Probably Good Career Guide: Part 2
Where To Start?
6 Minute Read
Nearly everyone feels the force of inertia when making career decisions. It can be the ease of staying at a job that you’ve worked at for a few years, the obvious choice of working for whichever job is available where you live, or even the feeling that you have to take whatever opportunity is available to you because there might not be another one. It’s not always wrong to take the obvious choice, but it’s almost always wrong to do it without considering the full range of your options.
This is even more important if one of your goals is to do work that benefits others. Finding a career path that is both a good fit for you personally and also the best use of your abilities to improve others’ lives is hard. You’re not likely to stumble upon it if you don’t actively search for it. Moreover, it’s not always easy to get good answers to important questions like “How much am I contributing by taking this job?” when you try to think about it seriously (for example, could it be that if you didn’t take the job, someone else, just as qualified as you, would get it and your time is better spent elsewhere?)
The first thing you do - is make the (relatively small) commitment to break that inertia: To take a step back, think about your goals and what you want to achieve, think about what you believe to be the most important areas where you can improve the world, think about your career as a long-term and important path that requires some thought and planning. This guide will go through these questions and help you figure them out, but the first step is to decide that this is an important journey to undertake.
Very importantly, this doesn’t mean that this is a short process. Your career will span decades so it’s easily worth spending quite a bit of effort and time to make better decisions and improve your trajectory. As you’ll see throughout this guide, there are a lot of questions and considerations worth thinking through, but we still want to emphasize the importance of actually starting the process.
It Can Be Hard
One of the reasons many people take a more passive approach to career decisions is that the process isn’t easy. The parts of the process that people find difficult (and the degree of difficulty) vary greatly between different people, but there are some common areas that many people find hard. These include:
Time commitment: Fully exploring your options and how much good you could do isn’t very fast. There’s a lot of material to help you, but it’s a longer process than looking up jobs on a board and just applying to whichever ones look potentially relevant.
Hard questions with large uncertainty: Both moral questions (do I prefer working to stop factory farming or alleviating the hardships of poverty?) and practical questions (is this organization doing effective work for their cause?) can be hard questions to answer. In most cases, even after looking into them, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the answer.
Rejection: Our biases usually lead us to avoid the risk of being rejected. Usually, if you want to find how you could do the most good, that would mean applying to very effective positions, even if your chance of being accepted is lower (we’ll discuss this in depth later). Naturally, this will lead to more potentially stressful processes and more rejections, which many people find difficult to deal with.
It would be great if it all had some simple solution. If we could say “Follow these 7 easy steps and you’ll find the best way to do good with your career.” Or 17 steps. Or 27. But it isn’t that easy. And we’d be very skeptical of any promise to solve complex problems with a set of easy steps (though, rarely, there are exceptions).
What we can say is that we take the complexity of the process seriously. We’ll help you make sense of the process and provide you with the best information available. We’ll be clear and upfront about our level of confidence in what we write and we’ll take your feedback seriously — to improve and get better over time.
It’s Worth It
We’re not exaggerating when we’re talking about using your career to improve the world and save lives. We think there’s a wide range of careers and paths that will end up saving over 100 lives, or doing some equivalent amount of good. Further, there are some paths that are more speculative but have a chance to do much, much more.
We see how much good can be done: In alleviating the effects of poverty, in reducing the suffering of animals, in reducing the chance for catastrophic or existential risk, in increasing humanity’s potential for flourishing, and more. If you’re anything like us, discovering these paths will get you excited not only about the possibility of doing good — but about just how much good a single person can do.
It’s very likely that your career is the best resource you have when trying to affect the world. The sheer amount of time you spend at work means that choosing the right career is a decision with an outsized effect on the rest of your life. In addition to the amount of time, the skills you develop, the people you meet and connections you form, even your views and values are affected by your job over the long term.
For most people, there’s no practical way to bring comparable amounts of time, attention, skills and resources to a project that isn’t their career. This all means that it’s easily worth investing some time and effort in making these decisions well.
Every day, people just like you are making decisions that affect the trajectory of their career for the decades to come.
Every day, dozens of effective organizations are looking for the right people that will discover the next great opportunity, or to scale already-impactful work.
And every day, people who have chosen to dedicate their career to doing good feel more satisfied with their career.
We think the work to optimize your career to improve the world is worth it, and we hope you agree.
There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about your career and how to have a meaningful impact. Below is our model for how to think about these things in order.
The easiest way to use this guide, is to keep moving forward along this order and we’ll take you through the important things you need to think about, one by one. If a specific topic interests you right now, you can click on it and jump ahead.
Research & Introspection
The first and easiest place to start is thinking. Figuring out what options are available to you, what sort of impact you can have and which would be a good personal fit for you. Reaching an understanding of what you know and what you need to find out in order to make good career decisions.
Values and Impact
What causes are important and what career paths and organizations are the best paths for you to make meaningful change to promote those causes?
What options are at all relevant? What are the hard restrictions (geography, salary, skills) that determine your available options?
Which careers and jobs fit your skills and personality? Where would you be satisfied and able to work and make a positive impact over many years?
Uncertainties & Experimentation
A lot of the most important information can’t be read and requires actual experience. Understanding what are the most important questions you need answered to make good career decisions and finding the most cost-effective ways to answer those questions.
What sort of questions do you need answered? Do you need to decide on a field of study or choose between specific offers? How uncertain are you about important parameters in career choice?
Most Important Questions
What are the most important questions that need to be answered? Which questions are you most uncertain about and would have the greatest impact on your eventual decisions and path?
How to go about answering these questions? Can a phone call to a friend give enough information? A side-project in your spare time? 2-3 years of experience?
Decisions & Moving Forward
The only thing that’s left is actually finding, choosing and reaching relevant opportunities or jobs.
Long-Term Career Planning
How to think about your career in the long term? What are the trade-offs you’re making between impact right now and a potential larger impact in the future?
Finding Relevant Opportunities
Where and how to look? How to filter potential options?
Getting the Job You Want
How to actually land the right jobs for you? How to write a resume, prepare for an interview and give yourself the best chance to be accepted?