How to Get a Job at a Think Tank (Hiring Guide)

How to Get a Job at a Think Tank
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Do you want to make a difference in the world? Do you have a passion for policy and politics? Are you looking for an intellectually stimulating job? If so, you should consider working at a think tank.

Think tanks are organizations that conduct research and analysis on public policy issues. They often publish their findings through books, journals, or other media. These institutions play a vital role in shaping public opinion and influencing government policies.

Think tanks are usually funded by governments, foundations, corporations, universities, and individuals. Some focus on topics such as economics, politics, security, health care, environment, etc. Others cover a wide range of subjects.

Keep reading if you’re interested in getting a job at a think tank. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to get hired at one of these prestigious organizations.

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What does working at Think Tank involve?

Most think tanks operate out of Washington, D.C., and New York City offices. Larger ones may have regional branches around the world. Most employ researchers, writers, editors, graphic designers, and web developers.

Many think tanks offer internships, fellowships, and graduate programs—a few offer full scholarships.

A typical job at a think tank involves:

  • conducting original research.
  • writing reports and articles.
  • Speaking publicly.
  • Attending conferences.
  • serving on boards.
  • advising clients and colleagues.
  • occasionally lobbying lawmakers.

There are several ways to become involved in a think tank. You could apply for one of the paid positions, volunteer for it, serve on its board, start your think tank, join a network of like-minded people, or seek employment at another organization.

Where can one find out information about applying for a job with Think Tank?

Think tanks employ economists, lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, journalists, and others. They are typically run by universities, colleges, government agencies, or independent organizations. Their purpose is to provide analysis and advice about issues facing society. Most focus on domestic politics, although many also study international affairs.

Applying directly through one of their websites is the most common way to land a job at a think tank.Many positions require a degree in one of the fields listed above. Others prefer applicants with previous professional experience. Some think tanks offer internships during school breaks or summer vacations.

If you want to work at a think tank, it helps to know what types of positions are available. Here are some examples:

  • Research analyst
  • Policy analyst
  • Program officer
  • Communications director

How can you get employment at a Think Tank?

Think tanks are often seen as prestigious jobs, but it takes effort to get there. Think tanks tend to be very selective about applicants, so it’s important to ensure you stand out from the crowd. Here are some ways to do just that.

1. Finding specific opportunities

Unfortunately, a think tank job hunt will likely involve tracking many different individual think tank jobs.

There aren’t many high-quality aggregators that capture most think tank job listings. However, there are several major think tanks with dozens of open positions at any given time.

For example, Brookings has about 30 open positions; CSIS has around 20, and the Urban Institute has about 15. These numbers are relatively small compared to the total number of think tanks in Washington, D.C., but it still seems like a daunting task to find all of these jobs.

Think tanks tend to have fewer job opportunities than universities and government agencies. Most think tanks are small operations. They typically have no more than 50 full-time employees. And because they often focus on policy issues rather than academic research, they generally don’t have a huge pool of well-qualified applicants.

2. Which jobs should you apply to?

Think tanks are often described as places where “ideas matter,” and there’s no doubt that ideas matter. But think tanks aren’t just about ideas; they’re about people too. So, while thinking about finding a job at a think tank is important, think about how to make sure that you don’t waste your time applying to positions at think tanks that aren’t a good match for you.

The first question you will face in your job search is: How wide should my network be?

We recommend applying broadly because think tanks are highly selective about whom they hire. Many think tank staffers report a strong correlation between the number of applicants and the number of positions available.

This makes sense. Think tanks want people who work hard and contribute meaningfully to their mission. And since most think tanks don’t pay well, the best way to determine if a job is a good match is to see if you’d enjoy working there.

So, try applying for many jobs, even ones that seem far removed from your current area of expertise. If you’re worried about being too picky, remember that you can always narrow down your application later.

3. Succeeding in the application process

So, you’ve found potentially promising openings and are prepared to apply. But how can you make sure you stand out among thousands of applicants? Here are some tips to help you succeed in the application process.

  • Focus on what you bring to the table.

Your resume is a great place to highlight your relevant work experience. However, it’s important to focus on what you bring to a potential employer rather than just listing your previous positions.

  • Emphasize your skills over your accomplishments,

While your resume is a good place to list your achievements, don’t forget to include examples of your accomplishments. Instead of highlighting your GPA or awards, use specific examples of your success.

  • Be yourself

The key to succeeding in the application process is being authentic. Don’t try to fit yourself into someone else’s mold. Showcase your personality and take pride in your unique qualities.

4. Internship programs

Think tanks offer internship opportunities across a variety of areas. These include program management, public relations, policy analysis, research, writing, communications, and more. Think tanks often require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, though some allow recent grads without degrees.

Some also accept applications from international candidates. Think tanks are a great way to learn about government and policymaking if you want to go into politics as a career.

5. Relevant degrees and credentials

When talking to people about policy and think tank jobs, one question we hear over and over again is, “What do I need to know?” We thought we’d put together a quick guide to help answer this question.


Most policy and think tank positions require a bachelor’s degree. There are exceptions, but they tend to be in fields where college graduates are in short supply (e.g., law school, medical school, finance).


If you’re looking at grad schools, don’t just look at major fields. Look at the programs within each major. For example, if you want to go into international relations, consider taking courses like IR 101 and IR 102 rather than IR 201 and IR 202. You might find that you enjoy the former better.

Other things to keep in mind

Remember that many organizations offer fellowships, internships, and scholarships based on academic performance. These opportunities can make up a significant portion of someone’s total cost of attendance.

6. Grants and bringing your funds

Think tanks are often underfunded. They struggle to find enough money to do what they want, and most don’t have much success growing their revenue streams. There are many reasons why think tanks have challenges getting funded. Among these are the following:

1. Think tanks are often seen as “too conservative,” too focused on policy rather than research, or simply not relevant to today’s world. In particular, there’s a perception that tanks are old-fashioned and out of touch with modern technology.

2. Many people don’t know about think tanks. Very few people see that think tanks exist, even those who care about public policy.

3. People who are already well-off tend to give to think tanks because it feels good to help others. But while wealthy donors are important, they’re not enough to fund the entire sector.

As a result, think tanks typically rely on grants from foundations and government agencies to cover their operating costs. And because grant applications need detailed plans for how the money will be spent, think tanks don’t usually get more than one round of funding.

This means that think tanks are usually either extremely efficient at spending their limited resources or incredibly inefficient at generating additional sources of income. Either way, think tanks must choose between doing less and being able to do more or doing more and having fewer resources to work with.

The problem is that think tanks aren’t always great at choosing between the two options. When deciding between taking on a big project that could bring in a lot of money and helping smaller projects that might only bring in a small amount, think tanks often choose the second option.

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Disadvantages of working in a Think Tank

The main downside of working in a think tank is that there are very few jobs like it, and those that exist tend to attract highly motivated individuals who want to do something good with their lives. Consequently, it tends to be harder to find someone willing to take a job that involves long hours and low pay and often requires you to spend much of your free time writing about things you care deeply about.

Think tanks are generally run on tight budgets, and many lack the resources to conduct independent research into the causes they support. This makes it difficult to evaluate whether the organizations’ claims are well grounded, and even when they are, it can be hard to know how to improve them. If you’re lucky enough to work on a project that matters to you, however, the experience can be extremely rewarding.

Key takeaway

So, you want to work at a think tank? It’s not as easy as it sounds. First, you need the right skill set to articulate your ideas clearly and concisely.

Second, you need to know where to look for job postings and how to network with potential employers.

Finally, you need to create an outstanding resume that impresses hiring managers.

If you follow our guide, we guarantee you’ll increase your chances of landing your dream job at a think tank.

And if you need help putting together your resume or networking with potential employers, don’t hesitate to contact our team of experts. We’re here to help!

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