What does Sociology have to do with career planning and management?

Choices and organizational norms, values and rituals

Last month in this blog we reviewed the concept of the power of observation that we borrowed from the field of anthropology, and that is extensively referred to in a recently published book on career management entitled Workplace Poker (Rust, Daniel).  We continue reviewing Rust’s book in today’s blog but this time we’ll cover the field of sociology and how this area of study is linked to the topic of career planning and management.  At first glance, the subject of sociology might not seem to have much in common with career planning and management. But in that field there are important concepts that mirror fundamental realities in career management.  The symbols, values, rituals and norms of the organizations at which people work exert enormous influence over their behavior and the choices they make that, in turn, affect their career trajectory.  In his book, Rust contends that the day-to-day choices we make throughout our life help shape our careers, and he does so in rather blunt fashion.

“When it comes to employment there is no luck, good or bad.  There are no accidental circumstances.  There are no victims.  Everything happens for a reason.  And just because you are surprised, or treated unfairly, does not mean that you can abdicate your own responsibility for the situation.  You have made choices. {…} But here’s the big lesson – you ALWAYS have choices {…}.”

So what choices will you make about, for and during your career?  Will you look back over your career after decades of hard work and wonder if you made good choices on opportunities that you created or came your way?  Or, conversely, will you wonder it you permitted or enabled the forces of cultural values, and norms to dictate the choices you made?  In his book, Rust places sharp focus on how personal accountability must directly flow to and from the choices an individual makes throughout their career.  Rust concludes that a person’s ability to incorporate lessons learned from the choices they make and “own” the result(s), is often the key determinant in building a career that is persistently upward in its trajectory.   Rust explains this concept in the following way.

“In terms of career acceleration, there is profound value in “owning” your circumstances fully, completely – totally.  Not just your fair and reasonable share of the responsibility…but placing the entire load on your shoulders.  This is not about … bad decisions or poor choices.  This is about seeing yourself and your world clearly, without self-doubt or self-recrimination, in order to prepare for the challenge ahead.”

Now, you might be wondering, how can information on sociology and the effect of choices relate to career planning and management? The short answer is that, as Rust covers in his book, as you face challenges in the future, think deeply about the answers to the following questions:

  • Why am I in this tough situation?
  • What have I learned so far from this experience?
  • What I have learned about myself?
  • What changes within me would serve me well?
  • What is my plan to make those changes happen?

What can a soon-to-be college senior due to graduate in May 2017 without a career management plan of attack in place do to start to learn about making choices within the context of their (future) workplace’s organizational culture, and incorporate that knowledge in their personal career development efforts?   The first step is to stop by the UConn Center for Career Development (CCD) in Wilbur Cross 202 to learn about the many career counseling tools the Center offers in helping students become more aware of their own personal values, norms and behavioral styles. Of course, it you prefer to start the process online, simply surf the CCD’s impressive website (career.uconn.edu) to browse and/or utilize some of the vast array of career planning and management tools available to all UConn students.

The important thing to remember is to take time now to learn and, in the months ahead, develop excellent career management habits so that they will serve you well over the long arc of our career. With that thought in mind, be sure to let the CCD’s staff and the Center’s arsenal of tools help to guide you through your career planning efforts.

By Paul Gagnon
Paul Gagnon Career Consultant, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources Paul Gagnon