A career in economics can touch on virtually any aspect of life and business. Being a government economist in the Government Economic Service is not just a question of analysing figures. It is work that sees you closely involved in important current issues and helping shape government policy.
2016-17 Sandwich Student Placements will open on Wednesday 7 October at 9.00am. See sandwich student page for details.
2016 Round 1
- Opens - 1 September
- Closes – 30 September
For more information, including the scheme timetable for the 2016 scheme, see the Assistant Economist pages
Fast Stream Assistant Economist Appointments
These appointments are at graduate entry level or for those with less than 3 years work experience as a professional economist.
To apply for a Fast Stream Assistant Economist post, you should already have, or hope to obtain in 2016, a first or upper second class honours degree in economics, or a postgraduate degree in economics. At least 50% of the course modules must be in economics. You must have studied both macro and microeconomics to qualify. If you graduated more than 5 years ago, you must give examples in the competency section of the application form, of economic articles you have read in depth to demonstrate that you have maintained competency in economics.
Message to Applicants from the Government Economic and Social Research Team
A prerequisite for a career as a government economist is to get a job as one. The Government Economic Service (GES) has over a thousand applicants a year, but many do not perhaps do themselves justice. Many fall at the first ‘sift’ because of gaps left in completing the application form: You may have a Nobel prize in economics but unless you write something in those puzzling ‘competencies’ and ‘extra-curricular’ boxes you won’t be joining the GES; and just writing ‘completing degree assignments’ as an example of ‘prioritisation’ doesn’t make you stand out. So do make the most of what you have done in life to give stronger examples. But you don’t have to have swum the Amazon to satisfy the ‘determination’ criterion; and if you claim to have done so we may well ask you about it! Also, as you will use much of the same material for separate applications, watch the cut and paste. It’s best to confine a ‘life-long ambition to work for ‘KPWC’ to just your application to KPWC.
On actually getting to interview, many candidates are overly worried about being nervous. It’s quite OK to be quite nervous. One candidate actually threw-up with fear, but, after cleaning-up, even she went on to pass; though I don’t recommend this particular interview technique. You are not expected to be the finished product. Nervous is better than behaving like a candidate from ‘The Apprentice’; though a bit of ‘selling yourself’ is fine.
Reeling off complex techniques that you don’t really understand can backfire. If you can’t say it in words, or apply the basics competently, then no amount of eigenvectors or Jacobian matrices will save you. Government economics is about dilemmas not lemmas. The vast majority of GES recruitment questions require no more than the knowledge in introductory tomes, but you must have practised applying these ‘threshold concepts’. Look at the world around you: What is the opportunity cost of that toothbrush before and after I buy it? Is the opportunity cost of that house its price? Is this park a pure public good? Have you ever seen equilibrium? If you respond to a question on the crisis with ‘What crisis?’ then you have not read beyond (old) textbooks. Read the FT and generally keep up to date with economic events, there have been a lot recently. You should present yourself as a living thinking economist.
Of course, first find out what you might be getting into! Go to employers’ open days; look at their websites, e.g. www.ges.gov.uk. Your university may invite representatives from employers; use the careers service at your university. Look for relevant articles and forums in the newspapers, e.g. the Guardian, and seek contacts with people who have the jobs you want.
So what do government economists actually do? Last year 85 per cent had synthesised evidence, 75 per cent produced briefing material, 70 per cent provided policy advice, 70 per cent had used cost-benefit analysis, 55 per cent had been involved in policy evaluations, 55 per cent had used mathematics and 50 per cent econometrics, and 15 per cent had used game theory.
It is clear from this that good communication is vital, but communicating as a professional practitioner is different from authoring as an academic. Ministers don’t say ‘I didn’t understand that’ they say ‘You’ve explained that badly’. And that’s right for government: If the people who make the decisions can’t understand you then you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Be clear, concise and compelling. ‘Plain English’ campaign materials are useful, as is The Economist ‘Style Guide’. Government publications can be good guides for effective format and style, with some notable exceptions. Practise short strong sentences. Be concise but use spaces to break-up long documents. Use ‘active’ verbs: ‘I shot the sheriff’ not ‘The sheriff was shot by me’. Wear your intellect lightly and avoid jargon, pomposity and redundancy: ‘At this moment in time’ just means ‘now’.
Once in the job it doesn’t take long to realise that economic models are to be used but not believed. At best they offer only partial insights, so applying different perspectives can actually be more revealing than consistency. Everyday human values of ‘honesty, tolerance and clarity’ are closer to the Civil Service Code and a better guide for GES practitioners than dogged adherence to, say, a set of axiomatic rules for theoretic consistency.
Lastly, GES economists serve the government of the day, so if we want to go into politics we must resign from the civil service. But to be useful to any government, regardless of its politics, we must be intellectually pluralistic. What is certainly wrong and unscientific is to defend one’s own view relentlessly with hostility to other approaches; the opposite of trying to discover new and better ways of understanding and addressing the real world. Economics is part of a broader social science that is improved through critical exposure to other disciplines such as politics and international relations. Good economics is not a subset of business studies or a manual of received wisdom: A critical approach produces much better economists.
I hope to see you soon in the GES.
If you were successful at the 2015 scheme Economic Assessment Centre (EAC) between October 2014 and July 2015 but were then unsuccessful at FSAC, you may be thinking about re-applying. Do make sure you requested feedback from your FSAC so that you know what areas you need to work on. If you do re-apply for the 2016 scheme you will be able to bank your EAC. This means that you will not need to re-sit EAC. You will however have to complete, and pass, all other stages of the recruitment process on merit, including completing the application form and being sifted in to the process. Just because you passed EAC last year does not mean you will be automatically pass the manual sift this year so do please take some time to complete the application form (checking against the GES sift criteria) to ensure your form fully reflects your skills and experience. Please note that you cannot ‘bank’ your EAC two consecutive years.
Details of the 2014-15 sandwich student scheme are now available on the student placement pages.
For more information see Student placements.
Nationality requirements for GES appointments
Applicants for GES posts must be UK nationals, Commonwealth citizens, members of the European Economic Area (EEA), or Swiss nationals who have the right to live and work in the United Kingdom. There are further restrictions for the Diplomatic Service Options.
Please note that it is possible to meet the above nationality requirements and still not be legally entitled to work in the UK. The UK Border Agency operate a points-based immigration policy which applies to the migrants from outside the European Economic Area, Switzerland and Turkey.
It is your responsibility to check whether this policy applies to you. Departments are under no obligation to sponsor work permits under the UK Border Agency’s points-based immigration policy. Therefore, if you require a permit to work in the UK, there is no guarantee that you will be offered a place even if you pass the Fast Stream selection process. In these circumstances the decision to apply, which might involve travel to the UK two or more times to complete the selection process, is yours alone. We can take no responsibility if no place is available for you in the Fast Stream on immigration grounds.
You can find further information about this and the other nationality requirements at