Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thinking About a Career at A Think Tank or an NGO?

At IPPR’s Careers Event, three professionals working at think tanks and an international organization gave students a look into what qualities were regarded highly in the application process, what it would be like work in this field, and how these organizations are making an impact on policy and change.

The first speaker was Christiane Andersen, who currently works at the European Council on Foreign Relations as the programme officer of the Asia Programme.  In 2012 she received her M. Sc. in International Public Policy at UCL.  Christiane stressed the importance of transferable skills such as communication skills, specifically having the ability to write various types of texts that are engaging.  She also brought up that knowing multiple languages would be very helpful.  In addition, she emphasized that feeling at home in the world of economics would be useful, as well as brushing up on basic office skills like how to use PowerPoint and create a spreadsheet.  A few more interesting points she made were that most people do not stay at a think tank for more than about five years, and because of this it is necessary to make connections while there, because this may lead to another job down the line.

Next up was Matt Honeyman, a research assistant at the King’s Fund, an independent charitable organization working on improvements in UK healthcare.  He was previously a research intern at the Constitution Unit.  Matt provided a lot of detail on what it was like to be a research assistant and also gave information on the King’s Fund.  He noted that he spent a lot of time spent sifting through data, but also spent time writing literature reviews, doing qualitative data programming, and attending relevant conferences.  He was passionate about the health care field, and this enthusiasm seemed to be what made the work worth it, especially when he got to see results of the project.  He mentioned that there were intermittently staff development seminars held by the senior staff members for those that were newer like him.  A valuable tip he offered was to contact individuals working in fields of personal relevance and request to work with them for a day in order to gain experience and perhaps an important networking connection.

Kerry Stares was the last speaker of the event.  She had recently completed her MA in Human Rights.  However, before deciding to work in the advocacy sector, Kerry had been a city lawyer who had sued hedge funds on behalf of banks.  She decided to switch career as she was no longer happy with the work that she was doing.  She began her new job as the private sector advocacy adviser for ActionAid about six weeks ago, an international organization working to promote human rights and bring an end to poverty.  Because she is so new to the position, she was not able to provide a lot of information on what her job entails on a day-to-day basis.  However, she did explain that the overarching aim of her job was to direct advocacy to the private sector and foster accountability within private companies.  This role is  a fairly new one because the private sector’s increasing influence politically is still a novel matter.  There is still plenty of discussion and debate on how much or how little non-governmental organizations should become involved with the private sector. 

The best part of Kerry’s talk was her 5 tips.  First, she believes it is most valuable to make sure the modules one chooses are pertinent to what one wants to pursue after graduating.  Second, make sure the CV is done well and done right.  Find someone who works in this field who is willing to look at it, if possible.  Third, make the most of Twitter.  Follow all significant organizations and staff, and tweet anything that could stand out to them, such as a public policy article you have written.  Fourth, network, network, network!  She bought coffee for anyone and everyone in the field in order to shamelessly pick their brain and get advice.  There was not one set way that any of the speakers attained their current jobs.  However, Christiane also highlighted the significance of networking as a way of either getting a job or making connections for a future switch in jobs.  It was obvious that personal connections they had made by linking up with people in their fields helped them get where they are today.  Fifth, if necessary, work for free and fill up any holes in your CV.  No experience campaigning?  Go out and find a place where you can pick this knowledge up.  Make sure to be proactive and not just reactive.

All three speakers made it clear that one should not follow this career path if wanting to earn a very high salary.  None of the three speakers seemed to have a clear cut set of tasks that they did on a daily basis.  Instead, their jobs seemed to include a bit of everything from research, analysis, and outreach.  Therefore, it seems vital that someone wishing to go into this field does have a broad background of experiences so that they are more likely to be well suited and prepared for a job at a think tank or international organization.  The three speakers all had one thing in common: they all believed that the work that think tanks and international organizations did by way of generating and processing ideas, inserting advocacy into governments, and bringing a public aspect to politics, had a positive impact on governments.