As part of our 2023 Discover | Conflict and security programme, we invited LSE alumni to take part in a political risk panel. The panel gave insights into the realities of a career in political risk, discussed the differences between consultancies and working in-house, and considered whether it’s better to be a generalist or a specialist.
From diversity to networking, the speakers explored several themes in their insights. Read on for more about these themes in the context of working in political risk roles.
I’m interested in political risk – what jobs can I do?
While it can be tricky to find roles which are purely in political risk, there are a range of roles in related areas that you could consider, for example:
- Government agencies (intelligence services, Foreign Office etc.)
- Security threat research and consultancy
- Due diligence consultancy
A key thing to bear in mind though: political risk is a small and competitive space.
To specialise, or not to specialise
If you’re looking to work in political risk, you might be considering whether it’s worth specialising in a specific region or issue.
For example, right now lots of organisations need a China expert, so if that’s you there may be several jobs to go for. However, there are actually lots of China experts around which makes things competitive, and the demand low.
On the other hand, if you’re a specialist in a lesser-known region or country, or an expert on an opaque issue (such as elements of cyber or cryptocurrency) then although not every company will require your specialism (eg an expert on Turkey), you’ll be in a great position to market yourself to any companies that do.
So, when you specialise, it can be a case of being a big fish in a small pond, or being a small fish in a big pond.
It’s also very possible to adapt, so being an expert on a particular area – niche or otherwise – doesn’t mean you can’t re-adapt to different areas of the industry.
Some examples of under-explored areas in political risk include:
- Cryptocurrency / Blockchain
- Indonesia as a region (the fourth biggest country in the world by population)
- Street crime
What about working in-house versus a consultancy?
Working in-house will likely provide a good work-life balance, and your role may well be more generalist. In contrast, the fee-earning nature of consultancies means you may be led by the client and the advice they are seeking at a given time, so this could mean needing more specialist knowledge. Working in-house may also give you more earning potential early in your career, but have a lower ceiling in terms of earning potential than consultancies might.
The power of proactive research and networking
Many mid-senior level political risk roles aren’t advertised so networking can be key to finding out about these opportunities. For example, you might hear about a role through impromptu conversations such as chatting to someone at an event or through a chance meeting. Sometimes life is about being in the right place at the right time.
As political risk is a small and competitive space, the reality is that it might be not possible to move from A to B in exactly the way you want, so trying things out and taking smaller moves in your career will help you to gain experience, contacts, and expertise. This is all part of strengthening your position in the field.
Is London a good place to be working in?
Yes – London is the political risk capital for EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa). Because of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), during the working day you can do business with clients and colleagues around the world.
Dubai and Singapore are also centres of employment for political risk, and it’s worth noting that Latin America risk analysis tends to be covered primarily by those working in North America.
Is it diverse?
Yes, political risk as a field is increasingly diverse in terms of both gender and ethnicity. There are some trends though – for example, you may find that human rights experts are often women, and security roles which attract ex-military are often filled by men, due to the disproportionate number of men working in the military.
Overarching tips for students:
- Brush up on core skills such as writing and technical skills eg languages and MS Excel.
- Identify your marketable niche – you may have travelled extensively, have forensic knowledge on a particular area, or been exposed to interesting markets.
- For that first job after university, don’t heap too much pressure on yourself – you’ll likely have many jobs in your life.
- Be realistic about salaries and get your foot in the door (don’t discount roles based on their job title eg junior analyst). Think about your skills and interests in addition to/rather than job titles and sectors.
- Fluency in languages is an advantage but this does not necessarily mean you need to have native proficiency. Sometimes being an expert on a region or country that you didn’t grow up in can be valuable as you’ll be attuned to things like cultural differences.
Further resources to check out:
- Political risk analyst job profile: Prospects website
- Networking: LSE Careers resource
- My skills and opportunities pages: LSE resource for developing professional skills (you can filter by skills such as ‘research and analysis’, ‘communication-writing’ and ‘numeracy’)
- LSE Careers 2022 political risk panel: Eight key takeaways (blog post)
- LSE Careers 2021 political risk panel (video recording) CareerHub login required or view here on YouTube
- LSE Careers 2020 political risk panel (video recording) CareerHub login required or view here on YouTube
- LSE Careers 2019 political risk panel (blog post)