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Economics

Jesper Hanson – 'Challenge the stereotype of the coffee-drinking bureaucrat, the public sector is a very stimulating place to work'

This month’s alumnus is Jesper Hanson. He graduated in 2011 from the MSc in Economics and gained a PhD in Economics in 2018. He works as an advisor at the IMF in Washington DC, and we spoke to him about what he does, how he got his job, and what that job entails.

Disclaimer: this interview was conducted and written before the current corona virus crisis.

What is your current position, and what do you do? How does your working day look like?

I work as advisor to the Executive Director of the Dutch-Belgian Constituency at the IMF. Our office represents 15 countries in the Executive Board of the IMF. As an advisor, I prepare board meetings and help represent our member countries at the IMF. On a typical day I am in touch with country authorities (Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to discuss upcoming board meetings, speak with advisors from other offices to explore possible coalitions in the board, prepare our position in the board by writing a  statement and speaking points, and I attend board meetings.

I also join IMF country teams when they visit countries in our constituency. On a less typical day I could be in Chisinau to participate in negotiations on the IMF program with Moldova, or in Willemstad for discussions about economic policies in Curacao.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s a very interesting period to be in the IMF board. During the global financial crisis, the IMF provided loans to many member countries to help stabilise their economies. Currently, the number of programmes is more limited, despite some large post-crisis programmes, notably the one in Argentina. The Board has more time now to think strategically about the role of the IMF in a changing global economy, for example how the IMF should respond to emerging risks, such as climate change, inequality and ageing populations.

I also really enjoy the missions to the countries in our constituency, such as Georgia and Moldova, which both have lending programmes with the IMF. During these missions I am in close contact with the country authorities, as I join them during negotiations with the IMF country teams. Back in Washington we represent them when their policies are discussed in the IMF board.

How did you get your job?

After finishing a MSc in Economics at the UvA and a MSc in Economics for Development at the University of Oxford, I applied for a position at the International Economics division of the Dutch Ministry of Finance. In that position, I mostly wrote briefings about international economic developments, participated in meetings at the OECD, and I was seconded to the World Bank.

After three years, I transferred to the European Affairs division of the Ministry of Finance, where I worked on the Dutch position in the monthly Eurogroup and Ecofin meetings of ministers of Finance. I also participated in meetings of the Economic Policy Committee in Brussels, and spent six months at the European Commission to work on proposals to strengthen the architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union.

I really enjoyed working on international economic policy, so I decided to apply when my current position was advertised internally.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

The IMF Board consists of 24 Directors, representing 189 member countries. As advisors we try to work together with other offices to see if we can form coalitions and support each other in the board. International colleagues may often have different experiences and perspectives. It’s very interesting, but not always easy, to try to find common interests and shared positions.

What is it like to work in a country different from your own?

The IMF is an international organisation, and our office is equally international. My direct colleagues are currently from Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Israel, The Netherlands, Georgia, Romania and Ukraine. It’s great to work with people from different backgrounds who bring diverse views and experiences to discussions. An additional benefit is that we often have Belgian chocolates in the office, and that I got to know that nothing beats Georgian food and wine.

I have a three-year position at the IMF, and living in the US also provides the perfect opportunity to explore the country. We try to get out of town in the weekends and we try to see as much of the country as possible. My favourite trip so far was a roadtrip through Nevada, Utah and Arizona. We travelled in a Jeep with a rooftop tent, and we camped in nature amidst breath-taking scenery. We particularly liked Canyonlands National Park, which is less well-known than other parks in the area, but has beautiful nature and is less crowded.

How do you apply the knowledge and skills you gained during your studies in your job? 

My current job combines policymaking with economic analysis: the IMF provides economic policy advice to its member countries and the reports we discuss in the board normally contain a healthy dose of economics. A wide range of those policy questions were discussed in the classroom at the UvA. For example: What are the gains from trade? How should economic externalities from carbon emissions be priced? How should countries respond to volatile capital flows?

What career advice would you give students and fellow alumni?

For students who are exploring their options on the job market, I think it’s good to challenge the stereotype of the coffee-drinking bureaucrat. In my experience, the public sector is a very stimulating place to work. It offers the possibility to work on issues that matter, that are intellectually challenging and politically relevant, while often working together with skilled and motivated colleagues. Economists can be found in many places in the public sector, such as ministries, DNB and CPB.

We thank Jesper for participating in this interview series, and for giving us a look into his work at the IMF.

Any questions?

If you have any questions regarding Jesper’s work, you can reach him via email.

We hope this month’s alumnus was an inspiration. What kind of Economics and Business career would you like to know more about? Let us know, and we will try to arrange an interview with alumni who have experience in that field for a future instalment of Alumni in the Spotlight!