Think tanks conduct research and advocate for issues that affect different aspects of our lives, mostly those being related to social problems or dilemmas. Some think tanks, also known as policy institutes, specialize in just one research area, while others are more broad in scope. Funding for think tanks varies and can be provided by federal government programs, grants, state or local government funding, corporations, businesses, or political interest groups. Consultation fees can also produce income for think tanks.
Some think tank jobs include researcher, analyst, writer, editor, and legislative associate. Working for a think tank might involve all of these roles, or a person might specialize in a certain area. Responsibilities are very dependent upon the size and scope of the organization, as well as its funding.
Researchers are an integral part of think tanks, as they conduct the studies and collect data that the think tanks need to operate. Analysts interpret data, and writers are often responsible for publishing findings. Editors are responsible for ensuring that everything produced or published by the think tank is free of errors and as accurate as possible.
Because think tanks often deal with political issues, they sometimes employ legislative associates. These associates attend legislative meetings, hearings, and events, as well as communicate with legislators about policy issues. Legislative associates are usually very familiar with the legislative process, and they understand how to communicate effectively with policy makers.
Though most think tank jobs require some type of degree, usually a bachelor's degree or higher, this is not necessarily the case in every situation. Most think tanks will employ interns who often work for free while learning about the think tank world. In many cases internships are reserved for university students, however hiring is at the discretion of the organization.
Think tanks operate in institutions around the world. They can be found in American as well as European universities, particularly large and well known universities with a specific focus on a topic. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are often supported by think tanks, and are a good source for think tank jobs.
Think tanks tend to research and advocate for issues such as foreign policy, gender issues, poverty, economic issues, health issues, global development, urban issues, housing, and labor. An educational background in any of those topics, experience in the field, or a combination of both are very helpful and many times necessary to work for a particular think tank. A lot of students and graduates who are new to the think tank set up begin by working as an intern, often times unpaid. Internships can lead to permanent placement with a decent salary and benefits for graduating students.
Regardless of education, there are certain skills that think tank jobs require. Though each job will have its own unique requirements, the most general skills needed to successfully work for a think tank are excellent communication skills and writing or journalism experience. A bachelor's degree or work experience in communications; writing/journalism; political science, international relations, international business relations; gender studies; economics; education; or another discipline in the social sciences is highly desired.
Because think tanks are often the backbone of political advocacy they will often be associated with a certain political group and its ideals. Anyone considering a job with a think tank should understand the ethical and political beliefs that the organization stands by. Furthermore, some research should be done to learn about where funding for the think tank comes from.