A masterís or Ph.D. degree in economics is required for many private-sector economist jobs and for advancement to more responsible positions. Economics includes numerous specialties at the graduate level, such as advanced economic theory, econometrics, international economics, and labor economics. Students should select graduate schools that are strong in specialties in which they are interested. Undergraduate economics majors can choose from a variety of courses, ranging from microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics to more philosophical courses, such as the history of economic thought. Because of the importance of quantitative skills to economists, courses in mathematics, statistics, econometrics, sampling theory and survey design, and computer science are extremely helpful. Some schools help graduate students find internships or part-time employment in government agencies, economic consulting or research firms, or financial institutions prior to graduation.
In the Federal Government, candidates for entry-level economist positions must have a bachelorís degree with a minimum of 21 semester hours of economics and 3 hours of statistics, accounting, or calculus.
Whether working in government, industry, research organizations, or consulting firms, economists with a bachelorís degree usually qualify for most entry-level positions as a research assistant, for administrative or management trainee positions, or for various sales jobs. A masterís degree usually is required to qualify for more responsible research and administrative positions. Many businesses, research and consulting firms, and government agencies seek individuals who have strong computer and quantitative skills and can perform complex research. A Ph.D. is necessary for top economist positions in many organizations. Many corporation and government executives have a strong background in economics.
A masterís degree usually is the minimum requirement for a job as an instructor in a junior or community college. In most colleges and universities, however, a Ph.D. is necessary for appointment as an instructor. A Ph.D. and extensive publications in academic journals are required for a professorship, tenure, and promotion.
Aspiring economists should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings while in college. This experience can prove invaluable later in obtaining a full-time position in the field, because much of the economistís work, especially in the beginning, may center on these duties. With experience, economists eventually are assigned their own research projects. Related job experience, such as work as a stock or bond trader, might be advantageous.
Those considering careers as economists should be able to pay attention to details, because much time is spent on precise data analysis. Patience and persistence are necessary qualities, given that economists must spend long hours on independent study and problem solving. Good communication skills also are useful, as economists must be able to present their findings, both orally and in writing, in a clear, concise manner.