Building Your Career in Economics: From Study Choices to the Economics Job Market

Chiara Yates, professor of economics at Southern New Hampshire University, offers advice to aspiring economists navigating their studies and the early stages of their career. The following article first appeared in the INOMICS Handbook 2022.

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Economists work in a variety of industries including business, health, government, and education, and their role mostly involves research and providing reports and recommendations based on data collection, analysis, and interpretation. In the United States, local and federal government agencies are the largest employers of economics graduates. It is essential that students plan their education based on where they are interested in entering the workforce. Although it is possible to gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a PhD are typically required to work as an economist for the government or in academia.

In the competitive economics jobs market, it is important for students of economics to consider their career choices early.

1. Choosing a Concentration

When pursuing a degree in economics, students can choose various concentrations: business economics, corporate finance, quantitative economics and econometrics just to mention a few.

Students who graduate with a concentration in finance can find employment at large banks and government organizations as a consulting, financial, credit, risk, or valuation analyst; or a databank administrator, trader and more.

A concentration in business economics, on the other hand, offers versatility which translates to a wide range of employment opportunities such as entrepreneurship or marketing in any sector such as finance, manufacturing, services and government.

Concentrations in quantitative economics and econometrics can lead to jobs that require expertise in economic modeling, forecasting and evaluation. Students who choose this major usually continue to graduate studies and find employment in academia or as data scientists, risk model analysts, market researchers, consultants or investment bankers. The ability for economists to analyze data using mathematical and statistical methods is in high demand and short supply, which puts economists with strong analytical and quantitative skills at an advantage when seeking employment.

Regardless of the concentration chosen and the level of the degree pursued, there are some steps students can take to build a foundation for a successful career as an economist.

2. Skills for Undergraduates

Undergraduate students should focus on developing and demonstrating technical and soft skills such as the ability to communicate effectively. A good analyst must also be able to explain their work.

Hard skills, including quantitative analysis, are also very important. Any economist would recommend undergraduate students to take at least one econometrics course to demonstrate quantitative and data skills. It’s also a good idea to pair economic courses with some computer or data science courses for a well-rounded background. Researching a preferred industry or role and tailoring your academic path with a goal in mind will also improve your appeal when seeking a job.

Networking is critical as it allows you to garner real-world knowledge of the skills required and job opportunities available in your career path by meeting professionals who work in your industry of interest. Many recent generations of college graduates are already at ease with technology and social media and can put that expertise to work by using platforms such as LinkedIn to streamline their job search and application process.

3. Skills for Graduate Students

While graduate students should hone their technical and soft skills, they should be more mindful of demonstrating solid hard skills through their research work, especially quantitative skills that are in high demand in both the private and public sector and in academia. 

Economics graduate students should seek out internship opportunities, study abroad if they can, and identify service-learning opportunities. Internships and corporate

partnerships offer students real-world insight into the professional world and can consolidate and enrich their graduate research work. As interns, graduate students should focus on developing leadership and communication skills and seek mentorship from colleagues with more experience.

Professional networking can really jumpstart a career both in the professional world and academia. Joining professional organizations, such as the American Economic Association (AEA) in the United States or the European Economic Association (EEA) in Europe, can provide opportunities to meet fellow economists to read, write, and review research papers, while also making contact with professionals in a specific career field or even learning of available job opportunities. Professional networking associations and academic institutions often host conferences, gatherings and workshops that provide excellent casual networking opportunities. Services like INOMICS are a great place to find conferences and events like these.

4. Find out about Employment Opportunities

Opportunities that can benefit undergraduate and graduate students are available through their university, such as corporate partnerships and college fairs. Corporate partnerships are a partnership between a university and a private or public company, and allow students hands-on experience in certain fields and roles. Career fairs allow companies that are seeking new employees to meet a pool of economics graduates in one place. The students are often able to make a first impression with the representatives of a company in a setting that is more informational than a job interview.

Informational interviews are another way to make contact with professionals that work in a specific career field or company. The purpose of an informational interview is to have an informal conversation and learn more about a company or a career without actively seeking a job. It requires preparation and some amount of research, and can lead to learning more about career paths you may not have known existed while also learning what it would be like to work for a specific company. The first step is to identify a professional to interview; help in this process can come from family, friends, university alumni or even LinkedIn and then make first contact and request a meeting. Preparation before the meeting is fundamental to the success of an informational interview as this is a unique opportunity to prepare and ask questions about the career field and the company and also seek advice, present a resume and make a good first impression. An informational interview can remain just that and end with a note of thanks or can be the foundation to building a professional relation with the interviewee that can lead to job opportunities (Knight, 2016).

5. Research the Economics Job Market

There are several places to find economics jobs. INOMICS is a great place to start, with opportunities around the world offered at all career levels, from PhD and entry-level industry to tenured professor positions. Updated on a daily basis, INOMICS is a strong example of a real-time economics job market.

The European Economic Society (EEA), together with the Royal Economic Society (RES), and the Spanish Economic Society (SEA), have created the European Job Market (EJME) to match promising economists with European research institutions and universities. The AEA also hosts academic job listings for economists, as well as the annual job market scramble for recent PhDs. Successful job seekers in economics and any other field are ultimately proactive individuals who do their homework. They are go-getters who research the industry and the career positions. Most of all, they pursue opportunities to build a strong network of professional contacts that can provide insider knowledge of the industry and roles of interest and bring future job leads or offers.

The good news is that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 13% projected growth of economics jobs in the next decade (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021), making economics one of the most promising fields of study. So look out for jobs you could imagine working in, think about which classes will help you get those skills, and fret not. You’re on a good path.

The above article first appeared in the INOMICS Handbook 2022.

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Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Economists at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm.