I often get asked to advise folks thinking of a career in the political risk analysis area. Here are a 10 bits of advice. What people often want is the names of firms. I am reluctant to offer this since I am not up to date. I think there are about 2000 such firms. Many new small and niche. Most of my former colleagues are prospering at IHSMarkit which is one of the largest such firms.
1. Political Risk Analysis is a crowded field where, in my view, you need a narrow regional speciality to be credible. This means you will need to speak a language of the region in which you specialise. You also need have spent a good deal of time in the region i.e. more than a year. Ideal if you are actually from there. If you are western person, who took eg Middle East studies at university and you love it, but you only visited the region for a few months… well you need to move and live in the region to gain credibility. It is not likely that you will gain a credible job analysing a region based on academic study only. If, as you likely claim, you are passionate about abroad – well go live there. And also think about taking your Masters in the region.
2. You need some economics and statistical numeracy. American universities provide this more readily than Europeans ones. See my End of Experts Blog which suggests you need a style of thought and tools rather than knowledge as such. Statistics, economics language and understanding the culture of your selected region are such tools.
3. When you look at different firms, you should ask if analysis is in fact their main client benefit. There are many firms who have perfectly respectable analysts but the main revenue comes from another commercial offering, very often security advice. In such firms analysts have a different status and purpose as they support the main revenue of the business. It is harder to be objective in such environments and if you are serious about being a professional analyst you do need to comfortable with the constraints on your work. Ironically, financial services eg in banks can be attractive here since making money is more or less the only measure of success. There are no client sensitivities to work around.
4. The field of political analysis is relatively young. It remains unclear what the career path onward for analysts is. Country analysis on its own is a somewhat back room activity. There are pathways eg into journalism, corporate affairs, PR (who have ever stronger regional teams) but they need to be planned. Analysis is not of itself a very commercial activity and thus you probably need to widen your horizon in the longer term.
5. It really helps if you are into politics and if you are then you should probably be participating in local, national or student politics.
6. The big plus of political analysis is that everyone who does it really likes it. But also everyone, including clients, are entitled to do some analysis themselves. Thus, the quality bar is very high if you are going to make it commercial. Write something and then ask if someone would pay for what you wrote and by extension pay you to do it full time.
7. There are strong team in corporates who do perhaps more general analysis. They are in effect intelligence requirements managers who get their regional analysis from analysis-companies where the specialists are making the country judgements. This might be a happy place for a generalist to seek employment.
8. Technology is moving fast in this space. You need to be almost a social media engineer. i.e. not just a user. Post script 2018: This is more true than ever. Clients value streamed social media feeds specific to their commercial operation as much as generalized analyst opinion on the country.
9. Of course, people seek internships. I think these are getting harder to secure. Much of the work is confidential. Companies now feel they need to pay interns which is a shame because it actually means they simply do not run the programmes. Think laterally about internships. Better, I think to build LATAM expertise by interning with a baby milk company in Venezuela than to sit in eg London telling the world about the world.
10. Follow the dream but there are lots of firms where you can think about the future of a country that are not risk analysis. NGOs, Consulting firms, Banks to name but a few.