Want to use your Excel skills for the good of all citizens? Consider a career in budget analysis. Although this job title conjures up images of accounting and auditing, budget analysis is policy work. Government budget analysts help elected officials divvy up trillions of tax dollars each year.
"You can really have a positive influence," explains Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. "The ultimate decisions are made by elected officials, but if you're doing good analysis of how things cost out, you have influence. For the right person -- one who's interested in public policy [and] who's comfortable with numbers -- it's a great way to be a contributor."
As a budget analyst for a public agency, you're in the thick of things. "You deal not only with the workers who actually manage the programs, but you deal all the way to the top of the department," says Patrick Mullen, a senior analyst for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and past president of the American Association for Budget and Program Analysis. "You deal with the office of the president and [congressional] appropriations committees, prepare testimony and answer questions that come up during the budget process. It can be quite exciting and challenging."
The Time It Takes
Budget analysis can also be quite demanding. "A lot of these jobs have long hours, especially during budget development or when the legislature is in session," Pattison says.
Those hours are spent dealing with high-level individuals who don't have time to explain the history of the agency or program you're analyzing. "They need analysis and recommendations, and they need them quickly," he explains. "You need to be self-motivated to do the underlying research yourself."
Your research will include not only crunching numbers, but also reading, writing and tactfully presenting program evaluations. "There's a lot of written material you have to grasp, and programs are complicated in terms of how they operate," Mullen says. "You have to manage multiple tasks and work as a responsible and amiable team member, not only in your office, but also with others outside your office."
Advance by Degrees
To land an entry-level position as a budget analyst, you'll need a bachelor's degree, preferably in political science, public finance, business, economics or social studies. To advance, you'll need a master's degree or doctorate in public administration or public policy.
Uncle Sam hires undergraduate-level budget analysts, with annual salaries ranging from $28,862 to $35,752. Master's-degreed analysts start at $43,731. In 2007, the salaries of federal government budget analysts averaged $71,267.
If you want to work at a federal agency that reviews overall budget issues, such as the GAO, the Office of Management and Budget or the Congressional Budget Office, you'll need an advanced degree, Mullen says. Midlevel budget analysts at federal agencies rank from GS-12 to senior executive service GS-15s, who start out at $107,550.
Internships are plentiful but are often unpaid. While many states have downsized due to lean budgets, government hiring began to pick up in the summer of 2004, Pattison reports.
Search by Employer
When looking online for budget analyst work, search by employer type. If you want a federal job, try Monster Government and Public Service channel and USAJOBS, where many of these positions are listed.
Be sure to put quotation marks around the keywords "budget analyst" when you search. Otherwise, your results will include every job with "budget" or "analyst" in its description, says Dan DeMaioNewton, director of consulting services with Monster Government Solutions.
"Save the search, and have it automatically email you when new jobs open so you're proactively notified of job announcements," he explains. And be sure to post your resume on both Monster and the USAJOBS site so recruiters and employers can find you.