Using Your Degree for a Career in Political Risk

March 6, 2017

During a rich and informative presentation on March 2, Tom Wales and Michael Denison spoke about the diversity of career options in political risk – and some of the hard and soft skills that employers in this area look for when they are hiring.

Wales, who is a Group Political Adviser at BP’s Government and Political Affairs section, explained that political risk varies depending on the industry and geography, and that people working in the industry are concerned with a particular type of risk: risk that is “relevant to us – that has an effect on the institution and/or the country we work for.”

Wales and Denison, who also works at BP where he is a political adviser based in London covering the MENA and FSU regions, noted that political risk is a growing field. He said that there are political risk jobs in government, the private sector, the third sector (NGOs), and also in academia and think tanks. “If you choose a career in risk, you are very likely to stay employed,” counseled Wales. Denison urged students who were interested in this field to look around. “There are more options working in this field than you might imagine,” he said.

Denison commented about the “great career paths” working for the NGO sector noting, “You’d be surprised at the amount of dialogue there is between the private sector and NGOs.” He spoke also about the “interesting” work that think tanks do noting that they were especially good at convening people. Wales described the insurance industry as particularly “dynamic” and not at all the boring industry that he imagined it would be. He mentioned the work related to K&R (kidnapping and ransom) as being a growth area, and especially interesting.

Commenting on the talk, Ana Reyes (MPA ’18) said that she was struck by the way in which political risk added value in the analysis and decision-making processes in both the public and private sectors. “I found it inspiring to learn about such an interesting, analytical, and creative field,” she said. Ann Gagliardi, Director, SPP Career and Alumni Programs, who organized the career talk, made a similar point noting that political risk is “a niche area for really smart people who are also creative thinkers.”

Wales and Denison have both served on many hiring committees during their careers and so had especially valuable insights about what employers looked for in recruits. Many of the hard and soft skills they mentioned are ones that all employers look for: strong academic background (“do the best you can while you are at university”), foreign language skills (“a great advantage”), good judgment, the ability to think imaginatively, to meet deadlines, and to write clearly. “That’s critical,” said Denison.

They also stressed that many of these skills are ones that very few, if any, candidates have when they apply. “What we’re looking for,” said Wales, “is someone with potential – someone who can learn.”

One final piece of advice: prepare for interviews. “We are stunned by the number of highly qualified people we interview who have not prepared, who know nothing about the company,” said Denison. “Don’t be one of those people,” said Wales.

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