Resume Writing for Sociology Majors
What can you do with a degree in sociology?
This is one of the most common questions I get from students thinking about majoring in sociology, and also from those on the verge of graduation. Saying you can do just about anything may be true (I have written letters of recommendation for students to attend law school and medical school, do graduate work in sociology, social work, and criminal justice, as well as jobs in probation, drug abuse counseling, teaching, public relations…the list goes on) but it often doesn't help people who need career guidance.
Prospective employers are looking for specific strengths, and you should tailor your resume to highlight these strengths for each type of position. Don't make the mistake of having one resume filled with your experiences and expect whoever reads it to connect the dots. You need to do that for them.
One suggestion that I offer is to think about the classes you take (or have already taken) within the major; what skills do you build in these classes? Here is a partial list to give you an idea:
Statistics: you learn to analyze data, which is a core job skill in the twenty-first century. Maybe you are less comfortable with more advanced statistical computations, but feel comfortable interpreting descriptive statistics. This is something future employers might value highly, even if it doesn't seem directly related to a particular position you are applying for.
Even the ability to critically interpret statistics and locate data to address assumptions people might have about an issue is a skill, whether you are working for an advocacy organization, a government agency, or a corporation. Being able to explain the meaning of numbers to others is a valuable skill in any context.
If you used statistical software that is another skill (be sure to put all software that you have working familiarity with on your resume). Did you write a report using the data you calculated? That's another skill. Although many students enter statistics courses with dread, this class might be your most important for the job market!
Research methods: creating a survey, doing interviews, and doing field research are other great skills that will come in handy in many different types of jobs, even if conducting research isn't your main responsibility. Report writing comes in handy for many different types of jobs; even if you don't collect data yourself for your job, being able to write about research clearly and convincingly is a great tool to have, especially if you can analyze information and make recommendations based on the data.
You are also trained in ethical practices of dealing with human subjects, which can be applied to other contexts. If you applied for permission to do research through an Institutional Review Board (IRB), you have knowledge about the working procedures of complex organizations that might help you navigate other kinds of bureaucracies.
Courses about social institutions and organizations: whether you work for a small business or large corporation, understanding the way that organizations operate—and being able to think about ways that organizations may work better—is an important skill, one that you can learn as a sociology major. Being able to understand the big picture means being able to imagine another way of doing things, one that might work better for the organization's goal, employee productivity and job satisfaction.
Courses about gender, race, and social stratification: understanding patterns and processes that contribute to inequality are important in any workplace. Not only do you want to be sure that employees are free from a hostile workplace environment (that's the law), knowledge about race, class, and gender enables health care providers or social service agencies to understand the contexts through which people are more likely to become ill and less likely to be able to follow through on a plan of care, for instance. Understanding the unique circumstances in which people live will likely make you a better manager and co-worker.
Use these experiences in a "special skills" section on your resume, using simple, action-oriented words to describe your abilities. Here's an example:
- Data collection: surveys, interviews, and participant observation
- Data analysis, including descriptive statistics, correlation and regression
- Report writing based on original research and secondary data collection
Understanding of diversity dimensions including race, class, and gender
You might want to briefly specify the topics of papers you have written as part of your special skills and interests; after all, the point of research and writing is to develop deeper understanding of issues that are interesting to you. The knowledge that you gain from your papers might help you stand out in a sea of applicants for a position.
These are just a few examples of sociology courses that translate to real-world applications. What other courses and corresponding career skills come to mind?