How to identify your local high impact career opportunities - process and tips from EA Sweden

by Gabby_O12 min read4th May 20215 comments

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Local priorities researchCareer choice
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Summary

  • Many engaged EAs, in particular EAs living outside of the UK and US, seem to struggle to identify high impact job opportunities in their location.
  • I’m sharing the process EA Sweden used to research local high impact opportunities available to EAs in Sweden. My intent with this post is to share an example as well as lessons learned, and encourage more EAs to investigate local opportunities.
  • This post outlines one part of the process of creating a career plan; it doesn’t describe the full process. For more information about the rest of the career planning process, please see 80,000 Hours and Probably Good.

 

Background

I’m the executive director of Effective Altruism Sweden. A large part of my role involves providing career advice to EAs in Sweden and hosting career planning workshops. I’ve also worked part-time for 80,000 Hours and CEA.

Why am I writing this?
A bottleneck I and other community builders have noticed is the lack of advice available for high impact job opportunities outside of the US and UK. Using the EA Survey as an indicator, EAs living outside of the US and UK make up around 40% of highly engaged EAs. Based on my personal experience and speaking with other community builders, it seems lots of engaged EAs outside of the US and UK are struggling to identify promising career opportunities in the place they live. 

 

In EA Sweden, we decided to investigate what high impact career opportunities exist locally, to better advise EAs wanting to stay in Sweden. This post describes the process we used. I hope that it can act as inspiration for other groups as well as individuals conducting independent investigations into local career opportunities. See the section on tips for individuals to adapt the process below. 

Caveats

  • This post is intended to share the process used by EA Sweden and lessons learned while doing this research. It is not a normative template for how similar research ought to be done.
  • We decided to use the process described in this post after benchmarking and testing out two different approaches. It isn't necessarily the best process, and we welcome suggestions for other ways of identifying high impact opportunities in the comments below. You can also email me at gabriella@effektivaltruism.org.
  • It’s hard to find high impact opportunities. Most of the roles and organizations we found were estimated to be medium impact opportunities. When doing an independent investigation, it can be useful to get input on whether the opportunities you’ve identified are expected to be medium or high impact.
  • We found it best to not share the list we generated publicly. Instead, we use it to share specific tips with people in our community.

Throughout the post I’ll be using the term opportunities to refer to potential roles, not current open opportunities

Thanks to people who helped with the project and who gave feedback on the post, Arden Koehler, Ben West, and Erik Engelhardt (a special thank you to Erik who conducted much of EA Sweden’s research).

 

The process we used 

We started out benchmarking how others had pursued local career research (see organizations listed at the end of the post). We decided to test two approaches for a few hours to compare yields (how many opportunities we could find, and how confident we were in the impact of these opportunities). The first approach involved searching for roles and organizations on Google, the other involved reaching out to experts or EAs we knew worked in the area of interest. The first approach generated significantly worse results than reaching out to contacts, both providing us with fewer opportunities and opportunities we felt less confident in. So we decided to continue our search by reaching out to experts and contacts in the fields we were interested in. 

  1. We started out by listing medium or high impact organizations in Sweden we already knew about. We then did some research to become more certain in recommending them; this included their track record of impact, what roles exist at the organization, and its plans for future work.
  2. We then created a list of experts and community members to ask for recommendations of other impactful organizations in Sweden. When identifying experts, we selected experts based on strong credentials (like number of citations for researchers) or because they were someone who is frequently quoted as an expert in their field.
    1. As a positive side effect, several experts expressed appreciation for hearing the recommendations from other experts in the same area since those recommendations sometimes contained recommendations that they hadn't heard about or forgotten.
  3. We reached out with specific and general questions and followed up with interviews with some experts. We asked questions like:
    1. In your field of work, what organizations and roles do you think are high impact places to work?
    2. What parts of [organization’s name] work do you consider to be higher impact, and why is that?
    3. What are your thoughts about this organization X that another expert recommended?
    4. What makes you less excited about recommending this organization?
    5. What is your confidence in this recommendation?
    6. What other people do you think we should talk to about this?
  4. We then spoke with more experts in specific fields to learn more about organizations in that space, and specifically to get a sense of their potential for impact and what roles seemed most impactful.
  5. Finally, we did more research online to resolve remaining uncertainties about what organizations do, what roles are available, and their expected impact.

We focused our investigation on what we think are highly pressing causes, like those listed here

 

If you’re considering doing a similar investigation on your own, here are some tips:

  • To not overwhelm local experts, it’s better to coordinate. Chat to your local group organizer to see if similar work has already been done, or if other EAs are interested in joining your investigation. If there are several people interested in opportunities in a certain location, coordinate efforts to identify opportunities. I believe this to be desirable for three reasons;
    • 1. It’s likely that you can identify more opportunities by spending more time all together
    • 2. Your joint network is likely larger than a single person and therefore you’ll have more experts to chat to
    • 3. Identifying high impact opportunities can be hard and will involve uncertainties and judgment calls that will likely benefit from being discussed by several people.
  • It’s often valuable to speak to EAs/experts who are familiar with EA principles/ideas in order to distinguish high impact opportunities from average impact opportunities. But to learn more about specific organizations and opportunities within a field it can be very helpful to speak to non-EA experts as well.
    • If you don’t feel confident in reaching out to people, or who to reach out to, it may be useful to ask local group organizers or others in your community.
  • Don’t over-defer to experts. Also, think independently about whether opportunities are likely to be high impact, and defer only if you know why you’re deferring. When building a map of high impact opportunities and arguments for why an opportunity is or isn’t high impact, it’s useful to build your own model even if you’re filling it with information from other sources (whether expert judgement and/or objective facts). Here’s a useful post on ways of deferring to experts/more informed individuals.
  • Think about your specific context. How promising do the opportunities seem in your setting, i.e. how likely is someone working on a particular problem to make valuable contributions when working in this location? These types of questions can be particularly useful to speak to a group organizer about. If you're investigating several cause areas and you find that one is particularly difficult to make progress on from your setting, move on to the other ones instead.
  • It’s useful to write down notes, to be able to share with others in your community. Make sure to also clarify your uncertainties and spell out caveats to help others appropriately use the information.
  • If I was conducting the same process but for my personal career plan, I’d do a few things differently.
    • Firstly, I’d start out by doing a shallow investigation into a wide number of paths to get a better sense of the high impact opportunities available and my fit with them. I’d start out focusing on paths rather than specific organizations to put more emphasis on my personal fit with the paths and to avoid excluding paths without good local opportunities but where good remote opportunities exist. 
    • I’d then write up my decision framework, and start adding in information from my shallow investigation.
    • After evaluating the opportunities I’d found and identifying my shortlist of options, I’d talk to my local community (community organizers and other EAs) to learn more about promising opportunities and what experts to speak to. From this, I’d produce a list of organizations and roles, adding remote roles to the list.
    • I’d then do a deeper investigation into specific opportunities to understand how they fit with my preferences and profile to get a sense of how likely I’d be to thrive in them. A deeper investigation also gives a more nuanced understanding of the path and makes it easier to identify the highest impact opportunities.
    • Finally, I’d also investigate how good career capital each option would generate and how easy it is to switch between opportunities, to avoid accidentally narrowing down my future options.

Finally, for individuals applying findings from such an investigation: don’t forget to also pay attention to all the other important factors when planning a career. Make sure to reflect on your values (what are you optimizing for?), consider your fit for a role, how the role fits with your personal preferences, and consider the career capital of specific roles. You can read more about this in 80,000 Hours’ career planning article and from Probably Good

 

The results of EA Sweden's investigation (for illustration)

We produced 3 lists (all opportunities were assigned a level of confidence, medium or high)

  • High impact opportunities organized by problem area (we focused our investigation on what we think are highly pressing causes)
  • Medium impact opportunities organized by problem area
  • Best career capital building opportunities organized by problem area

Some of the opportunities we identified were:

1. Institute for Future Studies, a research institute focused on future studies (spanning climate change, new technologies, biases in governance, etc), raising awareness of possibilities and threats to future social development, and promoting a future-oriented perspective in Swedish research. Researchers affiliated with the institute include Hillary Greaves, Krister Bykvist, and Aron Vallinder, and partner-organizations include FHI and CEA. 

High impact roles include (lower confidence for roles): management and ops (being able to increase the output of the organization and ensure focus on high expected value programs), research, communications, and organizing conferences. 

2. Global Challenges Foundation works to raise awareness of global catastrophic risk and the global governance necessary to handle GCRs. It supports and communicates research examining models for UN reform, as well as initiates new ideas for functioning global governance. 

High impact roles include (lower confidence for roles): management and ops, performing analyses (including the Global Risk Report), sponsoring research, policy and governance outreach, communications, and educational roles (partnerships with universities to set up more GCR university courses). 

3. SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) is an independent international research institute that works to prevent conflict and international insecurity. It does this by providing data, analysis, and recommendations for armed conflict, military expenditure, and arms trade as well as disarmament and arms control. SIPRI ranked 6th globally among think tanks in 2014 by the University of Pennsylvania Lauder Institute's Global Go To Think Tanks Report

High impact roles include (lower confidence for roles): management and ops, research, and organizing conferences. 

4. ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) is a Stockholm-based agency of the European Union whose mission is to strengthen Europe's defences against infectious diseases. Its work covers surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the journal Eurosurveillance. 

High impact roles include (lower confidence for roles): management and ops, research and expert advising (spanning microbial research, surveillance, public health training, mathematical modelling, antimicrobial resistance, etc), technical roles, and communication.

 

Remote work for EA/impact organizations can be done locally
Remote work for EA/impact organizations seems increasingly feasible (though we’re unsure). For example, Rethink Priorities’ and Good Food Institutes’ staff all work remotely. Other organizations like Founders Pledge, GiveDirectly, Wave, Our World In Data and CEA also have remote positions. For more examples, see the Remote filter on 80,000 Hours’ job board (though this doesn't only include opportunities at EA organizations).

 

Lessons learned

  • We first intended to do a broad analysis of all organizations/jobs in a particular cause area/path. This proved too demanding and we lacked the capacity to explore a cause area enough to feel confident that we’d identified all high impact opportunities. An example of such a project is Animal Advocacy Careers’ “spot-check” of the job opportunities that were advertised on the websites of 51 different companies working on animal product alternatives.
  • The organizations that were recommended were often recommended by several people. This increased our confidence in the recommended organizations, but meant the number of organizations was limited, and somewhat smaller than the total number of impact/high impact orgs we’d expected to exist in Sweden.
  • We identified more medium impact opportunities than high impact opportunities, in line with our prior that high impact opportunities are fewer and/or harder to identify

 

Additional resources:

  • Other groups have worked on similar projects in different countries. If you live in one of these settings you can reach out to the group organizer to learn more:
    • EA France, EA Denmark, EA Philippines, EA Singapore, EA Netherlands, EA Spain, EA Switzerland, and EA Zurich
  • Probably Good, a new non-profit helping people maximize the positive impact of their career, intended to complement 80,000 Hours resources and priority paths. Note this is newly launched and will continue releasing content, including guidance on the career planning process
  • 80,000 Hours lists remote opportunities on their job board

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5 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 5:35 PM
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Thanks for writing this up Gabby! Could you expound more on your rationale for the following:

"We found it best to not share the list we generated publicly. Instead, we use it to share specific tips with people in our community."

Anyway, if you're unwilling to share these publicly, I'd still love to see the 3 lists you generated, if you're willing to share them privately with me. This is since EA Philippines would like to create similar lists. I may also have some rough thoughts on the opportunities on your lists, and what might be missing. Thanks!

EA Sweden arranges many career coaching sessions, both with Gabby and volunteers like myself. So as I recall it, we estimated that most of the impact from the project would come from being able to give people better and more concrete suggestions during those sessions. Therefore by keeping it as an internal resource we could keep almost all of the benefit of the list without any of the possible downsides that could come from it being public, such as people misinterpreting the recommendations due to lack of context or organizations losing good will towards EA Sweden due to not being highly recommended in the list. 

Id be quite interested to know roughly how many new opportunities you identified for each cause area. And I'd be interested to check to see if orgs I'm aware of came up through your methods, or if there are others I'm not aware of that came up!

(If you're happy to share privately, I won't share onwards -- my email is jamie@animaladvocacycareers.org). Thanks!

I happened to have met some from this Stockholm based company Meepo. They donate a portion of their profit and made the App for The Life You Can Save pro bono. It may be interesting to check their job openings if you are in Sweden.

Great suggestion! They've been on my radar since they launched the TLYCS-app but I didn't think of adding them to the list.  I added them as an opportunity now :)