Obtaining a job in a think tank involves a careful mix of postgraduate training, experience, skills and networking. Research the area in which you want to work, consider what kind of work you want to undertake and work backwards to plan milestones and your immediate next steps. You may well also re-define and re-focus along the way.
- Talk to people (contacts, alumni, colleagues, tutors, supervisors) who are already working in a field within which you might want to specialise, or who may know people who are in that field. If you are planning a thesis, already writing one, or undertaking research, think about how this may relate to your future aspirations.
- Search for opportunities in publications like the Guardian, The New Statesman, The Times Education Supplement, and The Economist. Individual think tank websites are the most common sources for vacancies and consultancy opportunities.
- Contact think tanks you would like to work for; even if they are not advertising it is worth contacting them and asking about any opportunities, particularly if your research interests correspond strongly with their concerns.
Whether you are looking to start building experience in this sector or already have some directly relevant experience to market, tailoring your CV is crucial. Potential employers need to see that you have an understanding of, passion for and ability to thrive in their organisation and the role advertised or that for which you are speculatively applying.
Highlight the skills outlined above that you have already gained in your degree – what are the most relevant courses you have taken or transferable skills you have built? How have these skills been further developed outside of your degree, through roles in societies, student editorial work, freelance consultancy, travel, previous work experience and internships, etc? Are you doing all you can in the way you phrase the bullet points in your CV to convey the research, communication, team-work, numerical, regional, thematic or other interests you know that organisation values?
A note about Risk Consultancy
Risk Consultancy is sometimes also considered by those seeking to use their research and communication skills beyond their degree. Political, intelligence and security risk analysts examine the respective climate and social conditions of a country, region, or market to determine the level of risk for a particular client. They may provide information relating to government stability, crime or conflict levels, currency convertibility, land rights, as well as other factors that would affect return on investment or other decisions. Typically, analysts gather information pertaining to the area of interest, determine the causes, sources, and level of risk, and forward their findings to decision-makers. They also may offer recommendations for overcoming these risks. For companies operating in multiple countries, local political and economic conditions can determine whether their investment is a success or a failure. Events such as regime change or the sudden collapse of a currency can be devastating if unexpected.
Risk analysts come from a broad range of academic backgrounds and are people who can apply their knowledge to understand new and complex situations. Potential employers are looking for ‘intelligent risk takers’ who are well-informed and keep abreast of current events. They also seek individuals who can write concise and coherent reports. Language skills are an asset but not always a requirement in the field. Some positions may expect you to know a particular region thoroughly so you are able to decipher a balance sheet, understand a country’s economic workings, or provide insight into its politics. However, other positions will focus on several areas of the world and therefore do not expect you to be a specialist.
Therefore, in terms of experience required, a combination of an understanding of the political process in a region (and if relevant a second or third language), economic, accounting and financial skills, are useful and sometimes essential. Building evidence and a narrative of these skills and insights through academic, extra-curricular activities and internships is key to finding an entry level position. Concentrating on a particular angle of the sector can help you build a more targeted strategy. If you are interested in a banking context, you might take courses in Economics. If you would like to specialise in a particular region, build your knowledge on its politics, culture, and economy. If you know that your languages are rusty then think about experience that will help you improve them.
Employers generally recruit on a rolling basis and not all positions are advertised. Researching to identify which employers are aligned with the themes, areas and style of consulting that you are most interested in, and then networking and approaching contacts speculatively, are useful strategies to adopt, even when you are seeking internships and freelance part-time experience.
Some examples of political risk organisations that Oxford students go on to work for after graduating include: Oxford Analytica, iHS, Control Risks, Eurasia Group and the Economist Intelligence Unit, as well as specialist units of accountancy, banking and management consultancy firms. Freelance and other opportunities also exist in this area across a range of employers and sectors, from international organisations to financial and oil companies and consumer businesses. For more information about these opportunities please refer to the website links towards the end of this briefing.