Getting Started Guide

How to start a career in think tanks

February 2019

So you’ve decided you fancy a career in think tanks? As careers go it can be intellectually stimulating, varied, exasperating and really good fun. You will be working with people who are engaged, passionate and interesting. But how do you begin a career in think tanks?


Internship internship internship

Internships are the best and main route to gain experience and entry to think tanks. Typically lasting 3-6 months these range across the four main careers in think tanks – research, communications, fundraising, events. Nowadays internships are likely to be paid and you can expect to tackle some interesting and value-adding tasks. That said, you will probably have to undertake a fair amount of admin as well!

When thinking about applying for internships or graduate jobs in think tanks you should firstly think about which type of job most interests you. If you are most interested in research then head to those opportunities but a lot of great careers started in the other (less competitive) functions.  Communications roles offer a great chance to build a wide network in and around Westminster, to build transferable skills if you want to move into public affairs and involve handling the research when writing press releases.

Similarly events roles can be very fast-paced and transferable to many other industries. For fundraising you could be working on individual donors, corporates or big trusts and foundations helping to write proposals, managing the relationship and ultimately fund the research the think tanks want to produce.


Starting at a think tank

Once you are in a think tank the real work starts. A lot of graduate jobs are filled by those who have completed an internship with the organisation so now is the time to shine. Think tanks are looking for people who are enthusiastic, team players and happy to go above and beyond. You will meet a lot of the same people throughout your think tank career so it pays to be polite and engaged. Now is also the time to start building your network, both within and outside your think tank as there is often a revolving door between think tanks, public affairs, Parliament and government.


Mistakes to avoid when applying:


Spelling and grammar – if you are applying for a job offering your skills as a writer, researcher and communicator it pays to make sure you don’t have any spelling or grammatical mistakes on your CV, cover letter or in your written assessment


Cover letters – if the think tank asks for a cover letter, include a cover letter


Have the right attitude – it’s great to be confident but you’re unlikely to be running the think tank in the first 6 months


Research the role you are applying for – if you are applying for an events position don’t spend your application talking about how you want a career in research


Do your homework – research the think tank you are applying to – think tanks are non-political but will have a guiding philosophy so make sure you apply to those whose ethos aligns with yours


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