions.
Career Preparation: Making the Most of an Undergraduate Major
Success in most careers depends upon both long-term career preparation and short-term responses to changing circumstances. It is virtually impossible for anyone to anticipate fully what lies five years ahead, much less ten, twenty, or thirty years. Yet, because sociology gives students a broad liberal arts preparation, it can be viewed as a solid base for many career paths. In addition, students who have developed a relatively clear idea of their preferred career path can shape their undergraduate curriculum accordingly. Furthermore, basic skills in research design, data analysis, and conceptualization of problems will help BA graduates compete for jobs across all sectors.
The Liberal Arts Advantage
(Note: The term “liberal arts” is used in the report as a description for majors in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.)
A bachelor's degree in sociology provides an excellent liberal arts foundation for embarking on the wide range of career paths that many liberal arts majors pursue. Your undergraduate training in sociology can open a variety of doors in business and the human services. Sociology majors who enter the business world work in sales, marketing, customer relations, or human resources. Those who enter human services work with youths at risk, the elderly, or people experiencing problems related to poverty, substance abuse, or the justice system.
When we ask sociology majors who are already employed outside academic settings to reflect on their education with the wisdom of hindsight, they value most highly their undergraduate courses in social research methods, statistics, and computer skills. These courses help make BA undergraduates marketable, especially in today's highly technical and data-oriented work environment. In addition, sociology majors develop analytical skills and the ability to understand issues within a "macro" or social structural perspective. Learning the process of critical thinking and how to bring evidence to bear in support of an argument is extremely important in a fast-changing job market.
Consequently, as a sociology BA, you have a competitive advantage in today's information society. The solid base you receive in understanding social change--as well as in research design, data analysis, statistics, theory, and sociological concepts--enables you to compete for support positions (such as program, administrative, or research assistant) in research, policy analysis, program evaluation, and countless other social science endeavors.
The well-educated sociology BA graduate acquires a sense of history, other cultures and times; the interconnectedness of social life; and different frameworks of thought. He or she is proficient at gathering information and putting it into perspective. Sociological training helps students bring breadth and depth of understanding to the workplace. A sociology graduate learns to think abstractly, formulate problems, ask appropriate questions, search for answers, analyze situations and data, organize material, write well, and make oral presentations that help others develop insight and make decisions. Sociology BA graduates have an advantage in understanding human behavior on three levels:
- how individuals behave in organizations, families, and communities;
- the ways in which these social units function as group; and
- the wider social, political, and economic contexts in which decisions are made and in which groups function.
Linking to Other Majors and Minors. You can amplify the power of your sociology major by taking a multidisciplinary approach. Employment analysts predict that the most successful people in the 21st century will be those who have been exposed to a wide variety of disciplines and have taken the time to study in some depth outside their field.
You can begin the process of multiplying your perspectives as an undergraduate major in sociology by planning a double major with criminal justice, economics, English, anthropology, a second language, political science, or education. Or, you can take a minor or concentration in computer science, business management, marketing, human services, law and society, social work, or pre-law--just to name a few possibilities. Work with your advisor to develop an integrated set of courses that will provide depth in one or more areas.
The Value of an Internship and Service Learning. Internships during or just after the undergraduate years offer invaluable experience that can bring to life the sociological concepts and theories you study in books and in the classroom. You can sample potential careers, build your resume, and learn new skills during a well-chosen internship experience. Participation in an internship affords an excellent way to explore career options and help determine what aspects of sociology interest you.
A wide range of internships is available to sociology graduates. Whether you enjoy working with families or learning more about statistical methods to track population growth, you can find an organization that will give you the opportunity to gain experience while you work toward their goals. Many agencies and institutions offer internships, and many colleges will provide college credits for internship experience. While some internships provide remuneration, many are unpaid. Remember that an internship will help pave the way to subsequent employment opportunities, so working without pay may well be worth your investment of time and energy in the long run. Data show that sociology students who take part in internships find it much easier to find employment later.
"S-designated courses," i.e., courses such as Soc1S or 130WS that include service-learning – volunteer work that is connected to the course topic – are also valuable for career testing and practical experience in applying sociological concepts, methods, and theories.
“Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight” (selected findings from How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fair in Employment by Debora Humphreys and Patrick Kelly, Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2014):
- At peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields. These data include all college graduates working full-time, including those with only a baccalaureate degree and those with both a baccalaureate and graduate or professional degree.
- Unemployment Rates are Low for Liberal Arts Graduates—and Decline over Time
- More than 9.6 million individuals hold a baccalaureate degree in a humanities or social sciences field, and nearly 4 million of these individuals (about 40 percent) also hold a graduate or professional degree. These graduates with advanced degrees experience, on average, a yearly boost in earnings of nearly $20,000.
- 93% of employers agree that candidates' demonstrated capacity to THINK CRITICALLY, COMMUNICATE CLEARLY, and SOLVE COMPLEX PROBLEMS is more important than their undergraduate major.
- 86% of employers agree that "All students should have direct learning experiences working with others to solve problems important in their communities."
- 96% of employers agree that it is "fairly important" or "very important" that "our employees have ethical judgment and integrity" and are "comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds."
SOCIOLOGY helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as intellectual and practical skills that span all areas of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.