Looking for a job? Some advice for social science students

The preparation for the job hunt does not start once you graduate. It starts while you are a student.
Published August 30, 2019

With rising inflation, economic instability and the status of our passport internationally, anxiety levels are high.

If you are a fresh graduate or about to graduate, one of the key questions probably plaguing you, and causing significant sleep deprivation, is “Will I find a job?” and “How much will I get paid?” As a university professor heading a social science programme and a development practitioner who hires fresh graduates, this is one of the most frequently asked questions by students and parents alike at orientation and, of course, before graduation.

Your fears and concerns are genuine, and I hope this piece assists in reducing stress levels. I have interviewed a number of colleagues who are currently hiring in the field to put this article together, and what I would like to do is suggest a roadmap you can follow.

The social sciences and humanities have historically been looked down upon in Pakistan as a last resort degree. The medical profession, engineering, law or an MBA have always been seen as higher up on the pecking order. However, things are changing as more institutions – both public and private – have begun to offer quality undergraduate and graduate programmes in the social sciences and humanities in the country.

Those brave souls who have (despite the stigma) opted for a social science degree, I truly congratulate you. But now, many of you are asking, “Did I make the right decision? I just spent four years getting a degree in the social sciences, sociology, development studies, gender studies, political science, geography, psychology, economics or social work. My parents invested in me. Where do I look? Who will hire me? How do I go about finding a job?” Unfortunately, we do live in a city like Karachi where competition is fierce, so here is some advice and I hope it helps.

Related: Is education a priority for the PTI?

First, be prepared. The preparation for the job hunt does not start once you graduate. It starts while you are a student.

So, what are your job options with an undergraduate social science degree? Well, the good news is that a lot of people are interested in hiring social science graduates. There are certain skill sets that will give you an edge, and it also depends on what your career aspirations are.

In terms of skill sets: good reading, analytical and writing skills; problem solving skills; openness to learning; interpersonal communication skills; flexibility and ability to work and travel in difficult conditions; research skills; ability to learn languages and familiarity with technological innovations and software is essential.

So, look for courses and faculty who will be able to support this skill development. And read. Read as much as you can because social scientists have to be well informed and need to be able to synthesise and analyse information.

We live in an era of multidisciplinarity, so you need to understand the political aspect, the economic aspect, the anthropological and sociological aspects of issues. Read at least two newspapers a day; read opinion pieces and journal publications. Make the connection between what is happening internationally and your own context. Just download the apps on your phone. It's that simple and it's free.

Read next: Education means more than just job prospects — and Pakistanis know that

Next, it is really important to be clear on what your career aspirations are and what really excites you. Settling for a job just because it is available may be a necessity but if you are not enthusiastic, it will reflect in your interview and your performance.

So, really think about it and ask yourself, “What excites me? Is it research? Is it writing? Is it coordinating with different actors? Do I want to pursue a career in NGO management? How about journalism? Or market research? Do I like engaging with diverse communities? Am I interested in policy making? Am I interested in advocating for social justice issues in education? Do I want to work for the government? Do I want to develop my own start-up or social enterprise? Do issues of gender inequality keep me up at night? Does the formation of political movements intrigue me?”

If you are confused given all these options, it is completely normal – so do not panic. In today’s age, people change their careers multiple times and many of us do not work on regular nine-to-five schedules. We work in different time zones, from home, on contract and, many times, online. Being physically based in Karachi does not limit your ability to work on international contracts, so consider technology as your friend.

A really good way to figure out your calling is to think about the classes that really interest you and talk to the professor. Ask them about who is working on these issues. It could be individuals, organisations or networks. Then google them. Read what they have written or check out their websites. Write to those who seem interesting and ask if they would be willing to take you on as an intern or a volunteer. Shortlist at least four, so you have options. Do not be disheartened if you do not hear from all of them.

Once an option emerges, set out what your learning objectives are and discuss it with your potential supervisor; this helps in setting up clear expectations and boundaries. Sometimes, there is an option for paid internships – so ask. The worst they can say is no, but at least ask if your transport and food expenses can be covered.

Also read: If students fail to achieve good grades, it's the failure of the education system

Honestly, I cannot stress the value of getting practical experience in your field of interest while you are still a student. It helps to put theory in perspective. It helps with networking and for you to understand what the work environment is like so you can be better prepared when you graduate and look for a job.

Sometimes, you may be just transcribing data and photocopying – and that is fine. If the experience is not what you thought it would be, well that is good too – it gives you an idea that maybe this is not the area or organisation you want to work with, and also gives you a reality check in terms of what to expect.

Many of my students have ended up with part-time jobs after interning with individuals or organisations while they are still in school – so this can be an option to explore. It is never too soon to intern, so use your summers when you do not have classes to do this, or volunteer your time during the semester. If you are working and studying, try looking for part-time options related to your field. Just take every experience as a learning experience.

For girls, convincing parents sometimes that you would like to work in the field is difficult, so starting small with internships is a good idea. It gives parents an opportunity to get used to the idea and also may quell some of their fears. Many social science positions require fieldwork and travel within and outside the city, so assess the situation and make a call on your own security. You also need to be aware of your rights under the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act, 2010. So, read about your rights and be prepared with information if you need to use it.

So, now you are about to graduate, you have completed your courses, you have written papers, you have interned – start putting all that you have learned to use. Many organisations put out job adds – Rozee.com is a good place to look.

Some do not advertise but may still be looking, so if you have a particular organisation in mind, write to them. Also, follow up with the organisations and individuals you have met. Again, there is no embarrassment if they say no. They may still keep you in mind if an opportunity emerges.

Even if you are thinking of graduate school, it is a good idea to work for a year or two as it helps with affirming the choice of degree you want to pursue. Working gives you real life experience in the field, hence it is invaluable. It gives you an added advantage when applying for scholarships and it also helps you save some funds.

In-depth: Why haven’t past education reforms had more effect?

Research the jobs you have shortlisted and be prepared for what it entails. Nothing puts a future employer off more than an applicant whose cover letter and CV do not reflect an understanding of the organisation and job requirement. So, read the job description carefully and the procedures for application. Then, tailor your application based on this information. You can also attach a writing sample, for example a paper or a project for a class assignment or a newspaper article you have published. It reflects practically for your future employer your skill set and gives them an understanding of what you can do.

If you are planning to ask faculty or supervisors for references, alert them in advance and make sure it’s someone who remembers you and has maintained a relationship with.

While you are waiting to hear back from applications, volunteer your time. It is good for the soul, you can make a meaningful contribution and it will keep you busy. The worst feeling is sitting at home and waiting. So, do something useful with the skills you have and give something back from all that you have learned.

Your digital footprint is important, so make sure if you make a LinkedIn profile. Also, you may want to think about how much of your personal life you want to share through social media – once it’s online, it’s a little difficult to erase it, and employers do go online.

The job interview is your first impression, so make a good one. One of the frequent complaints I get from colleagues in the industry is that applicants come across as if they are experts in the field. Please understand this is your first job and you need to acknowledge how much you do not know.

Yes, you will make a contribution but you need to be open to learning. Do not use jargon, and especially do not refer to theories you have limited knowledge of. Dress professionally and think before you respond to questions. If you do not know the answer, acknowledge this – it is much better than trying to bluff your way through the process.

Analysis: Is our education system ‘too broken’ for reforms?

You may have to do a number of interviews, but do not lose heart. Getting a job is a process and looking for one is a job in itself. Once an employer gets back to you with a positive response, think about your options. If you have more than one option, do not accept one and then jump ship a week later. It does not hold well for your employment record.

Negotiating your salary is important. Once you sign the contract, it is hard to ask for an increment – so make sure you are aware of your market. Usually for Karachi, the market for fresh graduates is between Rs50,000 to Rs60,000. Girls, please be assertive in your salary negotiations. Pakistan has a large gender wage gap and you deserve to be paid based on your abilities and not discriminated against on the basis of your gender.

The salary scale in Islamabad is higher as many international organisations and United Nations agencies are based there, but it is also a more expensive city. If you plan to relocate, calculate how much this will increase your costs and whether you will be able to still support yourself.

Read your contract carefully. Ask about any clauses which are unclear to you and the probation period. Understand what is your basic salary and the benefits you will get. Increments are based on your basic salary and not on the gross salary. Also remember that you will be a tax filer now, so what you get in your hand is your net salary minus taxes. So, ask for the tax calculations so you know how much you will get at the end of the month.

Good luck!

Are you working in the education sector? Share your experiences with us at prism@dawn.com