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Career Building Tips for Economists

by Kara M. Reynolds, Program Director and Susan Gordon, AU Career Center

Businesses and organizations are increasingly relying on economists to analyze markets and economic trends. As the demand for employees is expected to continue to grow over the next few years, here is some advice on how best to position yourself to succeed in this well-paying, high-growth industry.

6 Economist Career Building Tips

  1. Build Critical Skills. The same Occupational Outlook Handbook cited above notes that most economist positions require applicants to have either a Master’s degree or a PhD, for the simple reason that a graduate education in economics imbues important qualities. Successful economists must master three critical skills: (1) the ability to use economic theory to make predictions and develop hypotheses; (2) the ability to analyze data to statistically answer questions; and (3) the ability to communicate findings to a wide (non-economist) audience. We have designed the MA in Economics at American University (AU) to ensure that our graduates become proficient in all of these skills. Starting from their first semester course in economic theory, our students apply economic theory to analyze the impact of market shocks or new policies on economic outcomes. In our two semester sequence in Econometrics, students learn everything from simple statistical tests to advanced econometric modeling, and are expected to conduct their analysis using popular software packages. Students gain experience developing hypotheses, analyzing data, and explaining their analysis in applied, topical papers.
  2. Develop your own Brand. Particularly if you know the industry or field where you would like to launch your career, start building a brand in that field while in graduate school. For example, if your ideal career is at a development organization, keep that career goal in mind when choosing topics for the papers in your elective courses or your final capstone project. One of our AU alumni who is currently employed at a state agricultural trade and development office chose to write her capstone project on the impact of the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement system on U.S. agricultural producers. Such research experience and expertise can be highlighted in your resume or vita, and discussed in interviews. Consider whether you want to invest the time and effort into making your capstone paper of the quality needed to be published in an academic journal. Although this would likely take longer than the single semester allocated to the project during the program, faculty who are interested in a project sometimes offer to work with students after completion of the initial draft to co-author a paper.
  3. Keep Current in Your Field. A successful economist will keep up with the academic literature in the field through the latest journal publications or working paper lists. One easy way to keep abreast of the literature is through an announcement service, such as New Economics Papers, which allows e-mail subscriptions to reports on new working papers in a variety of sub-fields in economics. It is equally important to keep up with current economic news in the popular press, through newspapers, blogs or podcasts. These popular press articles can not only serve as conversation starters, but also spark research ideas. Two of my favorite economics podcasts are NPR’s Planet Money and Freakonomics.
  4. Build a Network. Professionals are successful not just because of what they know, but who they know. Start building your professional network now by creating a LinkedIn profile, and joining the LinkedIn group we maintain for our current AU students and alumni of the Economics Department. Join a professional organization, such as the National Association of Business Economists (NABE), which have inexpensive student rates. Many of these organizations maintain their own job banks and host local networking events. You may want to build your network by interning while you are at AU. To prepare for your internship, you can meet with Career Advisors in the American University Career Center to discuss how/where to find employers, internships and jobs, and practice for interviews. You can meet with an advisor in person, via Skype, by phone and email.
  5. Market Yourself. The AU Career Center offers online resources as well as individual advising for AU students and alumni to help polish your professional marketing materials. The Career Center can help you craft a resume that is targeted to your field and write cover letters that are specific to the job description and employer. In addition, the advisors will review your LinkedIn profile to ensure it is professional and that it demonstrates your brand.
  6. Target Your Search. Successful job seekers don’t wait for opportunities to come to them. They research potential employers through a variety of means. Through individual advising, workshops, and online resources, the Career Center can guide you in effective job search strategies. For example, start with resources such as the “Companies” feature on LinkedIn, conduct information interviews, and use targeted online resources that seek economists – such as NABE.

About the Authors

Professor Reynolds joined the department in 2003 after completing her PhD at the University of Virginia. Her research interests include the political economy of trade protection, particularly antidumping protection, and the impact of trade liberalization on workers and firms. She will be teaching ECON-600 Microeconomic Theory. Learn more about Kara M. Reynolds.

Sue Gordon is the Director of Career Development at the Career Center. Sue works with Career Center advisors, faculty, and staff to ensure that the Center’s programs and services effectively meet the needs of AU students and alumni, with a particular focus on career development issues that range from declaring a major to accepting a job offer. She also oversees advising and programming for students in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Communication. Learn more about Sue Gordon.

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To learn more about American University’s online Master of Arts Economics, Applied Economics specialization, request more information or call us toll free at 855-725-7614.