What do you imagine when you hear the word “economist”? A shiny suit walking out from a glass office on Wall Street? Or a mediocre clerk, dug in numbers up to his head? What do economists do? How does their day go? Maybe you’re on the edge of a new college life or looking for a new job. Maybe you just want to explore your knowledge of different careers. Today we interviewed a professional economist to shed some light on one of the most popular jobs worldwide.
Adam is an economist at Goldman Sachs, an American multinational investment bank and financial services company. Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banking enterprises with over 38 thousand employees and departments all over the world. Adam holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He’s been working as an economist for over 12 years in four different states.
“Okay, first of all, how would you describe your job in one word?”
(thinks for almost a minute) “Connections.”
“What kind of connections?”
“Not only with people, although that’s a huge part as well. I mean data. Connecting your dots in your research and global economic events with the things you or your client want to achieve.”
“What’s the difference with accounting?”
(laughs) “We say that accounting is about the past, and economics is about the future. Accountants analyze whatever’s been already done. But you wouldn’t go to an accountant for financial modeling or advice on how to launch a brand-new product.”
Adam’s responsibilities depend on the project he’s currently working on. His job can differ from other economists but along with his responsibilities he tried to provide us with the overall overview of what economists might do not only at his firm. We tried to combine them all together to show the full picture.
- Risk management. Goldman Sachs is the investment bank, and working with different clients takes most of Adam’s time. He assesses the risks of raising capital for larger businesses or sometimes even governments. Adam should approach the process adaptively, calculate its possible success rate and give advice on minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities and outcomes.
- Consulting. Advise on when buying and selling a business or securities. Examine and explain its impact on the region’s economy or particular business. Assist companies involved in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and provide ancillary services such as market making, trading of derivatives, and equity securities. “Basically, we tell people how to make the most out of their money, staying safe at the same time,” Adam says.
- Reports. Adam and his team issue analytical reports on all markets they operate on.
- Product-oriented research. Some economists work with sales and production. They analyze consumer demand and sales for the existing or new-to-launch products, compare economic aspects of production outcomes with competitors and provide forecasts for certain markets.
- Government economists. Adam says that their job might quite differ from his; still, the core stays the same. They project social needs, production impacts, and relationships between the states or countries to consult them on the economic impact of the future laws, regulations, decisions, etc.
- Develop methods for obtaining data. Every point mentioned above requires deep research and analysis. Adam and his team always need to find a way of obtaining actual and relevant data to base their decisions on.
- Carry out research. Work with data collected. Find the connections Adam mentioned at the start. How one factor, variable, decision influence another one.
“Okay, let’s try this way. We’ve asked students studying economics how they imagine their future job, workday, or career in general. I’m going to read you some of that, and we’ll see how you react. Just tell how close are their expectations to reality.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Dracon, freshman at the University of Delaware. We’ve asked him what’s that he thinks he’s going to do all day and what his responsibilities will be. Here goes the answer, ‘I mean, I don’t know much. Haven’t planned it that far. There’s so much injustice in this world, and now I learn it from an economic perspective. Kinda blows my mind. That we’re all to this system. It’s crazy. I love my course. I wouldn't want to do anything else. So, I see myself if this works out in the end: being happy at work, looking at things that matter, and helping real people.”
(Scratches his chin, confused. Then turns to chuckle.) “Wow, that’s big. I mean, we do good things. Don’t know if that’s the good he’s looking for. I’m no superhero but I would call myself a bad guy for sure. The infrastructure we create brings new jobs, money, taxes. The better developed a region is, the more appealing it is to social and civil institutions: hospitals, schools, shops. We help small businesses. Anyway, economics is huge. He definitely CAN do that if he goes for it. Good luck, Dracon.”
Data and numbers are far from everything economists have to face. Adam spends a lot of time communicating with his clients and making presentations. “It’s crucial to express your thoughts clearly and show the information in a way a normal person would understand,” he says. Communication, writing, and public speaking skills are essential to pursue a career in economics. Together with Adam we pulled out the main skills that make a good economist.
- Math and quantitative skills
- Persistence and patience
- Strong computer skills
- Ability to write and speak well
- Attention to details
“Here goes another one. Jeena, sophomore at Simon Fraser University. Same question. There’s the answer, ‘Paperwork, probably. Yeah, lots of paperwork. I mean, I’ll probably have to assist somebody first. Prepare reports, help with presentations, collect and analyze data. It’s not that boring as it sounds. Once you get over it, there’s plenty of creative stuff as well.”
(laughs) “Well, I’m still not over it. But that’s as close as it could. We work with data, numbers. Paperwork and a laptop are always with you. But she’s right; there is much more to it. My job is creative. There is no template of ready-made actions. We have to make decisions. There’s a huge difference in the new-growth risk-management for some Maine developer and sales forecasting for a new line of electric scooters. Even the research she called it. We don’t just dig through the data. You gotta connect the dots, get to the bottom of it. It’s like surgery. Economic surgery.”
Adam says that economists can be quite different, depending on where they work. His previous experience at a production company was nothing to compare with his current job at a multinational corporation. The main thing is being able to adapt. The concepts and ideas students learn at their classes work if they find a way to apply them. The right approach is what makes a professional.
“Did you know what you’re going to do when you studied, or was it the same sort of revelation?”
“Well, that depends. I came to college being sort of prepared but got to admit campus life dragged me in a bit. I wasn’t the best student at first. Don’t tell my first boss. You can say I was sort of close with my ideas to that first guy, Dracon, was it?”
“I had an idea of what economists do, and it wasn’t far from the truth. Just a bit more complicated. Closer to the end, I knew exactly what to expect from my job.”
Adam’s day starts at 8 a.m. and dozens of emails he has to process. He spends about two hours responding to his clients, contacting the ones with the most pressing issues, and making his plan for the day. At 10 he has a short brief with his team where everyone talks about their recent results and current plans. “We always spend at least 10 minutes sharing the news. It can be anything: government reports, interesting articles, or even some personal moments and problems. We try to keep it close,” Adam says.
“What’s your perfect day?”
“The first day of a vacation with my family?”
(smile) “I mean working day.”
“Yeah, I get it. I like doing something new. It’s the hardest part of the job. Analyzing something that hasn’t been before. The hardest and the most interesting at the same time.” (laughs) “I feel useless, not disclosing any examples.”
“That’s all right.”
“Anyway, there are unexplored fields, and stepping there is like being a discoverer.”
This morning Adam’s polishing the presentation they’ve been working on for about two weeks. He cannot share the details but the numbers they use have at least eight figures in them. It takes almost all of his time before lunch, after which he has to go back to client engagements. He spends another hour making calls and writing letters.
“Do you travel a lot? I mean work issues.”
“Not since I got my children, but I have to sometimes. Goldman Sachs got offices all over the world, and people fly here and there all the time. At least used to, before the COVID, I mean. Some even can relocate to other countries to work there for a year or two.”
The next part of the day is what Adam called his personal space. He finally gets his piece of tranquility. He works alone with huge amounts of economic data and reports provided by his team. It takes about three hours of his time, and he would do it longer, but Adam has a risk-distribution meeting to attend. His evening is booked for an interview with me.
“Any drawbacks of the job?”
“Time. I got a flexible schedule, but my wife would hardly agree with that. I often spend mornings reading government economic reports or weekends catching up with my clients.”
“How much do you work?”
“I don’t know. I’d say 50 hours a week. Maybe a bit more.”
We end the call, and Adam runs away. Today he’s staying late as he works with Japanese partners, and the time difference forces his hand. Forever busy and filled with never-ending tasks, he always smiled whenever we called each other to arrange this interview or discuss some details.
“So, give us a final word. Are you satisfied with your job?”
“I earn enough. I have a wife and two little daughters, so yeah, I sort of like it.”
“Any final advice for our readers?”
“I guess it should be inside. If you like finding connections, solving these little puzzles, economics is your field to grow.”
A job or a college choice is a life-determining issue. Today we tried to show you that an economist job is far more versatile than people tend to believe. Economics is vast and full of opportunities. Even though economists work mostly with data, they’re not always submerged in numbers. Creative decisions, unique tasks, and people communications follow economists along their way to success. Stay tuned for more interviews and new reviews of all kinds of jobs.