An economist can work at the individual and business levels or even with large-scale governments and economies. They study, research, predict, and evaluate business and revenue trends in every industry out there today. They are smart individuals with a natural ability to problem solve and pinpoint meaningful details. They’re great with puzzles and quandaries and love finding patterns and trends. If this sounds like you, being an economist could be the career you’re looking for.
Take math, statistics, and economics classes in high school. To make college that much easier, start setting yourself up for success now. Take introductory courses in high school that’ll give you a grip on what you’ll be immersing yourself into in college. Get familiar with the topics at hand, stay up-to-date on current political and economic events, and start making it plan A for your future.
If you don’t know much about this area, start reading and watching TV. Freakonomics, The Armchair Economist, and The Naked Economist are all great books that make their material exciting. You should also look at the Economist and the Wall Street Journal for more current information. When it comes to TV, watch a variety of channels to get different economic and political perspectives.
Get your bachelor’s degree. It’s a good idea to major in economics, business management, or a math-related field, like statistics. Dive right into classes like microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics and economic thought and theory. You’ll also need classes in marketing, finance, and accounting. Don’t forget classes in politics and industry, too. These sectors are closely linked with local and global economies and can help specialize your knowledge and land you jobs in the future.
Consider getting a master’s degree. Most successful economists have education beyond that of a bachelor’s. The job outlook is better the more education you have, too. Though it is possible to get a job in a related field with just an undergraduate degree, consider getting your master’s to up your career potential.
If you do stop at the bachelor level, you may find work as a research assistant, financial analyst, market research analyst, or similar other positions in business, finance, and consulting.
Many choose to get a part-time job in a related field to get work experience and then pursue higher education simultaneously to climb the career ladder as efficiently as possible.
Get an internship. Master’s (and PhD) candidates often get internships during their time at college, working with a professor or private company assisting with research. This looks great on a resume and can be your foothold into the academic or professional world of economics. Scope out your opportunities during your studies to supplement your education.
To get a balance of experience prior to your degree, try to do work in the private sector, with the government, and do research. This will give you a taste of the possible routes in front of you and help you make a decision later.
Look into getting your PhD. Again, with more education comes more job opportunities (and higher pay). If you get your PhD, you could teach or work just about anywhere. This takes several years, and includes completing detailed research in a specialty field. It is a research-based degree that focuses on upper level understanding of quantitative analysis. What can you specialize in? Industrial organization, game theory, international economics, income distribution and econometrics are just a few topics grad students choose to pursue individually.
Join a professional organization. If you have an advanced degree in a particular area, there is likely a professional organization you can join to meet and network with other fellow economists; two examples are the Association for Social Economics and the National Association for Business Economists. This can lead to great connections and job opportunities in the future.
Starting Out in Your Career
Find a job at a consulting firm or a scientific and technical company. At the beginning, any job will do. Most economists don’t start out as full-fledged economists. It’ll be easier to land a gig as a financial researcher, an accountant, or as an assistant to an economist. You can then work your way up in the company.
If you have the right combination of education and experience, you could also look into working for business, research, or international organizations.
Consider teaching part-time. Plenty of economists with higher degrees also teach part-time to supplement their income and keep up-to-date on and participate in research. During the time it takes to work your up the ladder, teaching can be a very convenient gig to keep your passions alive. With a master’s degree you can teach in community colleges and in high schools. It’ll take a PhD to teach at the university level.
Work for the government. Many economists and hopeful economists wind up working for the government. With the plethora of positions they need filled, this isn’t exactly surprising. If private sector work doesn’t seem for you, consider this as a valid alternative.
Most government positions accept those with only bachelor’s degrees, but more education will ensure you a higher paid, higher-on-the-totem pole position.
Be patient in your climb up the career ladder. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics says the job outlook for economists through 2020 is going to be slower than average. Government or the private sector may be your best chance for employment. If you have to start out as an accountant or research assistant, consider it paying your dues. You’ll rise to the top eventually.
Consider a job in any related business a step in the right direction. Many companies hire from within and with the right qualifications, you could easily become next in line. In this career, it’s important to roll with the punches to stay on top of your game.
Going on the Job
Hone your analytical skills. Economists are constantly collecting and scrutinizing even the tiniest bits of information. You will be a researcher, an analyst, and a forecaster. You will look for trends and patterns and essentially be a problem-solver. It’s easy to see that analytical skills are a must-have even to just do your job at a basic level.
If you love puzzles, your analytical skills likely come natural to you. If you rock a good Sudoku game and enjoy websites like Lumosity, keep it up. To be a spark in the economics industry, your mind has to be firing on all pistons.
Stay current. Economists are constantly looking at past and current trends to predict the future. They are on the frontier of the political climate and are always a step ahead of the curve. To make sure you’re on the cusp (and to stay employed), you’ll need to stay current with political and international events and trends.
Make sure to read local, regional, and international news. Familiarize yourself with future projections made by other economic analysts and follow political trends. You should be constantly reading (whether it’s a book or on the Internet) to be able to analyze situations from multiple angles.
Work on your social skills, too. Economists are constantly having to convince others of their findings. They’re making presentations and giving speeches, forecasting the future, dispelling myths, and finding patterns to help their employer succeed and account for tomorrow. You need to be able to pinpoint relevant information in addition to relaying it to different types of people. Many economists find themselves in slightly different fields, like writing a column about their knowledge, doing TV specials, or giving seminars. Because of the wide array of options that can spider out from this career, it’s best to as well-balanced as possible.
Dive into your critical-thinking abilities. Every day you’re going to be confronted with complex problems and need to use higher level reasoning and logic. You’ll need to take the data in front of you and think about it outside of the box, how it applies to different situations, and what it means for the future.
Every detail matters and can change your thinking. You’ll need to be nit-picky and focused to be accurate. It will require diligence and a meticulousness not seen in many other careers. It’s hard work, but it can be very rewarding.
The American Enterprise Institute is a good source of conservative economic ideas, and Paul Krugman of the New York Times is a good start on understanding the liberal perspective.
If you take the professional route, you should try to take econometrics. A strong math proficiency and use of high level applied math can only help you gain respect and back up your ideas.
Getting a job in economics is tough. If you get a degree in engineering, you’ll probably be an engineer. Economics doesn’t work like that. Economics might get you a degree in business, banking, or a whole host of other industries. If you want to become an economist, you’re going to have to make an effort to do so outside of just majoring in it in college.
Economics is a field where there are a lot of different opinions. On some issues, there isn’t a clear correct opinion. People will forcefully claim that they’re right, and those people might disagree with you. If you don’t have a thick skin or the ability to tolerate people who think differently from you, economics might not be the right field for you.
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Sources and Citations
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