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Topic: Employer Visit Report

Research roles in think tanks and social research organisations

📥  Advice, Careers Resources, Employer Visit Report, For PhDs, For Taught Postgraduates, Graduate Jobs, Sector Insight, Subject Related Careers

The second of our posts summarising a panel event on research careers in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This post will focus on working for think tanks and social research organisations - this panel included three speakers.
The first speaker had had a varied career before working for think tanks. He did a Classics degree followed by a graduate scheme and then a post graduate diploma in journalism. He got some work experience at a national newspaper then worked on health magazines and journals before working for a health-related think tank. Health-related think tanks include The Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund.  The speaker's current role involves meeting with funders as well as conducting research and managing a research team of six.  Think Tanks can be funded in different ways, and they need to demonstrate to their funders how they are making a difference.  His role involves writing press briefings and reports, and it's important to be able to communicate non-academically. Networking and communication skills are vital. In the speaker's view a PhD wasn't necessary. Work experience  is important– do approach think tanks directly for work experience. It can be helpful to have an interest in the policy focus area of the think tank, and think tanks usually have political leanings. The speaker noted that people often do something else before working in thank tanks.
The second speaker, a lecturer, had previously been a researcher at the National Centre for Social Research. During his time there he worked on designing surveys for the government and went on secondment in the Cabinet Office. He still does research for external clients as well as his academic commitments which include teaching research methods. He noted that for research outside of academia it's important to be able to communicate with clients and manage projects. When recruiting The National Centre for Social Research look for hard research skills – SPSS and Excel, and also for a masters degree with a strong research component. It's important to do your dissertation well and to get a good mark. The panellist emphasised the importance of being specific in your CV about which research skills and software packages you have used. Work experience with social research organisations will also be highly valued.

The third speaker worked as a labour market researcher for a social research organisation. He had also had a varied career; after his masters in Economics he did the graduate scheme at IPSOS Mori. His role there involved research design, literature reviews, analysing qualitative and quantitative data and lots of report writing. He noted that IPSOS Mori do both qualitative and quantitative research; there are plenty of opportunities for people who only want to do one or the other.He noted that degrees in history and politics can be very useful for building analytical skills. Projects can last anywhere between two weeks and two years. Amongst the skills needed in his current role, he mentioned skills in persuasion and validating arguments with evidence; he particularly emphasised the importance of being able to communicate the vision and impact of your research – this is essential for think tanks. It's also important to be curious and inquisitive. In his current role he uses some of the same statistical packages he used at university. In his view it’s possible to teach yourself statistics through online courses, and he mentioned a book call ‘Statistics Without Tears’. In the speaker's opinion a Masters wouldn’t be essential but could be useful for building confidence. He suggested that a Masters in research methods  could be more useful for think tanks and a Masters in Public Policy may be more useful for charities.People who work for think tanks often have an interest in the policy area of the think tank they work for.
The speaker said there are about 50 social research organisations in London, and also clusters of social research organisations in Leicester, Manchester, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland. Lots of social research organisations offer internships which are usually paid. Think tanks tend to do new/primary research whereas charities tend to use others’ research.
The third speaker was a PhD student and researcher at a Brussels-based think tank. Think Tanks can be small so multi-tasking and networking skills are important. He commented on the close relationship between lobbying and research; it's important to be able to communicate to lobbyists and explain the value of your research and how/where it would be used in a short space of time. Hard research skills such as stats and SPSS also important.

Useful links

Careers Service guide to social policy and social research careers

Guide to working in think tanks by the University of Oxford Careers Service

Social Research Association - has a jobs board and a list of social research organisations

 

Research roles in parliament and government

📥  Advice, Careers Resources, Employer Visit Report, For PhDs, For Taught Postgraduates, Graduate Jobs, Sector Insight, Subject Related Careers

I recently attended a panel event on research roles outside of academia in Humanities and Social Sciences. There was a fascinating array of speakers from central and local government, think tanks, charities and social research organisations. I'm going to write up the information gleaned from the speakers in a series of blog posts - starting today with research in government and parliament.*

Research roles in parliament

The first speaker we heard from was A, a Senior Research Analyst in parliament. A spends most of his time reading and writing, taking questions on aspects of policy from MPs,  and preparing briefings.  He emphasised that his current role uses research skills rather than research methodologies – reading and synthesising information very quickly and working out what is most important. A sometimes needs to challenge or clarify the requests he receives for research – sometimes what people think they need to know isn’t what they actually need to know. He also emphasised the importance of understanding customers’ needs and producing a brief with a coherent narrative that can be understood by non-specialists, and clearly explaining any complex terms and jargon. The role involves gathering together others’ research rather than conducting primary research, and A felt that research skills were more important than specific knowledge, which can be learned on the job.

Before his current role A did a PhD and then a series of short term research contracts. In A's current team of 8,  4 people have PhDs, of which two currently work on topics related to their PhD. A didn’t feel a PhD was necessary to do the job. His advice on getting in to research roles in parliament included showing genuine interest in the job, and highlighting your ability to judge between different information sources and communicate to range of audiences.  He mentioned the good conditions of work, standard working hours and opportunities to work with interesting people. Research jobs in parliament come up rarely, and are advertised on www.parliament.co.uk.

We also heard from B, a parliamentary researcher and PhD student. Before his current role B had had a range of experience and voluntary roles - immediately after his first degree he worked as a campaign intern and then for an NGO. His current role involves  reading local newspapers and reporting back on issues to the MP he works for, doing casework (for which he makes use of the parliamentary research unit) and looking after the MP’s website. In B's view the role is a good way to gain insight into how parliament works. He took initiative to contact the MP and ask for work, and emphasised the importance of internships and work experience; volunteering on local election campaigns could be useful. When working for an MP it is important to have the right political sympathies. B noted that lots of the people he works with have higher degrees; he considered this useful for honing skills in writing and condensing information. Roles are advertised on the w4mp website.

Research roles in government

We heard from three speakers working in research positions in central and local government

C, a researcher in the Department for Communities and Local Government, works on research projects relating to local public services - current projects include analysing the impact of Brexit on local public services. C did a PhD and then short term research contracts for universitiesand economic consultancies. She said she prefers research in government to research in academia because of the greater sense of impact and audience; she also values the team research environment of  the Civil Service. C entered the Civil Service through direct entry – there are quite a few direct entry analytical roles advertised on the Civil Service jobs website. Her role involves gathering evidence to ensure better decision making, using both qualitative and quantitative research skills. She felt she is valued for her analytical and communication skills rather than specific knowledge. She works at pace and has to get to grips with a wide range of policy areas.  She commented on the good work/life balance within Civil Service but also on pressure due to reduced budgets and staffing. She works closely with policy colleagues, and noted that some policy roles are also heavily analytical.

D works for a County Council in the Insight team of 10 people. The Insight team is part of the wider Performance team of 40, which includes analysts, researchers and technical staff. Before his current role D worked in finance and performance management. D’s core business is storytelling with data; he mentioned the importance of  communicating an impactful story in a short space of time. Skills in stakeholder engagement are as crucial to his role as analytical skills. IT and technical skills are also important.

The final speaker in this first panel, E, had worked in the private sector before setting up her own public sector consultancy. E observed that there are lots of ways to do freelance work with organisations like Capita and Manpower. E volunteered for Citizens Advice which was useful for developing the interviewing and active listening skills she uses as part of research. E uses high level qualitative and quantitative research skills to conduct situational analysis of organisations; she analyses what’s working and what isn’t, looks at work culture and aspirations of staff. E noted that there is a move towards action-led research, with a focus on continuous sharing and learning throughout research projects - the nature of her research work is therefore highly collaborative. Like A, E noted that it’s sometimes necessary to challenge the premise of clients’ requests and research questions – sometimes there are other issues than the ones the client presents with or requests research on. It's important to be curious and to be able to challenge views and say no.

See also my colleague Sue's post on working in the Civil Service, and our guide to careers in Politics.

*Names and full details of organisations have been taken out

 

Graduate Policy Adviser at HM Treasury - report on a visit by a Careers Adviser

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📥  Employer Visit Report, Graduate Jobs, Sector Insight, Subject Related Careers

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This graduate scheme closes on 11 November 2016 http://www.hmtreasurycareers.co.uk/.

Careers Adviser Sue Briault visited HM Treasury on a very stormy wet day in July 2016. This is what she learnt about HM Treasury's Graduate Scheme.

Alumni Contacts

In 2016 there were two successful candidates from Bath but not many from Bath applied so conversion from application to job was good. There are three alumni on Bath Connection working in the Treasury who you can talk to http://www.bath.ac.uk/alumni/help/engage/bath-connection.

About HM Treasury

HM Treasury is the government’s economic and finance ministry, maintaining control over public spending, setting the direction of the UK’s economic policy and working to achieve strong and sustainable economic growth. It’s responsibilities include deciding how tax is collected, deciding how public spending is operated across the whole UK public sector and working to influence the financial sector by working with stakeholders like the Bank of England and the FSA. HM Treasury is not only concerned with domestic issues. They work to stimulate international initiatives that will enhance the UK’s prospects on the global stage so there are EU and International opportunities. For this reason it is described as being at the heart of government for, without it, other government departments would be unable to work. The Treasury is structured in groups, each specialising in a different field or activity. The website is pretty good as explaining this and includes a range of case studies http://www.hmtreasurycareers.com/inside-hmt/.

The team is small, totalling 1300 at present, and will be reduced down to 1100 within 4 years however the turnover, mainly to other parts of the Civil Service, is quite high and so they will continue to take in around 80 new people a year. The team is also young; 40% of staff are under 30 and 71% are under 40, and the gender balance is good: 43% of top management are women.

HM Treasury Graduate Scheme

The recruitment is usually for 80 people and there are two intakes a year: September and April.

Unlike the Civil Service Fast Stream this graduate scheme is totally policy focused so the attraction of the Scheme is that it is very intellectual. Although they do make candidates take a numeracy test the level of this is the same as most ordinary graduate schemes and not at the level of those run by Investment Banks. The level is GSCE and the need to test is that policy work does involve looking at numbers and drawing conclusions but is not number crunching. It was emphasised that most candidates should, with practice, be able to pass the numerical test.

Policy Advisers work on a specific area of economic or financial policy and projects.  The roles are varied and graduates specialise in a policy area ranging from banking regulation to health spending, to how individuals are taxed.

Typically they could be involved in:

* researching and gathering information from a variety of sources;

* analysing and evaluating complex data and evidence to develop or enhance policy ideas;

* writing submissions and briefings for Ministers, senior managers or officials;

* responding to written questions from MPs, individuals from organisations and members of the public;

* working collaboratively with other teams across the Treasury,  Government departments and external organisations (The Bank of England, regulatory bodies, private sector companies etc.) to debate and shape policy;

* leading projects in high profile policy areas which may include line managing a member of staff;

* working flexibly to meet deadlines and priorities (e.g. before the Budget or Autumn Statement or to respond to urgent pieces of work).

Register your interest to keep up to date with events at the Treasury http://www.hmtreasurycareers.co.uk/register-interest/.

Structure of the programme:

There are two 18 month placements and candidates can indicate their preference although we were told that most who express a preference will select EU and International areas so applicants should think more widely.  The second placement is a mix of what the graduate wants combined with business need and it is common to change to a totally different area as HMT see this as an advantage.

Required qualifications and experience:

* good educational background including a 2.1 degree (in any discipline) (successful candidates do come from a broad range of subjects so don’t be put off applying)

* research skills

* experience of analysing complex quantitative and qualitative information;

* experience of summarising and integrating key information in succinct written reports

* evidence of a quality focus and attention to detail

* ability to work independently and balance long-term and short-term priorities

* ability to build rapport and work collaboratively with internal and external stakeholders

* evidence of an interest in political and economic affairs (at a national and/or international level)

*motivation to work in policy and understanding of the role of the Civil Service and Treasury

* strong stakeholder management and influencing skills

* flexible approach

* IT skills including Word, PowerPoint and Excel

* candidates must also meet Nationality requirements of Civil Service. You can apply for as long as you are a UK national and need to have lived in the UK for three years. In addition these posts are open to Commonwealth citizens and currently still to nationals of any of the member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) provided they meet requirements. At some point this latter group will have their status changed once the UK's exit from the EU is settled Civil Service are never in a position to apply for a work visa.

Meet the Graduates

Mark - Policy Adviser, Inheritance Tax and Trusts, Personal Tax, Welfare and Pensions

Mark studied History and he loves the work because he says it is intellectually challenging. There are many puzzles and problems to look at. He also enjoys the ministerial engagement. He said he found his degree was useful because he was used to using sources to identify relevant material and scrutinising opinions. He said there is variety in the placements you do. Previously he was in Building Societies but now he is in Inheritance Tax. This latter role requires him to be more cautious when dealing with stakeholders as Inheritance Tax is a much more emotional issue. His advice for applicants is to engage with the Civil Service Competency Framework https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-service-competency-framework as this is key to getting through selection but also in framing your future career. The other advice was to be broadly read. He said reading a broadsheet newspaper and thinking about the implications of what you read on government policy and learning about government policy and relating that to the work of the Treasury.

Akash - Policy Adviser, Sanctions and Counter Illicit Finance, International and EU Group

Akash studied Global Politics and he was attracted to the role because it was wholly policy work unlike the Fast Stream. He also applied to Strategic Consultants including PWC and Deloitte and was successful at getting through the Fast Stream as well. This is his first posting joining in 2015 and he is working on the Financial Sanctions Regulation regarding Iran. This has involved travel to Iran, USA and OECD. He feels his degree has helped him in understanding the viewpoints of different countries. He talked about a very flat hierarchy so he says you have a lot of early responsibility and find yourself reporting to quite senior people from the outset. He said challenging a point of view is an essential part of the work and you need to stay true to that even in the recruitment process. He was asked if he found it frustrating being the adviser rather than the decider but he said that most of the time advice is taken and if the Minister doesn’t there is usually good reason so you just have to move on. It wasn’t a problem for him.

He said he found the work unexpectedly fast-paced. He responded to a question about work-life balance. He described his work as not being 9 to 5 as such but he knew he had a better work life balance than his City peers. He described there being a positive attitude to flexible working, an encouragement to take time back when you have worked long hours, and a possibility that you can prioritise your personal life over work from time to time. He also emphasised for candidates to get to grips with the Competency Framework.

The downside to working in Government is that there are no perks in terms of bonuses, travelling first class, eating out and secretarial support but he didn’t regret the trade off with the intellectual content of the job.

Akash is being supported to a Graduate Diploma in Economics.

Kathleen - Policy Adviser, Energy and Carbon Taxes, Business and International Tax

Kathleen studied Geography and came out with a BA however she did study some Physical Geography in her first year which she found useful for her current role in Energy and Carbon Taxes. Previously she worked in the Central Budget Office. She felt her degree was useful as you need to be able to look at the bigger picture, condense a point of view, meet deadlines; it was normal for there to be very short deadlines, and she found the writing style very different to what she was used to. She had done two years on a graduate scheme in business before joining the Treasury. She was surprised by the young dynamic environment.  She recommended getting some work experience in the Civil Service if you can although HR said that all kinds of work experience was useful. Her proud moment was going to the OECD as the UK Energy Delegate.

Application Process

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We were told of the main pitfalls of the application process and areas for improvement for candidates.

Situational Judgement Test: Don’t be intimidated by this. It is selecting candidates out rather than in so there is a bar to pass rather than the top scorers being selected. It’s testing judgement, prioritising and decision-making skills. Make sure you are familiar with the Treasury values and understand impartiality as this will help with context. This test requires high level reading skills.
Interviews: You need to be able to explain what you personally did in the example you are using and be able to identify strategies for addressing challenges you faced. In particular you will be asked what you will find challenging in the role and how you will address this. Most people tend to just answer first part of the question. The Civil Service still interviews using competency questions with some scenario questions to draw out required competencies. The Civil Service Competency Framework runs through the heart of the Civil Service recruitment and its development of staff so get to know it.
Presentation: Stick to the brief, cover everything requested, manage the time given, avoid jargon and consider the audience. Economists often resort to jargon when their audience is clearly indicated as a non-economist. Watch effective presentations – e.g. TED talks
Written exercise: Manage the time so you do everything required. Make sure you connect your analysis to your recommendations. Anticipate and deal with objections. Make sure you present a balanced argument with pros and cons. This task was seen as a common failing in candidates who otherwise excel. The skill is very different to writing essays and candidates with work experience are often better at the type of writing required. Much of the writing is for non-experts.
PhD candidates are very welcome to apply but they should be mindful not to come across as too academic. You do not need to know everything before writing something. The work is fast paced so you need to be able to write confidently without deep dive research.