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Planning for a Job in Helping People

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: July 2, 1999
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Planning for a Job in Helping People
Link updated July 2, 1999.
Getting Job Ideas from Job Descriptions
Link updated July 2, 1999
Thinking "Prepared" for a Promotion
Link added June 17, 1999. soon to come.

Planning for a Job in Helping People

by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Applying Sociological Theory to Practice Series
Copyright: July 2, 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

There are lots of employment sites on the Web, lots of lists of openings and their job descriptions. There are few places to teach you how to turn these "objective, generalized, ritualized" job descriptions into something that grabs you as a place to grow your future: "Hey, here's a real one; you could live with this!"

That's why you study sociology. Well, some might call it human services, or psychology, or social work, or urban anthropology, or even communication theory, if you wander across the campus to where those language and literature people live, but they all stole it from sociology. (Osgood on Interdisciplinary Integration) Sociology is the study of people and their relationships, with each other, within groups, and within their social institutions. And guess what you'll have to deal with on a job? People in their relationships with each other, across departments or sections, and within the work hierarchy and the work organizational structure. See? Sociology. But don't forget to check out all those other fields, too, to see what great ideas you can "steal" from them.

This first piece of the process text on planning a job is going to focus on helping jobs. That's because the eighties took us pretty far from the caring and community we thought we had fought for and won during the terrible sixties. Today, there is left little regard for cooperative work, and considerable competition in a "supervised" workplace. That tends to depress those of us who wanted a caring, cooperative work place in which we could "help" others. Not by giving the bank's money away to those who need it; but by finding time at work to help those who need support in learning, in coping, in moving on to new areas, and by receiving recognition from our work places for having made that effort. Instead, supervision has become more regimented, more ritualized, more objectified, with bureaucratic rules limiting our realization of human kindness at work.

It doesn't have to be that way. The disciplines who study jobs in all their facets need to remind us that a gentler, kinder workplace comes of gentler, kinder people helping each other to be gentler, kinder. That begins with our teaching you to look for job descriptions that seem to offer latitude for cooperation, and then to ask questions at interviews about ways to enhance cooperation.

A corrections officer recently told us that he looked to new college-trained recruits to come into the corrections department with a new attitude of trying to understand the convicted felons they supervised, with new techniques for working "with" them to provide support networks and maintain job success. Now, it doesn't say that in the job description. But, if your objective is to be a helping person, you'll want to learn to ask questions that will reveal that kind of supervisor.

So one of the first tasks in planning for a job is to think about what questions you'll want answered. Sometimes you'll ask an interviewer. But sometimes you'll want to visit other similar officers, talk to people who work, or who did work there, hang out where you can see what it's like.

And if you've put together a set of questions that matter to you, you can talk to your friends about how well their jobs permit the kind of work climate you're looking for. Ask them for help in figuring out if any questions would have revealed to them ahead of time things they don't like now about their work place.

Getting Ideas from Job Descriptions: Sample

  1. Sample Position 1
  2. The Description

    Job Title: Program and Project Directors
    Program Coordinator
    Organization: CompuMentor
    Non-Profit Providing Computer Assistance
    Salary Range: $40,000 - $48,000 Depending On Experience

    Essential qualifications:

    What We Can Learn from This Job Description

  3. Sample Position 2
  4. The Description

    Title: Project Associate
    Organization: CompuMentor
    Non-Profit Providing Computer Assistance
    Salary Range: $25,000 - $32,000, Depending On Experience;
    Open to discussing part-time employment.

    Project Associates job description.

    Essential qualifications:

    Highly desirable skills:

    What We Can Learn from This Job Description

    Now, don't forget that all these questions give you clues about what else to look for when you're scanning job announcements. Maybe you should develop a portfolio of job descriptions, skills, and questions as a guide for whenever you want to check out the job market.

    Remember that the most obviously announced jobs are going to have huge clusters of applicants. Try to use job descriptions to help you think up ways to apply to companies or workplaces that had never put such a spin on their jobs. You might be able to create just the job you want.