During your career as an IMF economist, you will face a succession of challenging assignments with increasing responsibilities for economic analysis, policy and program design, and technical assistance to member countries. Fund economists work either on (i) economic developments and policies in one or more member countries as a "desk economist" in an area department or (ii) on general policies or more specialized functions in a functional department. Most of your assignments will involve visits to member countries (missions).
Responsibility for maintaining the Fund's relations with its member countries is divided among five area departments (See Organizational Chart). An economist in an area department has many opportunities to work on a wide range of challenging policy issues that span different branches of economics. At least one desk economist is assigned to each member country. Area departments cover:
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Asia and Pacific
- Middle East and Central Asia
- Western Hemisphere
Desk economists help countries analyze and design an appropriate mix of fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies to promote and maintain macroeconomic stability; examine the macro-financial linkages in an increasingly globalized world; address issues of good economic governance; examine issues of fiscal and external debt sustainability; and develop approaches to promoting regional and broader trade liberalization.
In carrying out their work, economists respond creatively to address new economic issues and contexts; work with the World Bank and other bilateral and multilateral donors; develop and maintain comprehensive databases on aspects of the economy of their assigned country; keep abreast of recent economic developments (particularly in the areas of production, prices, financial sector, money, fiscal issues, and the balance of payments); prepare country forecasts; assess policy options; develop aspects of IMF lending programs (where necessary); and prepare reports for the IMF's Executive Board. Field assignments are also an integral part of an area department's work and there exist ample opportunities for economists to take up a resident representative assignment for a period of two to three years.
Other economic departments of the IMF cover a specific economic function rather than a geographical area. Economists in these departments are concerned with general IMF policy issues, but also work closely with area department economists in analyzing developments and policies in member countries. Functional departments include:
- Fiscal Affairs
- IMF Institute
- Monetary and Capital Markets
- Strategy, Policy, and Review
Some functional departments have specialized tasks such as training (IMF Institute) or technical assistance (part of the responsibility of Fiscal Affairs, Monetary and Capital Markets, and Statistics). In addition to assisting area departments in their field of expertise (e.g., fiscal policy, capital markets and risk/crisis management), economists in the functional departments prepare reports and documents for the IMF's Executive Board, as well as studies published in the IMF's World Economic Outlook, the IMF Staff Papers and other publications.
The skills required of these economists are specific to the nature of their assignments. In addition, Fund economists are expected to pick up a detailed knowledge of the organization's policies and practices. Skills needed in more specialized assignments may include expertise in risk assessment, banking, financial markets, tax policy, public financial management.
One of the most interesting—and central—aspects of an IMF economist's responsibilities are the missions. A typical mission consists of a small team of four or five economists who visit a member country for about two weeks. Having carried out a thorough analysis of the latest data, the team reviews economic developments and policies with the authorities and, if the country wishes to borrow from the IMF, negotiates a financial program. The team then returns to Washington and prepares a report that is submitted to and discussed by the IMF's Executive Board. An economist typically travels two to four times a year.
The IMF encourages staff economists to broaden their skills and experience by working on different assignments in the course of their careers. In this effort, mobility assignments for economists to move from one department to another every few years or to change assignments every two-three years within a department is supported.
The Economist Program (EP) is the "point of entry" for talented young professionals seeking an exciting career soon after completion of their graduate studies. In addition, the IMF employs economists in the middle of their careers to benefit from their outside experience.
Economists who are short-listed for interviews undergo a competitive screening process, which includes, but is not limited to, a writing test, a technical interview by a panel of economists, a behavioral interview, and an interview by the hiring department. The purpose of the screening process is to determine the suitability of candidates for long-term careers and versatility as macroeconomists. Overall, a keen analytical mind, strong quantitative skills, and good teamwork, as well as tact and diplomacy, are some of the many desirable qualities of IMF economists. Those who have successfully gone through the screening process are placed in a pool of candidates ready to be hired. They may be invited to meet with departments and offered positions.