The one-on-one team at 80,000 Hours has changed quite a bit. We thought the EA community might be interested to hear our current plans, and we’d be keen for feedback.
Over the next year, we plan to grow our team in order to be able to have more conversations with people coming through our website. A big worry we have with scaling this up is that there will be more people filling out a form on our website who don’t get the opportunity to speak with us. We’re taking a number of steps to try to make doing this as helpful for people as we can.
Since 80,000 Hours was founded, we’ve been doing one-on-one calls with people about their plans to have impact through their careers.
Our main focus is talking to people who have done quite a bit of reading and thinking about how to have an impact in the world, but who haven’t yet interacted much with the EA community and have some questions about how to apply our research to their career. From the tracking we’ve done over the last few years, these types of conversations seem to be an effective way of helping people increase the impact of their career.
Over the last few years we’ve experimented with various alternatives to using applications to determine who to speak with. For example, we tried proactively reaching out to people who might be particularly good fits for certain career paths. We also tried 'role-based' headhunting, which involved working with hiring managers to search for, approach, and speak with people who could be a good fit for key vacancies in the EA community. Based on the data we gathered, our best guess is that none of these alternative models were as effective for us as talking to people who applied via our website, though we are fairly uncertain.
One key reason the conversations we have with people coming through the website seem to be particularly useful is because people fill out an application form. That means we have quite a bit of information about the person before we chat, and therefore in the chat we can focus on the areas where we can be most helpful to them. It also means we talk to the people we have the most useful things to say to.
We’re a small team, so we’re keen to focus on our best guess version of the programme and then add more variants of the model when we have more capacity in the future and/or are hitting diminishing returns.
Since we’ve now gathered several years of data on the above model and have tried out a few alternatives without any seeming clearly better, we’re keen to scale this intervention up.
We would like to be speaking with 1,000 people per year in 2023, and we hope to have hired at least two more advisors to the team by the end of 2022.
To do this we want to speak with more people who are:
Newly coming across the ideas of effective altruism
Interested in longtermism
Excited to figure out how to use their career to help others as much as they can
For whom we’ll have useful things to say
We have a few ideas of how to find more people like this. We could make the option to speak with us much more prominent on the website, and are experimenting with doing this and monitoring the kinds of applications we receive. We will also be thinking about where to find the kinds of people who are most likely to find our content and conversations useful. (For example, we found people that we thought we could help via the Wait But Why article on career choice, so we’ll be thinking about other venues that might be relevantly similar.)
Although we know the rough contours of the model we’re growing, we’ll be continuing to test out ways of improving it. Some of this testing will involve trying out ways of improving the conversations themselves, which is often dependent on what individual team members find hard. For example, I (Michelle) am not very good at making small talk, which makes it feel hard to put people at ease at the start of a conversation. That’s crucial if someone is going to feel happy openly discussing their life plans with me. So I want to try out some different ways of improving at smoothly starting and getting into conversations. Our hope is that as different team members think through and test out improvements, we’ll build up a collection of ways to improve at having these sessions such that it’s much easier for a new team member to slot in and skill up in whatever they find hardest.
Another type of experiment we’ll be running is the processes around the calls. For example, over the last couple of years we’ve largely only had one conversation per person we were working with. That’s largely due to having a waiting list, and also from a sense that the first conversation with someone has often been the most useful for them. But it seems possible that knowing someone’s situation in more depth will allow us to be more useful, and therefore that returns don’t diminish much over the first couple of conversations. We'd like to do more experiments with varying the length of calls and the number of calls we do with each person. We hope to run one experiment of this type each month or two.
Worries we have
One of the biggest worries we have with our plans is that it’s annoying to fill out a form if you then don’t actually end up getting the opportunity to speak with us. Unfortunately, growing in the way we described above means decidedly more people being in that position. To mitigate this downside, we plan to take the three steps described below.
We want to try to make filling out the form as useful as possible for those who don’t end up getting the opportunity to speak with us. We’ve had feedback in the past that people find thinking about the questions we ask to be useful in clarifying their views on their own careers. We plan to continue to try to encourage people to fill out the form in a way that will be useful for their career thinking. We will also alter the form to fit in more closely with our career planning process and to make it easy for people to share their thinking with their friends and mentors to get advice.
We would like to increase the number of cases in which we introduce people to someone else who may be able to help them (in cases where we don’t speak to them ourselves).
We also want to be as clear as possible about what types of people we’re likely to be most helpful for. We plan on putting up a separate post on the EA Forum on this topic. While people who are already pretty connected to others in effective altruism aren’t our main target, in some instances we’ve been able to significantly help people in this category. We want it to be as easy as possible for people to get an idea of whether they’re likely to be someone we can be useful to.
A second significant worry we have with our plan is that by doubling down on a particular strategy we’re missing out on creating value through some of the other strategies we mentioned, such as headhunting. While we didn’t get evidence that these other projects were more effective than our current work, we still expect them to be valuable. In the longer run (perhaps as soon as a year from now) we hope to expand to cover a wider range of projects. But over the coming year we think it would be better to focus on doing one thing well.
Things we’d like to see more of
Given how significant career decisions are, it’s worthwhile to discuss them with many different people—ideally people with a variety of viewpoints. It therefore seems useful to have a number of groups and individuals providing career decision advice as well as ongoing career mentoring for people interested in effective altruism.
Because of the value of information, we're most excited about groups trying out different processes. (For example, the Student EA Network does a multi-session program.) We would also like to see more groups specialising in particular areas (such as Animal Advocacy Careers).
A third gap left by our type of conversations is talking to people already highly involved in the in-person EA community. There are many different things that could look like, such as helping people set out a career plan and checking in on it periodically with them or talking through specific professional challenges people face. There are a couple of people testing out specific types of such mentoring, for example Lynette Bye who provides productivity coaching, and Daniel Kestenholz doing personal growth coaching. A nice thing about this is the person doing it can test out their fit for providing this kind of coaching alongside another job (as Daniel is!), particularly if the two are complementary (say, project management coaching alongside working as a project manager). Michelle has written a few more thoughts about mentoring in EA in this post.
We're also really happy to see groups doing something pretty similar to us, since we think it’s sensible for people to talk to a range of people about their careers. For example, we’re very much looking forward to the launch of Probably Good.
In addition to people whose focus is on talking through career decisions, we’d be keen to see more EA networks develop along the lines of EAs in consulting, WANBAM, or the London directory. If you’re on a career path you think might be effective, a great way to increase your impact is to talk to others about how to think about whether it’s right for them, how impactful it might be, and how to get onto it. It can also be really fun to connect with other EAs with the purpose of helping them answer these kinds of questions.
We mentioned above that in the immediate future we don’t expect to be doing ‘role-first’ headhunting (i.e. working with hiring managers to search, approach, and speak with strong candidates for open jobs in the community), or actively reaching out to people who haven’t contacted us. We do think that these are potentially really valuable activities, and we hope to come back to them within the next few years. In the meantime, if you have a large network in a relevant area of EA, it could be worth considering doing headhunting within that area.
If you have ideas for projects along any of these lines, a first step might be to write them up in order to gauge interest and get feedback on the Forum. If you’re at the stage of wanting to try it out, the EA Infrastructure Fund might be a great place to get seed funding.
This is a rough sketch of our current plans. We’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on them, and we’re happy to field questions!
Note that we found the 80,000 Hours’ brand and website to be particularly valuable when proactively reaching out to people to discuss their career plans and opportunities for impact, so this may be less effective for organisations without a strong existing brand and web presence. ↩︎