Helping Students Transition to the Labor Market

One learning outcome of many degree programs is to ensure that graduating students have the skills (hard and soft) needed for successful entry into the labor market, preferably using their degrees. One problem though, especially for majors like sociology, is that there are potentially hundreds if not thousands of entry-level jobs related to the major. Many juniors and seniors, though, consider only a narrow range of job possibilities (for example, many sociology students who want to “help” think they are limited to jobs at the Department of Family and Children’s Services). It is up to faculty and advisors to help them to see a much broader expanse of job and career options.

I want to talk about how, acting in my role as faculty advisor, I engaged with students, allowing them to consider over 100 jobs, types of people they could encounter in those jobs, and work environments—thereby giving them the possibility of matching their personal skill set, their sociological imagination, and the entry-level labor market. In a later post, I will expand on this and discuss how converted this exercise into a set of class activities when I taught our senior capstone course that largely was focused on sociological professionalization.

I had an advising load of from 25-40 students, nearly all of them were of junior or senior standing. I would invite each one individually to join me at Starbucks for some “coffee and career talk” during the last semester of their junior year or early in their senior year. We’d get coffee and a table for two. I’d ask them to put everything away and told them that I was there to ask questions and to write down their replies. I pulled out a notepad and divided it into three columns: “Yes the student could see self doing that job or working in that environment or working with that type of person;” or “Maybe I could see myself doing that/working there/working with that type of person;” or “No, I don’t think I could do that/work there/work with that type of person.” I promised the student that I would not judge their answers because these were deeply personal questions. I gave an example about how I could see myself teaching high school students but there is no way that I would ever teach middle grades (I feel it would be teaching more hormones than humans!). I did ask that they make quick decisions, because I have found their first response tended to be the more honest/less “think well of me, Dr. Lowney” kind of answers.

I would start by asking them about jobs that our graduates frequently took right out of college, such as domestic violence worker, sexual assault case worker, college admissions recruiter, police officer, pharmaceutical representative, social change activist, social media specialist, probation officer, gerontologist at senior center, etc. This list helped to break through their narrow list of possible jobs. Then I would ask about types of people they wanted to work with (e.g., persons with disabilities, well seniors, kids with cancer, adult learners, migrant workers, persons in jail/prison, etc.). I would end with some specific working environments that many of our program’s recent graduates had experienced.

Here is an example of what my notes for the student might look like:

Question Type

Yes Maybe


Type of Person Abused kids Kids involved in delinquency Sick kids
Domestic violence victims Domestic violence perpetrators Hospice patients
Job Title Crisis social worker Social worker in juvenile court system Case worker at hospital or specialty hospital
College admissions recruiter Pharmaceutical representative Statistician
Type of Working Environment 8AM-5PM office job Use own car regularly as part of job (e.g., intensive parole) Be tied to beeper on 2 weekends/month or called out 24/7 every other week
Primarily due with paperwork, not people Working in team Almost all dealing with people in crisis

Many students would be in shock by the end of our talk. When they sat down with me, they could barely think of 5 jobs that were real possibilities for their “next step.” An hour later, they left with a list of over 100 jobs and how they felt about them. Most students had about 60-70 jobs on the “yes” or “maybe” categories—which meant they had many more possibilities. And it wasn’t just the student who felt better; I had many parents send me “thank you e-mails” for taking time to do this with their child.

Faculty in our role as advisor, working with professional advisors, need to be able to share with students a wealth of career possibilities. Even with the same degree, our students have different personalities, different ways of being in the world, with different skills, so knowing the types of jobs a taciturn student might do well in versus a more out-going student, skilled at working in groups, and so on, have become a part of our faculty duties.

But knowing types of jobs students might want to apply for is not enough. Too few understand how to create a job search plan or understand all the steps needed to apply to graduate school. College staff—professional advisors, career counselors, and faculty—need to create opportunities for students to practice these professional skills before they must use them after graduation. In next week’s blog post, I’ll share how I constructed a senior capstone course centered around building these professionalization skills.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

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