James Pritchard wrote this post after the recent Careers for Social Scientists event hosted by the Sociology Society; he joined a student panel to discuss his experiences in gaining a summer internship and what he had learnt from it. Contributors had experience across the law, finance and not-for-profit sectors. James recognises how a degree in social science can boost employability and help applicants to stand out from other candidates.
Attending the Careers for Social Scientists event gave me a lot of “food for thought” on selling the skills from my degree to potential employers. Claire Leslie’s workshop on personal branding set the scene for lively discussions on the panel and inspired me to write this blog post! In a tough graduate job market, it’s down to students to portray themselves in a way that shows employers what they can add to the organisation. Gaining some kind of work experience is increasingly essential, but understanding the skills and personal attributes which are developed by your degree studies also plays a key role in building your overall profile!
In the context of the recent economic downturn, social science in education generally has had quite a hard time. Sometimes it feels as if study in this area is not valued! There are countless statements in the media that the supply of graduates exceeds the demand in the labour market, and that insufficient students are opting to study science and technology subjects. Clearly if you want to be a doctor or an engineer, your choice of degree is pretty crucial. However, the graduate labour market today is highly varied and many positions do not require a specific degree discipline. The majority of graduate jobs are open to students from all subject areas and employers value the diversity of perspectives that graduates from a range of disciplines can offer. There are several ways in which we social science students can market ourselves and ourr distinctive sets of skills so that we stand out to potential employers!
It’s all about the evidence!
When presented with a finding or a statement, social scientists don’t blindly accept these as true. We understand the importance of critically considering the source of the information, we look for potential bias and the need to establish the legitimacy of the claims. For example, social scientists may find themselves exploring public policy, and the political, economic and social motivations behind policy development. This allows us to demonstrate to potential employers that we can really get to grips with complex information and think more deeply about broader concerns and implications.
It’s important not to take these analytical skills for granted. In order to demonstrate breadth and depth in academic essays and presentations, social scientists must draw on a range of theories and perspectives to make reasoned conclusions and to offer solutions. We must be able to justify the points we make on the basis of the evidence available, and consider alternative interpretations. This methodical approach is attractive to potential employers. We just need to articulate how we’ll use these skills in the workplace. We’re problem solvers. Employers need people like us!
Social science degrees often have a strong focus on current issues and affairs. Whether it’s debates around the structure of the education system, the financial crisis and improving the economy, or jobs and employment trends, social scientists are engaging with the issues which affect many organisations. In applications, graduates are expected to show an understanding of not only the role and the specific organisation – but also an awareness of the sector more widely. Conveying a detailed understanding of industry trends and the conditions in which the organisation is operating helps to make a strong application. This puts social scientists in a good stead. Our curriculum and studies are always related to ‘real-world’ issues.
In addition, social science students often have scope for studying beyond the curriculum. Whether it’s a small-scale research project or a dissertation, social scientists have a sense of freedom with which to tailor their academic work towards the sector they’d like to work in. Presenting an active interest in this way can demonstrate a genuine passion for the sector, which will help you to make a unique impression on employers.
You’ll more than likely be required to carry out some data analysis as part of your degree. Quantitative skills are a big selling point in the labour market. If you’ve had practical experience in using statistical software such as SPSS, you’ll demonstrate an ability to work with large data sets and you’ll appreciate what’s meant by “statistical significance”. We can brand ourselves in a way that highlights a complementary set of skills. Firstly, there are the critical and analytical skills required to understand the complex nature of social issues. Secondly, social scientists are able to analyse these issues using large-scale data and numbers to produce ‘hard’ evidence – it’s the best of both worlds!
The range of skills that social science graduates have to offer is vast, but intense competition in the labour market poses a difficult challenge. Around 70% of graduate employers report actively seeking to recruit from all degree disciplines, despite constant claims in the media of oversubscription to non-science subjects. As individual social science students we can defy these claims by drawing on our academic profile, personal attributes, and extra-curricular pursuits, to tell employers a unique story and land the job!