Getting started and moving up
Policy analysts must be able to do
independent research, which requires reading and digesting
complex information. They communicate effectively through
speaking and writing. They must work well in groups but
also be self-starters able to work alone on a project. And
they need patience to study one subject for a long time.
In addition to these skills and
policy analysts need specific types of education and
experience to start their careers.
Education. Most, but not all,
policy analysts have a graduate degree, such as a law
(J.D.), doctorate (Ph.D.), or masterís degree. The
required educational background depends on the employer,
the subject being studied, and the analystís work
Common fields of study include economics,
public policy, and political science. But other policy
analysts have a degree in education, business
administration, philosophy, or psychology. And many analysts have a
degree related to a specific area of expertise, such as
when a healthcare analyst has a medical degree.
Analysts often choose to specialize in a
field related to their degree and then later branch into
other areas. Consider analystóand geologistóLaTourette.
He began by using his geology education to evaluate
programs in mineworker safety. Later, he built on his
experience in safety to help establish terrorism
Policy analysts who donít have an
advanced degree can sometimes gain expertise in another
way, and then establish themselves through writing and
publishing. For example, one policy analyst at a large
D.C. think tank started as a Web administrator. He earned
a good reputation as an expert in civil liberties issues
by writing freelance articles and maintaining a popular
blog. Persuaded by his growing reputation, the think tank
eventually hired him as an analyst.
Experience. Some people begin working as policy
analysts immediately after graduate school. But because
most employers seek analysts who are already experts on
specific topics or in public policy in general, even
entry-level analysts usually have some work experience.
Would-be analysts can start getting
experience while still in school. Many college campuses
have student organizations dedicated to particular public policy
topics, and many offer open lectures and debates hosted by
the public policy or political science department.
Some analysts get experience, and
expertise, by working as college or university professors.
In fact, many senior fellows at think tanks work as
university professors at the same time, in part because
much of the work at think tanks is similar to work in
Other analysts gain expertise by starting
in lower-level jobs related to policy. In some government
agencies, for example, entry-level program analysts assist
with policy work. Still other analysts have worked at
nonprofit organizations, such as advocacy groups.
Advisory, policy, or executive experience
at a government agency or on a Congressional staff is
another common background for beginning analysts. Social
scientists who do statistical or other kinds of analysis
can also sometimes move into the policy arena. And working
as a journalist or freelance writer covering current
events has helped some analysts get their start.
Analysts interested in working for a
policy organization that covers a particular sector often
need more specific work experience. For example, the Urban
Instituteís International Housing and Finance Team
requires policy analysts to have 5 years of legal
experience in mortgage finance, real estate, banking, or a
Advancement. Like workers in most
occupations, policy analysts who succeed in their work are
often promoted. Advancement is usually based on how much
work has been published, the extent of public speaking at
conferences and public forums, the ability to attract
clients or funding, or the influence of the analystís
Some policy analysts go on to a more
politically focused career. After gaining experience, they
might work for political campaigns, for political parties,
or on Congressional staffs.
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