When it comes to deciding which career path is more impactful for animals, it is important to figure out which career path you will be better at.
There is a lot of variance between individuals when it comes to skills, traits, preferences and values.
- Some people are better at communicating with others, some are not. Some people are comfortable with confrontation, some are not.
- Some animal advocates like to focus on diet change, some like to focus on welfare reforms or movement building.
- Some people are cool with high risk while others are more risk-averse, etc.
These variances also apply to your performance at your work. A job or an organisation may be impactful, but if it is not the right fit for you, it may be much less impactful than opportunities that fit you better.
If you are really good at something, your performance may be multiple times better than what you are not just as good at. If you are just average at your job, your impact would be limited even if the potential impact of the relevant position is high. Therefore making good judgments about what you are good at and making decisions that can allow you to capitalise your strengths is crucial for creating high impact for animals through your career.
So when assessing the impact opportunities, you should consider:
- The average impact potential of the career option (say working as a campaigner in an organisation that aims for institutional animal welfare reforms, or as a supply chain officer in an alternative protein company or as an educator in movement building group), and
- Your personal fit for that role.
Just as it would be mistake to choose your career path by only following where your passion lies or what you like or what you seem to be good at, and ignoring the impact of the work you would be doing; it would also be a mistake to consider the impact of career paths in isolation and not taking into account whether these are the right fit for you.
These considerations are of course naturally relevant for your personal welfare too. We wouldn’t want anyone to selflessly sacrifice their own wellbeing just because they might have a slightly higher impact for animals. Ideally, your career should be simultaneously impactful and enjoyable. People who are satisfied with their jobs also tend to perform better, so in order to achieve high impact you should also take these into consideration as well.
Some pointers to assess your personal fit
You might think that figuring out your personal fit is easy, but it is usually hard to make perfectly accurate judgements about ourselves. So it is reasonable to ask some questions and to think about them open mindedly.
What are you really good at?
Your impact is naturally tied to your performance, and your performance is also tied to your strengths. In order to optimise your performance and your impact, it is important to figure out what your strengths are.
To track your strengths, you can look at your previous successes. Of course, success depends on many factors so a good way of looking at this is to compare your track record with other people’s performance that were in similar circumstances and timeframes. Here are some examples:
- If you had a good academic CV, it might be a good sign that you are good at research related roles.
- If you had experience and success at leading a student organisation, or a business, it might be a good indicator of your strengths in leadership or entrepreneurship.
- If you had joined activist groups (not necessarily in animal advocacy), and you enjoyed being there and achieved your goals, then maybe campaigner roles are a good fit for you.
- If you have a wide network of people who look up to you and have good relationships with, it might be a sign of you being good at working with people.
- If you were successful in earning significantly more and accumulating more money than your peers, then maybe career paths like providing financial resources for the movement might fit you.
- If a lot of people around you (your friends, colleagues or managers) inform you that you are really good at something, then maybe you really are good at it. You can also actively ask them to hear their views.
On the other hand, don’t take one single or some small data as definitive. Especially if you are young and at the beginning phase of your career, it may be hard to determine with confidence what you are good at since there is not enough information available and you can’t really make a lot of comparisons since you had little experience in different fields. Taking some time to try more things and see how you perform in those areas might be a good approach.
What do you enjoy doing?
High performance usually correlates with obsession-like focus and effort. People who are very good at what they do, usually don’t see their job as something that needs to be done just to pay the bills or just something that they “have to” do in their workshifts. They enjoy what they are working on.
For this reason, in order to be successful, it is important to find work that you enjoy, or at the very least don’t dislike doing. If you can do that, you can perform much better than the alternatives where you cannot wait for the end of your working hours, or don’t give it your best effort simply because your job doesn’t energise you.
Another long term aspect of this point is that it is important to work on something for a decent amount of time in order to excel at that role. It is unlikely that you will continue to do the same things unless you really like the things that you typically do. So choosing a career path where you enjoy your work and continue in that path for a long period of time, can allow you to excel at your role which is necessary for delivering high impact.
It is relatively easy to figure out what you enjoy in general. Here are some ways:
- Do you feel highly motivated for a protest or get stressed?
- Are you comfortable with remote work or do you prefer working alongside other people?
- Are you more interested in ideas and arguments, or things and systems?
- Do you always refrain from confrontation? Or are you comfortable with it?
- Do you enjoy handling money and business?
Your answers to these and similar questions, may predict how you might fare in roles (like campaigning, management, fundraising, communications, marketing, research etc.) that typically put you in similar circumstances.
What are your other personal goals and how do you prioritise them?
Speaking of what you enjoy, you might also enjoy and value things other than your work!
One can think of many things here: having children, being able to afford certain things (like a house, car, or travel), not worrying about money, having a certain type of status by your peers and family, having lots of freetime, having a stable routine, caring about other social problems, etc.
These and other goals differ from individual to individual, and everyone can rightly value them.
While some roles may be impactful for helping animals, they may not allow you to achieve your personal goals. Your personal goals are also important, and you should consider whether certain roles are compatible with these.
In order to progress in your career for a long time, it is reasonable to have a coherent life plan that allows at least the possibility to pursue other goals that you value. Here are some questions to consider about other personal goals:
- Would this career path allow me to earn as much as I aim to earn in the short term and in the long term?
- How would my peers and family respond if I take this job? And how would I react to these?
- How much time and money do I want to spend on animal causes?
- How do I value my personal goals relative to my (animal advocacy) career goals?
What’s your attitude toward risk?
Almost all advocacy work involves some risks:
One aspect of this is the uncertainties about the impact.
Even if you have a clear understanding and agreement about the general approach for change, it does not guarantee that your work and the efforts of your organisation will definitely achieve its objectives. For example, you might believe that alternative proteins are really the future. But it is entirely possible that the alternative protein company or NGO you choose to work at may not be successful, your research project may lead to nowhere, etc.
Another source of risk may be about your performance or job satisfaction.
Even if you do your best to assess your personal fit, there will be some uncertainties that you can only resolve after you experience first hand how it is to work in an animal advocacy organisation. It may turn out that this is not for you.
On the other hand, you should also consider the upsides that can make up for certain risks.
Some career paths and jobs may be worth the risks, but how to find the right balance for you is something that you should decide for yourself. Here are some questions to assess your risk appetite:
- Would it be cool to work on a project or a campaign even if its results will be unclear, uncertain? How would I react if at the end, there will be little or no impact?
- Would my career and wellbeing be severely affected if this new job or career path doesn’t work out? How would I fare financially and emotionally?
- Do I have backup plans to cover these risks? (more on that below)
- How much can you do good for animals in the best (or in a really good) case scenario, and how does that weigh against the risks for you?
Do you really believe in the cause and the approach to create change?
If you are seriously considering a career path for helping animals, it is safe to say that you value animals highly. That said, there are a variety of approaches and fields to help animals and people have differing views and emotional connections about them.
If you are not particularly enthusiastic about an approach, and you don’t seem to change your mind even if you think about it thoroughly, maybe this is not the best fit for you, even if it is an impactful role for someone else who believes in that project or approach.
Almost all approaches involve some level of uncertainty about the future impact that they will deliver. And eventually, you have to make your own judgement about these and decide which one is better overall. So your personal views on social change and animal liberation is also an indicator of personal fit.
- Some organisations, for instance, aim to create change for animals by building good relationships with other decision makers like corporations or legislators. Some people would find this reasonable, but some might not (with good reasons of their own).
- Some organisations aim for decreasing the suffering of animals in factory farms while some organisations aim for substituting animal products from the food system altogether. Some people find the former approach unsatisfactory, while others find the latter unrealistic.
- Some people forecast and aim for a larger and stronger movement that will deliver rights for animals in the future via advocacy and social change. Some people, on the other hand, are more pessimistic about social change via advocacy and more optimistic about technological progress that may make animal products obsolete without necessarily a significant moral circle expansion for animals.
Your views about these different avenues of change can have an impact on your drive to work so it is reasonable to contemplate on these topics and come to some informed conclusions for yourself. It would be a shame if after a long time in your career, you realise that you don’t really believe in the impact of your work.
- Lastly, some organisations may focus on certain animal groups like fish or shrimps, or insects. While some people are drawn to the idea of helping millions or even billions of animals and excited about very large numbers, some people doubt the sentience or the moral weight of these animals or simply, do not feel that connection.
For example, some advocates may not find the emotional attraction in themselves to dedicate their career for insect or shrimp welfare. It is reasonable to ask yourself whether you can see yourself highly motivated in your field for years, even if the animals you are trying to help are not necessarily the same animals you typically bond with like cats or dogs.
Your immediate answers may be wrong - don’t just follow your instincts
While asking these questions and giving your own answers is an inevitable part of the thinking process, it is entirely possible that you may be misjudging certain elements about yourself and your career options.
You might be over or underestimating some issues. Or you might be close minded about certain options and fixating on a few. Or you might be short sighted or not paying enough attention to some practicalities.
For that reason, don’t fall into the trap of giving quick answers in order to reach a fast conclusion. When thinking about your career path, be as open minded as possible when acknowledging possibilities and uncertainties.
It is a good idea to purposefully challenge your immediate answers with counter questions and arguments. Here are some ideas:
- Make a list of at least 10 career options (including options outside of animal advocacy), not just one or two.
- Purposefully and genuinely provide pros and cons for each of them.
- When assessing your strengths and weaknesses, make sure to have a list of both. Don’t just focus on solely your strengths or weaknesses.
- Don’t think of yourself as someone who can never change. Think about your potential to adapt, grow and also the possibility to deteriorate or to be bored.
- When assessing good and bad possible outcomes, take into consideration the best and the worst outcomes too, within realistic boundaries.
- Make a budget for your current expenses and your future financial needs and goals. Take out and use a calculator to see whether expected incomes in your options really meet targets.
- When assessing different approaches to change and the track record of certain organisations, don’t inform yourself from one or few sources. Purposefully look for other sources of information that challenge these viewpoints and your beliefs.
Weighing your options in animal advocacy that fit you
When people think about animal advocacy careers, they tend to think of one or a few stereotypes: like a campaigner or a community builder. That is a misconception. There is a huge variety of jobs available in the movement.
- Some of them involve more confrontation (like campaigner or policy positions), some of them are more peaceful (like researcher, or operations positions).
- Some of them require more generalist skills, some of them require more special ones.
- Some of them are in the for profit companies in the alternative protein sector, while others are in non profit.
- Some of them are viewed as more “normal” by society while others are seen as more “crazy”.
- Some of them have really high salaries while others may allow a more frugal lifestyle.
- Some of them allow you to work remotely, while some of them may require you to move abroad.
- Some of them require previous experience while others don’t.
- Some of them involve higher risks and uncertainties, while others offer more stability and have a more solid track record.
- Some of them have more ambitious goals and possibilities while others have more modest (or realistic) expectations.
And as we explained in our donating to animal charities piece, you can also help animals in other jobs outside of animal movement, that allow you to earn reasonable amounts of money and donate a portion of it to advocacy groups.
So when thinking about animal advocacy careers, don’t just think of it as general questions like “Do I want to join animal advocacy?” or “Would I do well as an activist?”. Also consider particular questions like this:
- Would you want to join this particular field of animal advocacy (like alternative proteins, or movement building)?
- Is this particular organisation good for you?
- Does this particular organisation’s culture fit your preferences? Do you expect to get on well with the managers and colleagues in this particular organisation?
- Would you be hired by these organisations given your current skills and credentials?
- Would you perform well and enjoy yourself in this particular position with these particular benefits and working conditions?
- Does the salary range of this position really meet your expectations and the needs of your current and possibly future dependents?
Exposing yourself to these more concrete questions about your career options and thinking open mindedly about the high variety of options can give you a better sense of which paths are better for you in reality. And answering these questions would inevitably require some research on certain fields and organisations, as well as actively asking direct questions to people on the other side of the hiring process to get a better understanding of your options, such as questions about pay, culture, working conditions, responsibilities and expectations. Overlooking these might result in making bad choices that may affect your performance, job satisfaction, and your willingness to continue your career in that organisation.
Even if you do your best to assess your personal fit, it is almost impossible to predict the future perfectly.
It is possible that your personal fit analysis turns out to be wrong, and you happen to be fit for some roles due to a variety of reasons that you did or did not foresee. These scenarios are real, normal and expected, so it is also reasonable to make some arrangements, and manage your expectations accordingly.
That way, you can be more able to take acceptable risks and mitigate certain damages to your welfare. Here are some ideas to do that:
- Have a clear plan B and C in case your career decision doesn't work out: can you or would you go back to your previous job or sector? Would you search and apply for other jobs?
- Be financially prepared. Make a “worst case scenario budget” and make enough savings before taking on risks. Don’t accept salaries that don’t cover your minimum expenses just to get in the movement and don’t make unrealistic assumptions about your future pay or your ability to budget. Also, feel free to negotiate your salary with your potential employer to meet your needs.
- Be emotionally prepared. Don’t overrate the importance or the meaning of a single job in case you get rejected or you don't like it when you are hired. Maintain your connections with friends, family and other sources of positive emotions and meaning. Don’t forget that there are and will always be many other options available to you inside and outside of the animal movement even if one particular job doesn’t work for you.
What can you do other than asking questions and thinking by yourself?
Naturally, you have to introspect in order to have a better idea about your personal fit. But this should not be the only source of information. You may be biased or suffer from imposter syndrome or be ignorant about certain important data. To mitigate this, it is reasonable to look for other sources. Here are some suggestions:
- Reach out and talk to people who work in the organisations that you consider to pursue careers. Ask them about their daily routines, salary patterns, and things they enjoy and don’t enjoy doing (Don’t be shy to reach out to people you don’t know, a lot of people would be happy to help). We recently launched the Animal Advocate Stories series, where you can read about the daily life of different animal advocacy professionals working on a diverse range of roles and organisations.
- Consider volunteering or starting a part-time job or a time-limited contract.
- Apply for roles in impact focused organisations and see where you get to. This will help you to get a good idea of what it’s like to work in the role through test tasks and your comparative fit. (This only works if the organisation you apply for has a strong hiring process)
- Consider applying for career advice from us (But please note we have limited capacity and might not be able to offer you a call).
Assessing your personal fit is definitely not easy, but it is definitely worth trying to make a well thought, informed and comprehensive assessment. If successful, you can make much better career decisions that can allow you to have a great impact for animals.
This article was written largely following the ideas and the structure of another article, “Personal fit: why being good at your job is even more important than people think” by Benjamin Todd and 80,000 Hours career guide.