Steps & Pathways
A strong theme that emerged from our research was the breadth of Sociology, and the range of career options that studying it enables. Our participants valued the openness of Sociology in terms of the different directions in which they could take their degree. However, the downside to this was the sense of not knowing where to start when it came to thinking about career possibilities and employment plans.
Participants were aware that careers after Sociology and PolSoc went beyond the standardly cited (teaching, social work, further study), but were less sure what these were.
In this section we discuss in more depth the pathways to careers our alumni participants took and steps you can take as well as what to expect in the application process.
- where to get ideas
- dealing with rejection
- non-linear career paths
- how to progress once in employment
- A Sociology degree offers lots of freedom to pursue a wide-range of careers, but sometimes this can make it difficult to know where to start. Taking small steps will help you find a career path.
- Once you’ve decided what area might be interesting to you, apply widely; rejection is hard but know that eventually you will get something.
- Recruitment processes vary for different jobs; graduate schemes have the longest process. You can prepare for these with help from the Careers Service.Career paths aren’t straight, sometimes things don’t go to plan, an unexpected opportunity presents itself, or a change of direction is consciously decided.
- Starting a job doesn’t mean you will be stuck in it forever.
Freedom of Sociology and narrowing your options down
As we discussed here, our participants valued Sociology for the broad range of topics they could explore, the range of academic, practical and research skills they developed and the freedom to shape to pursue their own interests – especially through the dissertation research.
They often contrast this positively to degrees with more prescribed routes such as Law or Medicine. The freedom that Sociology enables was discussed very positively by our participants:
[A] lot of people you know do your medicine degree and you go and become a doctor. I didn’t know what my end goal was. And I think I felt Sociology would let me explore some options to figure that out and give me kind of the base set skills that everybody that comes out of university knows really well, as well as like pursuing my own interests. Which I very much did.”
However this also means that career pathways may not be straightforward, and it is not always be clear what steps to take to get to your goal.
“Yeah…I would really like to find something that uses my degree. Something to do with research, something to do with human rights, and like making the world a better place I guess…But ultimately I don’t really know how I would do that.”
The alumni we spoke to took a variety of pathways after graduating. Many of them experienced knock-backs along the way, seized unexpected opportunities, or made the conscious decision to change path. This was reflected in their advice to current students:
“Have a look at the wider options about getting into certain careers. So there are long ways around and there are short cuts and there is everything else. Get on the ball, it is much easier when you start developing your professional career to find ways into other jobs.”
“As soon as those final year exams are done, the only thing you should do is be looking for opportunities. But don’t be worried about what they are. Try something. If you like it or not, just try something, experience it…you always learn something.”
Taking steps towards a career
Where to get ideas:
Participants got advice from friends, from siblings, parents and from personal tutors. They often research independently on the web and utilised the Careers Service and went to recruitment fairs. One of our alumni even found their job by googling ‘sociology degree’ + ‘employment’. A number mentioned how valuable it would be to know what other alumni had done in order to get ideas. Click HERE to read more on what our alumni are now doing.
Applying for lots of things:
A number of our alumni discussed applying for lots of jobs, “applying non-stop”. Once you’ve started deciding on what kinds of jobs you are looking for, send out as many applications as possible.
Maximising your experience:
Part-time jobs and internships during university make your CV stand out and can lead to jobs after university.
Dealing with rejection:
The more applications you submit, the more rejections you will receive. Many of our alumni talked about the period before they got their first job as especially difficult.
“In the months leading up to me applying and kind of like having a few rejections, sort of like, will I get through this?’ It was quite tough and you get a bit down, and you are like ‘I am never going to get anywhere’.”
Job hunting takes resilience, but it is okay if rejections get you down - just know that eventually you will get something.
Understanding the recruitment process:
Different kinds of jobs have different recruitment processes. Graduate schemes tend to have the longest and most intensive recruitment process. These usually involve interviews, assessment centres and aptitude tests. It can take over a year from applying for the scheme to starting the job– so if you’re interested in graduate schemes you should be looking before the end of stage 2. If you’re already in stage 3 though, don’t worry: half our alumni who had done grad schemes applied after they had graduated.
“Assessment day was the toughest experience ever. They give you a business profile, they ask you what you would do with the company, they ask you what do with the department, how you would break it down…and you have to present to a senior member of staff at the end of it…And then a proper interview as well.”
Other jobs have shorter recruitment processes; some just involve an interview, others an interview and presentation, or an interview, presentation and other assessment activities such as group work. As you can see, skills you develop in your degree (working in groups, presentations, articulating your thoughts in writing and verbally, critical thinking) are all in use here. Preparation can really help with this, and the Careers Service can do mock interviews and assessment centres.
Career paths often aren’t linear:
Some of our alumni went straight into jobs that they are still in, but others have had less straightforward journeys. Sometimes this involved working in cafés or pubs while applying for other things, and for some it meant revaluating career values and changing direction after a few years.
“I wasn’t really enjoying the role that I was doing at the time. I had been there a year and a half, and it was quite a small firm, quite a lot of pressure…So I just started looking around. I fired out applications to almost everywhere and anywhere I had a vague interest in. And it was quite a surprise when [my present employer] came back to me and offered me an interview…But I am really glad they did because I love what I do.”
Starting a job doesn’t mean you will be stuck on that path forever, getting work experience can help you figure out what your career values are, what your strengths are and what sort of environment you want to work in.
Progression within employment:
Once you have a job, there is often a career progression route within it. Our alumni changed roles within the organisation they worked for and were given more responsibility, as well as opportunities for training. A number described the ‘learning curve’ once in post.
“[I]t has been a big learning curve…it was a big step up from what I was doing before. And very different to my degree, so it was quite scary to take on. But no, it has been good, it has been really interesting actually, really enjoyable.”