Here's your guide to going from a graduate with an economics degree to beginning your career. We'll cover job outlook, career options and translating your college and internship experience in your resume and cover letter.
How much should you spend on pizza and beer? When an economics professor posed this question to Calvin Blackwell, Ph.D., it started him on the road to becoming the chair of the economics department at the College of Charleston. Blackwell loves economics because it's a practical field rooted in how people make decisions.
"And we make decisions constantly," says Blackwell. "So, I've always found economics to be a very useful discipline."
Blackwell has seen his students go on to work in banking, consulting, healthcare and other general business sectors.
"They'll do well at any sort of position that requires strategic, big picture analysis," he says.
Let's explore your options.
Earning an advanced degree
To become a practicing economist, you'll need to obtain an advanced degree.
"It used to be a masters would get you pretty far, and that's still fairly true, but the federal government is looking for PhD's," Blackwell says. "To be an economist in the public sector, you definitely need at least a master's degree if you want to work as an economist or expert witness, or work on economic evaluation."
Some of Blackwell's economics students go on to get law degrees or MBAs. One study found that lawyers with economics degrees make more money than those without, and CEOs with MBAs and a bachelor's degree in economics make up a high percentage of business leaders.
If you choose the straight economics PhD. path, the median wage for economists is a healthy $104,340, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the job outlook projects an average of 6 percent growth through 2026.
And with a PhD., you would be in demand. A recent study found that about 100 U.S. universities produce only 1,000 Ph.Ds. a year, which translates to plentiful job opportunities in academia, according to the American Economic Association (AEA).
What can you do with an economics degree?
Maybe an advanced degree isn't in your plan, or maybe you want to get a couple years of work experience under your belt before you take on graduate school. The good news is that as an economics major, you've left college with a strong foundation that you can use to propel yourself onto many career paths.
Consultant groups are a good place to start your job search, according to the AEA. For instance, McKinsey & Company, an American company that works internationally, has hundreds of job openings and actively recruits new graduates for junior associate and research analyst positions.
To compete with the many applicants for these positions, you'll need to show how your experience and skills make you a valuable candidate. Your resume is an essential part of your application, and you should build one that's professional and engaging.
Here are a few other highly regarded consulting firms that actively recruit graduates for entry-level economics jobs:
- Boston Consulting Group
- Bain & Company
- Charles Rivers Associates
- Mathematica Policy Research
- NERA Economic Consulting
- Booz Allen Hamilton
While most economist positions at the federal government level require a doctorate, there are a few agencies where you can get in the door with a bachelor's in economics.
Here are some government and international organization options for recent graduates:
- CIA. An economic analyst in the CIA studies how foreign economies could affect United States security.
- State Department. This agency hires recent graduates for a one-year entry-level training program. From there, you can move into a career in civil or foreign service.
- Federal Reserve Board. The Federal Reserve hires entry-level recent graduates for research assistant positions that work directly with economists on major projects. Topics range from The Role of U.S. Monetary Policy in Global Banking Crises to Second-Home Buying and the Housing Boom and Bust.
- The World Bank. This organization provides economic resources to developing countries with the mission of ending extreme poverty. It has various programs for young professionals, including a two-year analyst program that trains candidates for a career in international development.
Setting off on your path
Economics sits somewhere between math and English when it comes to qualitative vs. quantitative skills. Your resume and cover letter should illustrate both these kinds of skills to show hiring managers that you're a well-rounded candidate.
"Economics is somewhere to the right of the middle, towards math," says Blackwell. "Students get a fair amount of practice in thinking about things both qualitatively and quantitatively. They practice rigorous discipline in making arguments and following through on the logic of arguments."
Most jobs labeled "economist" require advanced degrees, so finding a job with a bachelor's means evaluating the skills you've acquired through your degree and translating them to other economics major jobs. Here are a few areas you might find interesting:
- Data analytics. If you enjoy delving into data sets and econometrics, consider a career as a data analyst. You're responsible for looking at a company's data to analyze trends, draw conclusions and make recommendations. These tasks require the ability to communicate complex information clearly in non-technical terms to decision makers within the company.
- Healthcare. Find industries that are rapidly changing, because these areas need people with strong analytical skills. For instance, the healthcare industry is under constant pressure to change and adapt to the needs of patients, doctors and insurance companies. Your economics skills will help manage that change by researching and analyzing data and human behavior, drilling down into information to find better solutions.
- Technology. Tech companies are increasingly interested in delving into data sets to help solve business problems. A recent search on Amazon shows that the tech giant is currently hiring more than 200 economists. Amazon relies on these economists to identify trends, create new systems and lead the company on many levels. It's a big responsibility, according to one job description:
Amazon economists will apply the frontier of economic thinking to market design, pricing, forecasting, program evaluation, online advertising and other areas. You will build econometric models, using our world class data systems, and apply economic theory to solve business problems in a fast-moving environment. Economists at Amazon will be expected to develop new techniques to process large data sets, address quantitative problems, and contribute to design of automated systems around the company.
Translating your skills
Look for jobs that value the skills developed during your college years:
- Analyzing data and statistics. Processing complex numeric information and creating insights.
- Finding and understanding relationships. You can evaluate the data and see the relationship that creates higher costs.
- Research, whether that's looking for new business models or exploring new industries a company can break into.
- Communication. This is one of the most important skills to have in any workplace, from presentations to writing recommendations.
Economics certifications and professional organizations
Joining an economics-associated professional organization can be a great way to explore career paths, meet peers and find mentors. Check to see if any of these organizations have a chapter near you.
The AEA is the preeminent resource for economists, and its leadership is made up of famous economists, such as former Federal Reserve chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. The organization has 20,000 members and provides access to research, job postings and discounts.
The AEA is geared more toward academia, but the NABE targets those working in the business world. They offer an annual conference, a job board and networking with a young professional membership. If you join the NABE, you can also become a Certified Business Economist (CBE). This certification bridges the gap between what you learned in school and what you'll need to succeed as a business economist. Here are several of the NABE's areas of emphasis:
- Health Economics
- Real Estate/Construction
- Small Business/Entrepreneurship
- Transfer Pricing
This organization brings together professionals working in:
- Food and consumer goods
- Natural resources
- Regional, rural, and associated applied economics
- Business problems
A career in economics can be exciting, challenging and, as Blackwell reminds us, incredibly practical. Whether you're planning to earn an advanced degree or you want to put your skills to work immediately, our Resume Builder can walk you through the process of crafting a resume that will catch the hiring manager's eye. When you're applying to a specific job, use our Cover Letter Builder to craft a customized pitch that highlights your skills and experience.
Prepare for the application process now by reading these articles and guides relevant to economics majors:
Build Your Resume
- How to write your first resume for recent economics grads
- Get inspired by our Economist Resume Samples
- Read other outstanding resumes for accounting and finance applications
Refine Your Cover Letter
- How to write your first cover letter for recent economics grads
- Get more help with your cover letter by working from one of our Cover Letter Templates
Prepare Yourself for Specific Jobs
Prepare to be Interviewed
- Study up on the best job interview tips
- The most common interview questions for economics majors (and how to answer them)
- How to have a successful video job interview