Job opportunities & advice

  • The economics department maintains a helpful list of organizations that hire workers with economics degrees. (Be sure to click on the bar that reads "Examples of Economic Policy Research Jobs" at the bottom.)
  • The department includes job listings in its email newsletter. I recommend you read it.
  • Here is my own list of organizations that hire economics graduates, grouped roughly by area of focus. While I do not have direct experience with most of them, I limit the list to organizations of which I hold a positive view.
  • Suppose a competitive labor market equilibrium such that all workers enjoy equal utility (at least conditional on ability). What does that imply about the non-wage attributes of highly paid jobs?
  • Succeeding in a risky endeavor is much more satisfying than succeeding in a safe endeavor.
  • Youth is a good time to take risks, because you have many years to enjoy successes and recover from failures.
  • Resist the urge to take an unsuitable job because uncertainty bothers you, or because your friends have taken jobs. A job search is a matching problem, and a bad match may be worse than seeking out another opportunity.
  • Most students only know about a handful of fields when they finish college. That means the expected return to trying a new field yourself, or carefully interviewing someone in that field, is high.
  • When choosing a job, consider what you will actually do over an 8- to 10-hour day: call clients, visit homeless shelters, attend meetings, fire ceramics, draft legislation, make presentation slides, etc. Ask yourself how you want to spend your time.
  • If a corporate recruiter promises a job will develop "skills" or prepare you for a different job later in life, press for details. Some skills are valuable (in both market and non-market senses of the word), while others scarcely deserve the name. What have past workers actually gone on to do? Keep in mind selection bias: former employees of a firm may fare well because they initially had high ability, not because they acquired useful skills on the job.
  • Elite private firms frequently promise that their jobs offer exceptional preparation to do good in the world. This is misleading at best, fraudulent at worst. For a detailed account I recommend Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas.
  • Economic theory predicts that the cost of learning skills that are not firm-specific is borne by the worker in the form of lower wages, not by the firm. The intuition is that the firm doesn't want to pay for a worker's training, only to have her take those skills elsewhere soon thereafter.
  • Research finds that high financial-sector salaries may reflect rent-seeking, meaning redistribution of social surplus rather than creation of additional social surplus. In other words, these jobs often involve exploiting market imperfections to take advantage of smaller or less-informed participants. The US financial sector may actually be less efficient today than in the past.
  • Active investment management is typically sold based on a fraudulent promise of higher returns. In fact active management generally produces lower returns than a market index, particularly after fees. If your broker has a genuine, repeatable stock-picking skill, why doesn't he just spend the day managing his own money?
  • The expected return to online job applications is typically very low. If you can make telephone or personal contact with someone at your target organization, that will substantially increase the likelihood that someone reads your application carefully.