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Home About the IFS Jobs Application and selection process for Research Economists

Application and selection process for Research Economists

What we are looking for

In compiling our shortlist, we look particularly for excellent academic results and for an interest in and understanding of how economic theory can be used to improve public policy. Research Economists involve carry out research to a high academic standard, with an awareness of the policy context, and communicate the results to a wide audience.

Successful applicants to a Research Economist position will have gained or be expected to gain at least a very good 2:1 on an economics-related undergraduate degree course, or have or expect to have a relevant master’s degree. Candidates with work experience in the public, private or not-for-profit sector and those who have or expect to have a strong PhD, who are interested in doing general microeconomic research, may also apply. Many staff have previous computing, econometric or theoretical skills; these are not essential, although strong numeracy and the willingness to learn are.

You will be expected to be able and willing to present your work to a range of audiences, including the academic and broad public policy communities. This may include addressing conferences and seminars, writing for newspapers, and appearing on radio or television. Relevant training – for instance, in broadcasting skills – will be provided.


We strive to foster a respectful and inclusive environment, in which people from all backgrounds feel welcome. Our approach to flexible working has helped to ensure that we employ a balance of men and women at all levels of seniority. Staff of many nationalities work together at the IFS, along with a range of visiting academics from the UK and other countries.

Our selection decisions are made on the basis of potential to carry out and communicate excellent research, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or social class.

When short-listing and interviewing we are looking for potential and enthusiasm for economics, an ability to think using an economic tool kit and to communicate this clearly: the process is designed to draw these out and to identify the positive attributes that a candidate has, rather than to catch them out with trick questions or find out what they don’t know.

Application process

We ask candidates to fill in an application form, rather than submit a CV, so that short-listers can compare like with like when looking at information about applicants. As well as information about academic performance, we ask candidates to answer the following questions:

  • What interests you about economics and why do you want to work at the IFS?
  • A question about economics, to be answered in no more than 300 words.

You will be asked to provide two referees. These should usually be academic referees, unless you are not a recent graduate and have relevant work experience. We will contact all academic referees for short-listed candidates.

Aptitude tests

We will ask a long list of 50 to 100 candidates to carry out a short online aptitude test. This is used primarily to give us extra information about applicants and allow candidates to demonstrate their potential, in particular if their academic background does not reflect their abilities. It will not be used automatically to screen out candidates with lower scores.

Process for short-listed candidates

We aim to shortlist between 20 candidates, from roughly 300 applicants. When we contact short-listed candidates, we will first asked them to prepare a short written answer to a set question, to be sent back by email a few days before the interview. See this video for an example of the type of question we will ask and the kind of answer we are looking for.

First interview

This answer will provide the initial basis for discussion in the first interview. Part of the reason we do this is to help candidates relax, as they will be familiar with the material for the initial discussion. Another reason is to allow us to assess your written as well as spoken communication skills.

Each candidate will attend two consecutive interviews on the same day, where the discussion will focus on applying economic theory to policy-relevant questions. The interview panels are made up of three people per panel. These include senior managers and team leaders, most of whom have a space in their team for a new economist.

Candidates will be asked to use economics to analyse a topical policy question, such as the impact of tax changes or government policies on education. Up to a further five topics will then be covered, each focusing on a different aspect of the Institute’s research. We select candidates based on the potential we believe they have to think in an intelligent way about economics and its application to policy questions. Each interviewer will privately note down a score after every question to indicate how well they think candidate answered the question. The scores are entered into a spreadsheet at the end to allow the panels to reach a fair assessment.

Second interview

A smaller number of candidates (about 10) will then be called back for a second interview. This time, there will be one interview with a panel of six people. Candidates are asked to prepare a presentation in advance which they give at the start of the interview. We then follow up with a set of questions about the issues raised in the presentation. We then have another question or two similar in nature to that asked at the first stage.

Interview expenses

We will pay all reasonable travel – and accommodation, where needed – expenses for candidates coming from with the UK. For the first interview, we can carry out interviews via Skype for candidates from outside the UK. We will typically cover expenses for any candidates coming to the second interview (regardless of where they are located in the world), as we would prefer to carry these out face-to-face rather than remotely.

Job offers

We expect to be able to make job offers during the week following the interview.

We will give feedback on their application and interview performance to all candidates who came to an interview and have not been offered a job.

Candidates from outside the EU can apply, and the role is eligible for a Tier 2 visa. Any job offer will remain conditional until the visa application to the Home Office is successful.