Tl;dr: I’d love to see more people working on helping others in the careers space, as would others at 80k. There’s a lot to do, from one-off chats to give effective altruism a friendly face, to ongoing mentorship for people earlier on in the same path as you, to setting up an EA recruiting agency.
Something I love about the EA community is how collaborative it is. We’re all trying to figure out the best ways to help others, and also to support fellow community members in their projects to help others. A negative side effect of that can be that we are hesitant to try out an idea for fear of treading on someone’s toes, or of getting in the way of someone who might have done that project better. I want to make a brief pitch for people to worry less about that in the careers space, particularly when it comes to talking to others one on one about their careers.
I run the 80k one-on-one team, so I’ll just give examples related to 1on1, but others at 80k are likewise happy to see more projects in the careers space!
People can be hesitant to set up new projects
I’ve sometimes heard people indicate that if they were to set up a new project they think it shouldn’t be in the careers space because “80k has it covered.” I’m here to say that’s decidedly not the case!
Even more saddening to me is that people are sometimes worried about working in the space in case people at 80k won’t take it well. I think that is extremely understandable. I hate competing with others, particularly others with the same goals as me. I hate feeling like we’re against each other when we could be with each other. And the last thing I want is to be running the risk of doing harm by getting in someone else’s way. If you feel this way, please be assured that 80k would be affirmatively excited about you trying something in this area.
Setting up new projects can be easier because EAs are on the same team
I think it’s reasonable to claim that, despite its difficulties, competition is worth it because of its good effects. But I don't think we need to think of it as competition in the first place. The general space of ‘help people have impactful careers by engaging with them individually’ is important and large. There are so many groups doing useful work in the career space, from the Global Challenges Project getting the most talented students into the highest-impact career paths to productivity coaching which helps people get the most out of the career they’re in. A couple of recent additions are Charity Entrepreneurship’s career coaching and EA Pathfinder.
Groups setting out to do essentially the same thing as each other will often do it in different ways, with different audiences. Or they might not even be trying to do things differently than an existing group, simply trying to do things better. They’ll learn bits along the way about how their approach works, and how they’re able to do better than other groups. Maybe the same advice-seekers will then get to hear different perspectives on their career or maybe more advice-seekers will get support. Either way, I think we can consider ourselves as being overall part of the same team, where the work we engage in helps each other’s ends. Probably Good is a great example of an organisation with a lot of similarities to 80,000 Hours in mission and style, but which is very much adding to the knowledge base and support network people can draw on in figuring out their career. The idea of leaving a whole large area to one or two organisations to cover sounds like saying that Harvard should shut down its Physics research because MIT has it covered!
1on1 team plans
I don’t think anyone should feel the need to take our plans into account when trying out a new project since having a bunch of us working on the same things sounds good. But I think it could be useful for people to know about specific gaps we’re leaving, in case that inspires them to fill those. With that in mind, here is a brief description of the 1on1 team plans.
We expect to scale up our efforts considerably, but to continue using a similar model for advising over the coming few years:
- Typically having one initial conversation with people and further conversations only at relevant times (e.g. when they’re facing a particular decision point), rather than providing ongoing mentorship.
- Focusing on signposting and making connections for people: building up a network of specialists to introduce advisees to and having a good sense of what resources people find it most useful to be pointed to.
- Talking to only those people we think we can be significantly helpful to: people with a similar understanding of impact to us and who care about making impact a significant component of their career decision making.
Over the coming year we’re hoping to expand our work in two key ways:
- Reaching out proactively to people who we think might benefit from talking to us (in addition to taking applications as we currently do)
- Increasing our ‘headhunting’ activities. At the moment we sometimes send hiring managers lists of suggestions for particularly high-impact jobs. We’d like to increase the number of opportunities for which we make suggestions, and spend more time improving our recommendations.
Suggestions for other career related projects
There are lots of different approaches to ours that people could take in this space. Here are a couple of them:
- A ‘welcoming committee’ for EA. It’s hard to feel part of a community you’ve only come across online. The EA community is particularly intimidating because we’re all so sceptical. Yet we’re asking people to make big changes in their lives, which is much easier with a community around you. Perhaps there should be a group of people who are knowledgeable about EA and enthusiastic to talk to anyone first coming across the movement. They’d put a friendly face to the ideas, and help orient people.
- Ongoing mentorship. Most of the career conversation groups I know of in EA (80k/Probably Good/Global Challenges Project) primarily focus on having a few conversations with someone, at pivotal moments for them. You could imagine it would be useful to have coaches for careers who talk to people regularly to keep them accountable and debug problems they’re having. Looking for jobs is a particularly stressful thing to do, yet unlike when you’re in a job, you don’t have a manager to help you through it.
- Career path specific groups. It would be great to see groups set up which connect people within particular high impact areas, and provide really in depth advice on that area, perhaps similar to the Network on Emerging Threats. Ideally these might be run by people who are also themselves working in the area (so that they have the requisite expertise and keep constantly up-to-date).
- Workshops. Making a career plan is aversive and tricky. I found it much easier to work through our career planning process while sat next to someone else doing the same. You could imagine a group that really hones the presentation of careers workshops — perhaps travelling to different universities or local groups to give them, perhaps doing it online.
Likewise there are many different approaches to the activities I described we planned to expand into in future. For example:
- You might reach out to people who you think might be a good fit for a particular job to pitch them on it, or to people who might find ongoing mentoring useful.
- Rather than taking a broad approach to headhunting and sending lists of suggestions to hiring managers, you might work intensively with a small set of client individuals to find the best possible roles for them. You might focus on headhunting in a particular niche (for example in a particular country), or headhunting for a set of roles which are very effective at helping others but which aren’t explicitly linked to effective altruism.
Have a go!
I tried to make a few suggestions of projects I might be excited to see. But most of the exciting projects are ones I won’t have thought of, and will be born of someone’s realisation of a problem in the space, and enthusiasm for solving it.
EA is starting to be large enough that it’s hard to keep track of all the various projects going on — and that’s how it should be. But it can still be stressful that there’s no central place to figure out what all the projects are, and to feel like you’re running the risk of duplicating effort. People in EA are also unusually likely to be keen on keeping a strict focus on their current project, and be hesitant to take time away from that to think through other projects. That can add to the stress of wondering whether you’re doing the right thing. Unfortunately, I think it’s really hard to ever really know the answer to that. But one of the things that sets EAs apart from the rest of the world is that we’re willing to take risks if we think they’re positive in expectation — to try out new, sometimes risky things in the service of others.
If you’re interested to chat to our team about an idea you have, or about your career more broadly, please do apply!