sociology elevator talk

We met with our board of visitors (generally sociology majors who are now successful business people with a sprinkle of academics) and in talking about developing internships for sociology majors it was said that we need a paragraph blurb for what undergraduate sociology majors bring to a job. Employers tend to think of business or maybe economics and have little idea (unless they were sociology majors themselves) what you learn in sociology. We quickly agreed that a lot of it is what any good liberal arts major would bring. But as we talked more, it got more interesting and insightful about some of the distinctive things people learn in a sociology major, although we are still working on the concise elevator version. Here are some of the points.

Our staff career counselor who works with sociology as well as political science and international relations says the sociology majors are different. They are not just looking for a job. They are more political, but also more passionate, and are focused on some issue that really matters to them. They want to change the world; they want to have an impact. This can be an important plus for the right employer. They tend to prefer nonprofits or government, but there are businesses who also want this passion to do good.

The sociology major even more than other social science majors teaches students to think in a more holistic way, to imagine self in society, individual in group. Sociology majors are taught to differentiate among people, to think about relations between different groups of people and about the differences between different groups. They are taught to think about social processes and the interconnections among different parts of society. Much of business is about market segmentation and recognizing and responding to group differences, as well as about thinking about where society is going.

Our business people also said it is often crucial that people be able to work well in groups, to be able to resolve conflicts, divide labor and distinguish among their roles, work together for a common purpose.

There are also important skills: Ability to pose a simple research hypothesis or question, pull together data to address that hypothesis, and write a report about what the data show relative to the hypothesis/question. Experience using a statistical software package. Ability to read a research report and identify crucial methodological information for evaluating its results. Ability to write a paper evaluating the evidence relevant to a particular issue. And there is a crying need for people who can analyze data and write up what it shows.

Your thoughts about how to pull together the elevator talk, the one paragraph blurb? Other things we should add to the list?

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog --Pam Oliver

8 thoughts on “sociology elevator talk”

  1. The ASA has also put together a booklet, 21st Century Careers with an Undergraduate Degree in Sociology, on what soc majors bring to the job market, with many of the points you make here. Perhaps they have a pithy paragraph, too? My copy is at work, but here is a link to the ASA bookstore where you can order them.


  2. Thanks for this post, OW. I don’t have any real insight to add, but I much prefer “these are the skills that you leave with and that you bring to the job market” approach to “these are the types of jobs that sociology majors are getting after graduation.”

    At Notre Dame we have a lot of people who go on to medical or law school post-graduation or decide to do service (e.g., Teach for America). It might be interesting for our department to think of ways to describe specific skills sets in relation to those positions (and others that are common, like marketing, data analysis, etc.) so that students – and employers – could see that not all applicants are alike and the sociologically-trained job candidate has attributes that may make them an even better-suited candidate than someone with a different major.


  3. Great point about focusing on knowledge and skills gained by sociology majors rather than the specific jobs. Although the new 2nd Edition of 21st Century Careers does have some pretty interesting job profiles of recent grads using their sociological skills in a variety of market sectors.

    We’ll be continuing this thread at the Chairs Conference in SF – looking at how a strong soc major, deeply grounded in liberal learning, can be linked to successful employment outcomes.


  4. Reblogged this on BrookelynN and commented:
    This is wonderfully put. It releases the passion with in me for my major and makes me so excited to graduate and enter my field of expertise. Next step: find that job. Yikes.
    Enjoy :)


  5. Employers are dealing with noisy signals and seem to be thinking STEM = smart, Humanities = not smart. I’d emphasize the things soc has in common with hard sciences and econ.

    I’d emphasize the data analysis, abstract reasoning, familiarity with demographic characteristics and social scientific stylized facts that help businesses target and interact with markets to meet demands, and of course the organizational aptitudes already mentioned (people who get meta about groups potentially make good managers and administrators, or at least over-moral and contemplative ones).

    This kind of sell job poses a tradeoff between getting kids jobs in the short run and the symbolic vision of ourselves we project as a discipline, which of course the above aspects woefully exclude. But a job’s a job and there are more relevant opportunities to define ourselves than helping kids with immediate upward mobility.


  6. Thanks, people. In case you are wondering, we are getting lots of feedback that data analysis and interpretation skills are very very marketable. Probably the single most important thing we can do to improve the job prospects for undergraduates is offer them more training and experience in this area.


  7. @olderwoman:

    Marketing firms (at least here in Chicago where marketing is big business) are moving fast toward data-driven marketing (because they’ve basically had no way to measure ROI and have been designing campaigns on intuition for decades).

    “Data-driven marketing” to these people means “get some means and standard deviations out of a spread sheet,” so based on some of the things I’ve heard from Alex Hanna about Wisconsin’s UG training, your kids are probably more than qualified. With some good intuition about social aggregates, people can excel in these positions. I answered questions on the “data test” a major marketing firm in Chicago that included “revenue in the Jewelry department increases in Spring and Summer months, likely from an uptick in weddings,” and got offered an internship. Fancy stuff.

    Adreas Glaeser mentioned that firms are picking up ethnographers too (I know Nike did so in order to develop their wildly successful brand of boutique skateboarding shoes).

    Notably, to the degree that sociology UGs are less nerdy than econ UGs and less one dimensional than business UGs, they’re probably well suited to broker information between techy parts of firms like logistics teams, research departments, accounting departments, etc. and the rest of the firm. Big value accrues to arbitraging information between different types of people, and sociology UGs are probably disproportionately good at that type of thing.


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