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Career Q&A: How does an economist make money?

Interview with Indeed’s economist, Callam Pickering

 What subjects did you take at high school?

In year 12 I did English, Specialist Maths, Maths Methods, Accounting and Business Management.

I studied a double degree in commerce and economics.

 

Describe your career path?

I studied a double degree in commerce and economics. I ended up majoring in accounting and economics. I completed an Honours year in economics, which was a prerequisite for applying to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) graduate program.

I successfully applied to the RBA, where I worked as an economist for five years, before transitioning into a career as an economic journalist. After a few years in that job, I applied for my current role at Indeed. The appeal of Indeed was that it offered an almost perfect blend of economic research and market commentary, which utilised all the skills developed in my two previous roles.

The Future of Work series is brought to you by Indeed.

How would you describe your job to your mum?

An economist does research into how the world works. In my role I get to examine big issues such as why people get jobs (and lose them), and why certain sectors or occupations thrive (and others struggle). Economics is really about why and how things happen. Understanding this allows us to improve or change things.

What is the best part of your job?

I get to experiment using data and learn new things.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Many of our experiments don’t work and often the experiments that don’t work are the most time consuming.

What are some things you do each day that people not might know an economist does? 

This isn’t true of all economists, but I get to talk to journalists most days. Discussing the latest economic or political events, explaining why certain things are happening and also the occasional gossip.

What attributes make a good economist?

Innate curiosity is a good starting point. If you’ve ever wondered why certain things happen then you might make a good economist (or alternatively, a good scientist).

A solid background in mathematics helps. So does a lot of patience. Economic research doesn’t always work the first time.

An underrated skill is the ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple way.

 

Why is becoming an economist a good career to consider?

It pays well. First year graduates earn a high wage and it only goes higher from there. According to the ATO, hourly earnings for economists are in the top 3% for all occupations. While those with an economics degree, even if they never work as an economist, can expect to earn well above the median salary.

Economists also have a great deal of flexibility. They can work for a variety of different companies or organisations. If the conservative environment of the RBA isn’t appealing, then why not work for a tech company, or a government department, or a politician, or a media company? Businesses are increasingly aware of the value of economists and their broad understanding of a variety of topics.

How has your job changed over time?

When I started as an economist I was primarily focused on research. That has evolved over time. Today I still do a lot of research, but I also spend a lot of my time talking to the media and collaborating with members of the sales and marketing teams. A lot of time is also spent on social media, providing information and analysis and building a professional brand. That certainly wasn’t something I was thinking about a decade ago when I entered the profession.

How has technology changed or influenced your job?

New technologies have made certain tasks easier. I remember a certain data analysis task I had to do a decade ago that would bring my PC to its knees. I’d be lucky to get the task done before my computer crashed. With the benefits of greater computer power, and a much newer version of Excel, that task is now a piece of cake.

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The economics profession is also quite collaborative from a technical standpoint. Data analysis tools, such as R, evolve every day and that often make our jobs easier. New technology is often a complement for economists rather than something that threatens our job.

What tips do you have for aspiring economists?

To work as an economist in Australia you will want to get at least an Honours degree. Having only a Bachelor degree will not stop you from getting a good job, but the best graduate programs usually ask for more. To work overseas though you should give serious consideration to also getting a Masters degree.

When applying for jobs, don’t forget to think outside the box. When I was applying I was most focused on big organisations such as the RBA and Treasury. But I now realise that economists are in demand across a variety of organisations and industries.

Finally, don’t neglect soft skills. Writing and communication skills are incredibly important. You can be the best research economist in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas you’ll never make the most of your talent.

Biggest misconception about your job? 

Economics is nicknamed ‘the dismal science’ and yet most economists I know are pretty happy and upbeat characters.

What is your greatest achievement to date career-wise?

Building a well-known professional brand after leaving the confines of the RBA. That brand accounts for a great deal of my professional success and played a big role in attracting Indeed’s attention.

Is there anything you wish you knew before starting your career as an economist?

Nothing specific, although I wish I’d asked more questions of economists I met throughout the journey. It would have been handy to read an article like this when I was at school.

The Future of Work series is brought to you by Indeed.

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