Sheila M Katz
August 26, 2013
... or career-related presentations.
Watson (1982) surveyed employers about whether they would employ sociology graduates, and most responded positively but indicated that they would use sociology majors more in people management positions than for their research skills. Zipp also observes that in a recent study of the learning outcomes that employers wish that graduates with a bachelor’s degree have more emphasis on, skills such as written and oral communication, connecting actions to ethical decisions, critical thinking, awareness of global issues, among others (Hart Research Associates 2010), and “perhaps of no surprise to sociologists, overlaps almost completely with what is covered in a typical sociology undergraduate degree” (Zipp 2012:309). Zipp might be referring to the research done by the American Sociological Association in the Bachelors and Beyond research project (Spatler-Roth, Senter, Stone, and Wood 2010). The top eight skills that sociology majors graduating with a Bachelor’s degree are all found on the Hart Research Associates list of learning outcomes for all majors. However, in many cases sociology faculty do not overtly raise students’ awareness of these learning objects in their courses. I find in my own teaching, that when I ask students what they have learned in their sociology courses, their focus is almost always on content instead of also the more general critical thinking and professional development skills that I know is also the emphasis of many of their courses. Therefore, I think that it is important that faculty emphasize to students these learning objectives and raise awareness about how the course activities link to those outcomes, and how to convey this to future employers.
The American Sociological Association’s own research illustrates that students are not clear about how to connect what they are learning in the classroom to “marketable” skills that should be on their resumes and that they could use in possible jobs or develop into careers. In the Bachelor’s and Beyond research project, Spalter-Roth and Van Vooren (2008) find that students who use the skills they learned in their sociology major on the job, also have listed those skills on their resumes and discussed them in their jobs interviews. Spalter-Roth and Van Vooren find that only about 28 percent of majors list their research methods skills on their resume, but when they do, there is a high likelihood they will be asked about it during their interview and use it on the job. As they discussed in their research report:
“A third (34 percent) of this 28 percent also discussed it during an interview. “Of those
who listed this skill on their resume and discussed on the job interview, over 80 percent of them reported using the skill on the job. Those majors who identify, name, and single out their skills with potential employers are more than twice as likely to use them on the job. Even those majors who did not strongly agree that they learned to evaluate research methods, listing and discussing this skill increased the likelihood of using it on the job. Of this 31 percent, 16 percent put it on their resume and 27 percent discussed it in job interviews. Of those who did discuss it during an interview, 75 percent reported using the skill on their jobs.” (Spalter-Roth and Van Vooren 2008:5)
However, students may not be fully aware of how to list the skills they are learning on their resumes, how to talk about them in the interview, or even how to then use the “classroom” knowledge on the job. In the Careers in Sociology class, I work to connect these concepts for students and work to encourage them to consider what they are learning in their major, how to include this information on their resume or in their cover letters (or in graduate school personal statements), and then how to present this knowledge in job interviews and ultimately use in a career that they can feel professionally engaged or fulfilled. So, if students are more aware of how what they are learning can be used in a job, then they are more likely to list it on their resume, and hopefully this will help them be more competitive on the job market after graduation.
Further, I think that when students know directly while they are learning a skill that they could use it in a future job, then they will take the skill/knowledge more seriously when learning it, which hopefully will increase their learning of it (and future use of it). Faculty, in most cases, are already teaching these skills, but what we don’t necessarily do well is to clearly explain the thinking and logic behind our methods to our students and link these skills to their future careers. This course attempts to pull back the curtain a little and reveal concrete ways the classroom knowledge connects to job skills and how students can shape their resumes, cover letters, graduate school statements, and interviews to highlight their skills and experiences.
Course Fit for Our Department’s Needs
In spring 2009, our department sought ways to make the connections between our sociology major curriculum and job skills more apparent. The department’s curriculum committee, which I am a member, brainstormed on this and decided to develop a “Sociological Experience” requirement. The Sociological Experience requirement connects academic sociological knowledge students learn in their courses to the community and social world around them. Further, the requirement builds experience that students need to be competitive on the job market. To fulfill this requirement, students had to take a least one of a list of designated courses.
Students can fulfill the requirement in one of three ways: first, by taking a course that has a service-learning component (for example, in our department, these included the Sociology of Environment course or the Investigative Sociology course). Second, students could complete an an internship (for a variable unit amount between 1-4 units) and concurrently to doing the internship, the student also takes the one-unit Internship Practicum course. Or, third, students could take this Careers in Sociology course.
Prior to this curriculum change, for students to explore career opportunities, there was an old course in the catalogue called “Sociology of Careers,” but it had not been taught for several years. Therefore, the committee renamed the old course “Careers in Sociology” and offered it in Fall 2009. The students responded very favorably to this class, and it is one of the most anticipated classes each semester the department offers it. I usually teach it, but a colleague of mine also has taught the course once since its revision.
This class is not necessarily a “capstone” course at our university; instead we have a senior research methods thesis course for that purpose. However, we do suggest that students who are in their last semester and are going on the job market consider taking the class. It is also very useful to take the first semester of junior year, to help student plan their major, take advantage of on-campus or off campus opportunities, and build their resumes in their last two years of college.
A note about course size: The enrollment for this class started at 30 students, but because of changing resources at our university (i.e. budget cuts), the class has grown to 48 students. I think 48-50 students is a maximum for a class like this. At 48 students, this really strains my ability to give detailed (and therefore, useful) feedback on resumes, personal statements, and cover letters. Also, with that many students, the activities that I designed need more space and/or time, both of which then limit the other material that I can cover. The space constraints prevent me from doing some activities in our current classroom, so I take the class outside and do the activities on the grassy quad, weather permitting. This semester in March 2013, when I took my class outside to do the networking activity described below, I lost about 15 students on the (short) walk from our classroom to the outdoor space. However, the 30 who stayed got a lot out of the activity, were more serious about doing the activity, and gave each other good feedback. Later that day, I was reflecting on why I lost those students and how a larger group of less interested students could have changed the dynamic, I realized that while I was frustrated that several students cut class during the transition, the students who participated valued and participated fully in the exercise. In the future, if I take this particular class outside again, I might take attendance again when we get outside to discourage the cutting.
How I Teach the Course
I teach this course with a combination of short lectures, small-group discussion and activities, guest speakers, and large group discussions. I work to engage the students in career exploration exercises and engage in freewriting about personal interests, career objectives, past experiences, etc., see attachement, “Sample Freewrite Exercises.” I use some of the exercises from course books and have developed others. Some of the exercises are similar to those that some career service offices at universities offer, but are adapted for sociology majors.
During class, I work with students to developing the components of the professional portfolio, taking notes and doing exercises to develop sections, then workshop the rough drafts of the components (i.e. peer feedback and discussion). For example, when we cover a topic such as “Resumes,” to begin, I will present a short lecture about creating a resume, then I will have them engage in a “freewrite” activity to develop one section (or several sections) of their resume. Their homework that class will be to create a rough draft of the resume, to bring to the next class meeting—where I have them work in small groups for the students to give feedback on each others’ resumes. After the small group discussion, we have a large group discussion about what students learned from looking at each others’ resumes. Then the homework is to refine that draft resume, have 2 professionals in the student’s field look at the resume and give feedback, then a week later, the student will turn in the two drafts, the feedback from outside professionals, and an updated version based on all the feedback. I then grade and give detailed feedback on the resume. The students will then update it one more time to put in their professional portfolio due at the end of the semester. For each component of the professional portfolio, such as cover letters, graduate school personal statements, and Reference lists, we follow a similar process. The outside feedback from professionals in their field is only used for cover letters and resumes. I encourage the students to ask other faculty to give them feedback on their graduate school personal statements.
Further, in class, we practice job market skills such as interviews, elevator speeches, networking, giving constructive feedback, and working on a team. I described the “elevator” or 45-second pitches activity above, and we also practice job-interview skills. For the practice job-interviews, I divide the class randomly (I think this is an important component of this activity) into groups of 3. Two students “interview” the third student. In the class before this activity, we have discussed common job interview questions, how to handle tough questions, and students have practiced sample answers in small-groups of their choosing. Therefore, on the day we practice interviewing, the groups have a list of 25 common interview questions. And each group interviews each other for 10-15 minutes, then provides feedback, then we switch students, so that each member of the group gets interviewed. Then, as a whole class, we discuss what went well, and what students still need to work on. I have had several students each semester cite these two activities as helping them prepare for, feel more comfortable with, and do well in job interviews. The students are always very excited to come back and tell me when job interviews went well, and how the class prepared them to do well.
The texts that I use in this course are: Bolles’ classic What Color is Your Parachute?, Lore (2011) Now What: the Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career, and Lambert (2009) Great Jobs for Sociology Majors, 3rd Edition. My goal with the readings for this course is to use both the “classic” text in job search and career exploration, like the Bolles book, and also to engage the students with readings that are specifically meant for this stage in their career development, the Lore book. Finally, Lambert’s book focuses in on the sociology major and how graduates can specifically search for jobs in this field. Plus, I also use resources available from the American Sociological Association’s research about sociology majors, available online at: http://www.asanet.org/research/briefs_and_articles.cfm. The series of data briefs about the Bachelor’s Degree and Beyond studies by the Spalter-Roth and Van Vooren (2008, 2009, 2010), illustrates to students how sociological research about career development is framed and how they can use this knowledge in their own search and career development.
Finally, guest speakers are a very important part of this class. Finkelstein (2009: 94) suggests one way of linking students to careers inside and outside academic settings in her typology continuum “models of research and practice.” Using her typology in a Careers in Sociology course such as this one, instructors can add real-world examples of jobs or organizations that represent the various models described in her article, and link those ideas to the experiences of community members who come to the course as guest speakers. Approximately half of the class time is used for guest speakers. I invite one or two speakers for every class, and they present for 20-70 minutes each, but with plenty of time for questions and answers. Speakers describe their current job/position, how they came to work in that position, and how a degree in Sociology might prepare them for that field of work. Speakers provide suggestions for students about choosing careers and planning for their career (such as graduate school, volunteering, or coursework to take in undergrad). Also, speakers who have every been in a position of hiring, address specially what they look for when hiring or looking at resumes and applications. At the beginning of each semester, I ask students to list up to three fields that they are interested in, and I tally those votes and that helps guide who I invite as guest speakers. Past Speakers for this course have come from various fields including: Social Workers (in various subfields: medical, foster care, welfare, private practice, nonprofit), Peace Corp and AmeriCorp, Public Health (nonprofit organizations and county department of public health), Human Resources, Nonprofits (small/startup, medium, national, international), Student Affairs (residential life, student activities, administration), Private Industry (corporate, small business, sales, entrepreneurs), Graduate Programs (Law, Master’s Social Work, Counseling, Public Administration), and others. Some of my best guest speakers are students who have taken the class, graduated, and are now working or going to graduate school. Also, to recruit guest speakers, I ask colleagues, alumni, past speakers, and local contacts to recommend people who might be interested in coming to speak to the class about careers. During the semester, I also invite the university’s Career Services to speak in the class.
Besides the professional portfolio discussed above, the other main assignment in this course is the semester-long research paper in which students research careers by interviewing and observing 4 people in careers they are interested in and compare the interview data to labor market data and information about that career. Students select careers that are of personal interest to them and explore what is necessary to prepare for that career. The research combines online and library resources with interviews and observations with professionals working in that career. Students are also required to use research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and from the professional organizations for that career (for example, the National Association of Social Work). Students present their findings to the class and write a 10-page paper summarizing their findings. Final research papers include: descriptions careers explored, including findings from research, observations, and interviews; and a conclusion focused on the student’s career goals. Papers also including what education or training is needed for an entry-level position, the professional organizations are available, the salary range, what typical work days involve, and opportunities for advancement. The semester long project is a combined total of 40% of final grade: paper is 30%, proposal 5%, in-class poster presentation 5%.
Throughout this course, we also spend time discussing the importance of social media. This discussion has two main purposes, one to explore how to use social media to get a job, but also, how to make sure that a social media presence does not prevent students from getting the job. We discuss how students’ presentation of self on sites such as Facebook should reflect their professional goals and presentation. We further explore networking sites such as Linked-In, how to have proper professional email etiquette, and how to clean up social media presence. Increasingly, prospective employers and admissions committees for competitive graduate programs conduct google searches, facebook snooping, and online character checks for applicants. Students discuss and strategize how to use social media to their advantage.
In conclusion, the course helps student explore and hone their interests in sociology and how they might use their Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in the labor market to create a career that they are passionate about. In the last four years of offering this course, it is always one of the first classes to fill, requests are frequently made to offer more sections or to offer it more frequently, and the students who take the course are quite pleased with the outcome. I use the course materials, class discussions, guest speakers, and campus resources to engage students to be proactive about their careers and strive to find a fulfilling career. In the end, sociological career development and job market skills are reinforced in five ways: I say it, class-discussion/classmates say it, guest speakers say it, the textbooks/readings say it, Career Services says it—then maybe the students believe and utilize it!
Bolles, Richard. 2011. What Color is Your Parachute? 2013. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
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Spalter-Roth, Roberta and Nicole Van Vooren. 2009. “Idealists vs. Careerist: Graduate
School Choices of Sociology Majors.” Data brief published by the American Sociological Association in May 2009.
Spalter-Roth, Roberta and Nicole Van Vooren. 2010. “Mixed Success: Four Years of
Experiences with 2005 Sociology Graduates.” Data brief published by the American Sociological Association in May 2010.
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Now What: Chapters 18-20
Wednesday, Feb. 13
What is a CV and Why ..."
- Capstone Courses
- College 400
This resource is a recently developed course called Careers in Sociology and it is a 4 semester unit, upper division course for Sociology majors and minors, often taken the semester before they graduate. The goal of Careers in Sociology is to take a sociological...