Authors: Vaidehi Agarwalla, Jakob Grabaak & Jona Glade. This post was last edited by the EACN on 19th June 2022.
In this article we describe several ways in which you can optimize your consulting career both for immediate impact and for building career capital to have more impact in the future. We are comparing possible options within consulting once you are already in the field, rather than arguing that any of these are the most impactful things you could be doing out of all possible options. If you are still considering consulting, we recommend reading our previous post on beginning your consulting career and also explore other career paths.
The following suggestions are not mutually exclusive, but, to prevent burnout, we would suggest starting with just one and only taking on more over time, especially if you are new to consulting or effective altruism.
This article is based on interviews, inputs and feedback from over 15 consultants currently pursuing high impact careers. While we primarily interviewed consultants from top strategy consulting firms, some of the advice may also apply to the Big 4 accounting firms or local boutique consulting firms. We recommend readers do some independent research as well.
This article is part of a sequence of posts providing career advice on how to maximize your social impact as a consultant. We have also written about how to begin your consulting career and what kinds of exit opportunities are available for consultants. This sequence is a project of the Effective Altruism and Consulting Network (EACN). It does not represent the views of any firms mentioned nor that of all of the contributors.
2.0 Key Ideas
- During your time in consulting, we think what matters most is the kinds of projects you do. In particular, we think:
- We believe that EA volunteering by community building at your firm is a promising complement to your longer-term career plans (read more), and is one of the most promising kinds of volunteering you could do (read more)
- We think that consulting offers a fairly promising path which you can optimize for high earnings:
- When communicating about effective altruism and sensitive cause areas to colleagues and clients, take care to mitigate accidental harm (Read more)
For those who may be unfamiliar with consulting the following is a quick summary of how consulting projects are structured. Projects can range from several weeks to months at the junior level, and increase to multiple years as you gain seniority. Each project will have a designated manager both from the consulting company and on the client side, and often a team of people from both companies, so you will be working with many different people in your first few years. Projects are often broken up into multiple “workstreams” which will often have a prime consultant, or the workstream owner.
2.1 Get Staffed on Impactful Projects
You will spend most of your time working on projects, so it may be worthwhile trying to get staffed on projects in cause areas you think are important and want to work on in the future. This is a good option for people with at least 1-2 years into their consulting career, as most junior consultants are still learning the basics, and typically have less control over where they are staffed.
The time spent on impactful projects varies significantly by your seniority in the firm. As a junior consultant, you won’t have a lot of influence over where you are staffed, so your time on direct work projects will likely correspond to the overall averages of the firm. However, of consultants, we surveyed at the manager level (typically with 4-6 years experience) spent at least 50% of the past 6-12 months on direct work projects they considered impactful over the last year, and expect this share to increase going forward.
What kinds of impactful projects are available?
The consultants we interviewed had varying definitions of high impact projects, so we categorized three main kinds of relevant projects - EA relevant socially impactful projects; other socially impactful projects with lower EA relevance; and projects with unusually good learning opportunities.
Socially impactful projects create a social impact that significantly benefits society in some way. Some of these projects are pro bono efforts, but many are standard client engagements in the private, public or social sector. Others can be general knowledge efforts with outputs such as published reports, or internal tools that will be applied across a range of client engagements. The availability of different projects varies between seasons - such as a surge in COVID-19 projects in 2020 and a general increase in climate change and ESG related projects over the past few years.
EA relevant socially impactful projects are those which are uniquely good opportunities to have an impact at scale. They could focus directly on EA-relevant cause areas and effective methodologies, or those where an EA perspective can add a lot of counterfactual impact. Other socially impactful projects with lower EA relevance are those which might be in more adjacent areas (such as working on less neglected interventions in health, environment, philanthropy etc.) where you could have some counterfactual impact, but are more likely to gain career capital or motivation from working on a socially aligned project. Projects with unusually good learning opportunities could be any projects which allow you to gain industry experience or learn new skills that are relevant to cause areas you care about.
In total, we estimate that at strategy consulting firms, between 10 and 50% of all available consulting projects can be relevant for some people to have EA-relevant direct impact and/or build career capital. For any one person, the share of relevant projects will likely be lower, perhaps around the 1-10% range, since they will depend on your learning goals and existing career platform.
Below we provide a more detailed account of the different kinds of projects, their estimated prevalence and examples of each. Since we primarily interviewed consultants from strategy consulting and a few from the Big 4 Accounting firms, the prevalence estimates are most relevant to those types of firms. Further, these estimates are extremely rough and we encourage you not to anchor on the precise numbers. We are moderately confident that the order of magnitude is correct. We think these different kinds of projects are available to most consulting firms, but the prevalence will range a lot between firms and encourage you to do your own research on other firms, especially boutique consulting firms.
|Project Type||Total Prevalence||Examples|
EA-relevant socially impactful projects
|Other socially impactful projects with lower EA relevance||~5-20%|
|Projects with unusually good learning opportunities (not directly impactful)|
Prevalence will differ depending on which skills you're looking to build
“I worked on an internal pro bono study to determine what the globe had to do to decarbonize agriculture. The project was a great learning opportunity and was extremely rewarding and eye-opening with regards to the scale and pace of change required to limit warming to 1.5C or less (…) This project led to a string of work in decarbonization and really built the basis for my knowledge of abatement curves and how to offset carbon emissions” - McKinsey Project Manager
Reasons to prioritize this
- Build credibility at your firm. By working on socially impactful projects you can become the go-to person for some causes or topics at your firms, and increase the time you are staffed on similar projects in the future. This may help you influence the trajectory of projects in the future.
- Bring counterfactual impact to projects where you can bring unique insights. If you can bring a unique EA toolkit; a network of EA experts to interview (especially for strategy development or landscape analysis projects) who can bring an EA perspective influence the trajectory of the project while also helping to legitimize EA; and EA values to the team, you'll likely be less replaceable. If you are in the position of being a workstream owner you can make proposals that are often sticky, so you could help nudge projects in a more impactful direction.
|An MBB consultant assigned to a cost reduction project designed the initial proposal in such a way that the sustainability budget remained relatively untouched while helping the client identify savings in back office areas such as HR or finance.|
“I introduced several project leaders, who worked on COVID responses and pandemic preparedness, to EA content on the topics, which resulted in the proposal of EA aligned measures to various clients. The teams were grateful for the additional input even though I wasn’t staffed on the project” - MBB consultant
- Build EA-relevant career capital for direct work later on. Working on direct work projects can help you gain skills and experience on EA-relevant causes and industries to help prepare you for a EA career. Working on EA-relevant direct work projects (see above) is the simplest way.
“During my first two years in McKinsey I was able to do three research projects with the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), our research branch, covering physical climate risk, climate transitions and public sector asset management, which created new opportunities in the climate risk space and a 1-year research fellowship with MGI. I’m currently doing research to help companies focused on ESG get better at prioritizing which issues to tackle” - McKinsey Consultant
Reasons to not prioritize this idea
We believe the case is quite strong to try pursuing socially impactful projects since it is part of your regular work. However, some reasons you may not want to pursue this are:
- You have the opportunity to influence the work that consulting firms do. The counterfactual impact you can have from influencing which kinds of projects are chosen can have an even bigger impact than influencing existing projects. Read more in Section 2.2.
- You plan on working in consulting for <2 years. Having a say in which projects you are staffed can take at least 1-2 years, so focusing on building career capital so that you are well-positioned for your desired exit opportunities.
- There are few/no opportunities to work directly in cause areas that are important to you. In this case, you could try to build general skills that would be useful in different roles, or consider optimizing your career for earning-to-give.
- You want to focus on progressing your career more quickly. Some directly high impact projects may not result in fast career progression. Working on certain kinds of projects, such as in industries with too few people and/or leadership in demand, could help you get promoted faster. At that point, you would have more autonomy to switch to a high impact track.
Practical advice on staffing
Take 1-2 years to build your platform.
- When first joining, a few consultants thought it would be easier to get staffed on high impact projects than it actually was. They found that the likelihood of getting staffed on impactful projects in your first 1-2 years is quite low.
- Don’t have too many expectations when you begin. You typically need to build experience, credibility and/or leadership support, usually within a given domain. Once you've built this platform, you can become pickier about the projects you get staffed on within the domain. Being (perceived as) a high performer makes staffing, and speaking about or positioning EA topics easier and will help you in the long run.
“By now public sector partners perceive me as the impact guy and pull me proactively [into projects]” - BCG Consultant
- Once you’ve built up some credibility, consultants recommend being transparent about your interests and priorities to your peers, mentors and supervisors. Supervisors would have their own agendas which may contrast your own. Passion for a cause or topic is valued, and you are encouraged to pursue that. At the same time, remember that a "can do" attitude is also valued. You rarely want to say a project is outside your passion so you don't want to do it. A way to avoid saying this, is to be proactive about staffing. If you have been able to staff yourself onto impactful projects, you can decline opportunities that don't match your passions.
- As a junior associate, you don’t need to narrow down to a single domain. However, as you become more senior (e.g. a manager) it is often better to specialise and become an expert in one domain, and in some cases, this may be required by the consulting firm.
- Take the opportunity to experiment in different industries.
“[I got staffed on the impactful study through a] combination of asking around and luck! Beyond the project though – I made a short list of 3 potential impact areas, and actually did a rotation in one of them (healthcare) before I decided to move to a different area (sustainability). So, I guess, [I ended up where I am today through] a good amount of actual experimentation” - McKinsey Project Manager
- Some strategy firms (MBB in particular) will offer temporary (often one year) placements working pro-bono at an NGO of your choice or being staffed on only social impact projects within the firm. However, these kinds of projects could slow down your development within the firm, so you will need to consider the trade-off before taking these opportunities.
“Being proactive about social impact/effective altruism topics and challenging the status quo helped me to land a competitive spot in a social impact program, where I am staffed on social impact projects only for one year” - BCG consultant
Always be on the hunt and ready for opportunities.
- Network, especially with those working in the relevant areas (e.g. field of social impact consulting).
- Get involved in channels that promote or organize social impact activities. For example, you can sign up for the staffing newsletters/ Slack channels relevant to cause areas where you want to have an impact.
- When you see an opportunity, send an email to the leadership team, and tell them you're up for staffing. Getting the first project is the hardest, but once you do you can get other projects more easily. You need a strong portfolio of work to get competitive projects
- You can learn from the network of EAs at your company on how to do this
Staffing in some areas can be competitive
In general, it’s harder to get staffed on projects with high demand or those which require a base background or expertise. Breaking into areas like this may require you to start with a less impactful or popular project in an adjacent field (e.g. to build a relationship with partners/managers focusing on topics you want to work on). You could also take on side work, for example, by reaching out to partners working on topics you want to get into, and offer to help them with smaller tasks like client development work.
2.2 Positively influencing the work consulting firms do
Consulting firms invest a lot of resources into different focus areas and partners often have autonomy over the kinds of projects they choose. From a societal point of view, it may not matter much if you get staffed on a client project if a colleague does as you will likely bring very similar skill sets, although you may be able to influence projects in a more positive direction by bringing EA considerations or frameworks.
However, influencing which projects are chosen can have a bigger impact - causing a trajectory change, although it is more difficult. You could help shift focus to important cause areas. Since many areas of popular research are EA-adjacent, such as AI, biotechnology, public interest technology and climate change. Some consulting projects in these areas already cover societal risks of these technologies, and there may be opportunities to focus even more on the tail risks of these areas and communicate them with a wider audience. Even at a more junior level, you may be able to have some influence on these decisions.
At large firms, it is possible to start influencing once you have a platform within a space - a network of partners who trust you - which is typically as a senior consultant. Your influence increases significantly once you become a partner because this is when you start controlling a portfolio of client projects.
For boutique consulting firms, this could be more challenging as the firm often is more specialized and may not have the opportunity to expand in new fields, but if you can make a good business case for the focus then they may be receptive. It may make more sense, for certain kinds of consulting work, to consider starting your own organization (See Section3.3).
|Three consultants of one MBB-firm reached out to the senior leadership of an industry to discuss topics which are urgent from an EA perspective. They narrowed down 3 topics to raise during client discussions, which are still ongoing. Other consultants from the EACN reused the prepared insights in their regions and thus leveraged synergies. The topics/cause areas got a lot of attention within the firm and relevant clients with relatively little effort.|
Examples of EA-adjacent work by consulting firms
What kinds of projects would we expect EA-aligned partners to do? Management consulting firms already do some EA-adjacent work, and here are some examples of projects that we’d expect to see from EA-aligned partners:
- Research on the societal impacts of emerging technologies, climate risks, the COVID pandemic or other big societal shifts (see examples on AI, biotech, climate risk, decarbonization, COVID and technology in general)
- Strategic and operational support for global public health organizations, especially during COVID or other health crises (see examples on Ebola, COVID and health-related SDGs)
- Market outlooks and strategic support for beneficial technologies, like cultivated meat (examples here or here)
- Research on economic progress or global public health (see examples on extending healthy lifespan, the economic recovery and growth after covid)
- Research on catastrophic risk in a business setting, and how to mitigate it (see examples on climate risk, COVID, cybersecurity, other supply chain risks and financial risks)
- Research on longtermism in a business setting (see examples here and here on long-term value creation, and here on the sustainability of current debt levels)
Note that these are only the publicly available examples taken from MBB firms and are meant ot be illustrative, not comprehensive. Most of the work that these firms do is confidential, so it is hard to say how much work each firm does in any of the areas above. If you know of other relevant and publicly available projects, let us know in the comments so we can make this list more complete!
Reasons to prioritize this
Stronger counterfactual impact. As discussed above, working on projects that already exist often has limited counterfactual societal impact unless your EA toolkit, network and values significantly influences the outcome of the project. Influencing the trajectory and helping to initiate new projects that are influenced or guided by EA thinking could have a high impact.
Learn more about topics you are excited about. Pitching a topic or project internally and to clients may require you to learn more about the topic.
Learn about the consulting sales process early on. It is also a great way to understand early in your career how partners position topics with a prospective client and how projects are initiated.
Become staffed on projects you want to work on. If you develop the topic within a firm it is likely that you get perceived as an expert and hence are also asked to work on projects, which interest you.
Reasons not to prioritize this
This is a somewhat speculative path to impact. Although we have some early signs of success from a few case studies, the track record for this path is quite limited. We think it’s good to adopt an experimental mindset if you are trying this approach, and believe it is worth experimenting as it could have a huge upside and help us build networks in relevant areas.
You may burn out if you end up investing too much of your free time. While you certainly can have a lot of impact with this kind of work, there is also the risk that the side projects you are doing becomes unsustainable. It is important to communicate clearly to what extent you can support and make it a more official role so your hours can be billed if you have to do more work to follow up after initial discussions.
Practical advice on reaching out
In the BCG example above, one of the consultants first identified relevant partners and offered impact coaching on EA topics. He would test the waters by asking the partner about their interest in an EA topic in an informal setting and observe their reactions. If they were positive, the consultant would then discuss those points further.
2.3 Volunteering to build an EA community
There is a lot of space to make projects and internal groups at consulting companies, as well as many talented and skilled people who could bring their expertise to pressing global problems. Within this, we think that building the effective altruism movement is particularly promising and neglected.
“EA can lead to many interesting discussions and open new doors in many unexpected ways so it is really worth it to just throw yourself out there.” - BCG Consultant
What kinds of impact can you have through community building?
Influencing Individual Donations
Consulting is one of the highest-earning career paths out there, making consulting firms a promising place for promoting effective giving.
You could run a Giving Game at your firm, or invite One for the World or Giving What We Can to give a talk at your firm. For more ideas and resources, check out One For the World’s Corporate Giving site, and this post on how they helped grow EA in Microsoft.
"Giving presentations about EA with the social impact team and pitching effective giving at office conferences was one of the most rewarding experiences during my consulting career. It both boosted my career by building a strong network quickly as well as having influenced some major donation decisions" - BCG consultant
Influencing CSR Initiatives and Donation Matching
Influencing donations could be difficult at many organisations, especially those with a strong focus on local charities. However, even small improvements in CSR or donor matching programs could redirect millions of dollars to effective charities.
- Increase employer matching: Many top consulting firms offer less than $2,500 dollars in matched donations. On the upper end, Deloitte offers $25,000 in corporate matching. It’s possible that there would be room to introduce matching programs or to expand the ones that currently exist. Matching may encourage people to give more and help those already giving to have more impact.
- Improve employer matching: First, some consulting firms limit their donation matching to local charities. You could advocate for including and highlighting charities recommended by EA charity evaluators to the firm’s donation matching program or charity events or even initiating new charity events like giving auctions. Consultants from various regions have had success with this approach. Second, some consulting firms have different policies/approaches to donation matching across their legal entities and different countries. It might make sense to research the best donation matching practices of other organizations in your country or your organization in other countries and try to copy them.
- Donating the proceeds of other kinds of donation events, Christmas presents, and bonuses to effective charities.
To find out how much different firms offer in matching, you can check Double the Donation. If you’re interested in learning more about donor matching, Match for More is an EA project centred around effective giving and donation matching.
Help other community members
When starting out, you can focus on building a small core group of members who are interested in how to bring EA to their consulting work. If you don’t have the capacity to run events or if it’s not a good fit for you, you could also help others in the community in smaller ways, especially those earlier in their career. You could:
- Help newer EAs get into consulting by doing practice interviews or providing referrals.
- If you have more experience, you could advise others in your firm on how to get staffed on high impact projects and build networks.
- Have 1-1 conversations with consultants at your firm interested in EA. These are less time consuming than events and you could do as many or as few as you like. Here are some tips on how to do 1-1s.
- Peer advocacy and talking about your own giving/adding it to your LinkedIn or similar. One For The World encourages people to add your pledge to LinkedIn to increase social signalling. You can also share their Impact Calculator (global health only).
Contributing to the EACN
The EACN is a volunteer network and relies on engagement from volunteers. There are several activities that would take 1-2 hours per week such as writing our newsletter and social media updates, working on larger pieces of content (such as presentations, forum posts and articles). Our members also regularly organize events, either giving introductory EA talks themselves or inviting EA community members such as One For the World to their firm. Please email email@example.com to get involved.
Reasons to prioritize this
- There is a lot of low hanging fruit. Many people are open to the basic EA ideas, such as switching charities or increasing their donations, but have simply not heard of it.
- You can start small. There are low-effort ways to contribute that don’t take up a lot of time.
- Build your brand and career capital. Community building can help you have an impact and build your own brand within the firm, and you can test and improve your leadership capabilities in a pretty low-risk environment.
- There are personal benefits to being part of a community. Being a part of a value-aligned community is good for personal motivation, and it can be fun to meet like-minded people all over the globe.
Reasons not to prioritize this
- You are at risk of burning out. Volunteer work comes on top of your existing workload.
- You have other priorities. You want to focus on building your career capital specific to your project work.
Practical advice on community building
- Identify (potential) EAs within your company. You post in the general and consulting EA Facebook and LinkedIn groups, or a search for the effective altruism group of your company. You could start by hosting small events using existing platforms (e.g. office conferences) to save time on event organising, and/or asking more experienced EAs or organisations to give talks on EA topics such as Giving What We Can, or One For The World (see their corporate talks website). As the group develops, you could start task forces or groups organized around EA topics. Examples include promoting AI safety frameworks/guidelines or pushing for alternative proteins within the firm and the public, social and private sectors. More ambitiously, you could have a global program steering group coordinating small (to avoid dilution and lower motivation) but active working groups in bigger countries or offices. You could also try to influence senior partners to pursue projects that are more EA-relevant.
- Talk about the commonalities between EA and consulting. Pointing out the overlaps can make EA more relatable and intuitive - for example, you could highlight that EA takes a thoughtful, structured and data-driven approach to doing good. Consultants often think about common EA ideas such as prioritization (the 80/20 rule, focusing on scale and tractability), theories of change (such as creating change within organizations via quick wins, key stakeholders, understanding decision-making processes) and how to become a trusted advisor and positively influence others (e.g. demonstrating understanding of a client's agenda and communicating uncertainty honestly). Discussing these ideas can reduce the risk of misrepresenting EA.
- Make members feel like they belong and contribute to a community
- Distributing ownership and pulling members in to actively contribute to increasing sense of belonging and motivation (e.g. interactive brainstorming session on mission/goal setting for the community)
- Connecting on a weekly basis with fun, enthusiasm, motivational speeches and informal networking.
- If your group is working on initiatives, you can ask for regular status reports during meetings to hold group members accountable.
- Connect in 1-on-1 chats to get to know each other even better
- Commit to and find low-effort ways community members can contribute. The biggest challenge is that people don’t have a lot of time. Have a clear agenda for meetings so that people know what’s expected from them and where they can contribute. Think ahead and map out the next steps for after a meeting so you can involve group members in different tasks.
- Try not to get burnt out. If you find that you’re getting tired from EA projects, try to set boundaries or limit the time you work on it. For example, don’t do EA things on the weekend if you find it is draining, and if you’d counterfactually spend this time on other activities that may be important for your mental wellbeing. You can achieve a lot if you think carefully about how you invest your time and focus on value-adding activities.
- Learn from the community. Check out the EACN and see if there’s already a group at your organisation. You can also connect and get advice from hundreds of other community builders via the EA Consulting Network and the EA Groups Slack. Finally, the EA Hub Resources have lots of useful general group building advice (though not all of it is relevant to corporate groups).
Earning-to-give is optimizing your career for high earnings to donate money to highly effective charities. It is a great and easy way to have a tremendous impact. As a consultant, you will likely be on a good earning trajectory and be able to donate a significant percentage of your income to effective causes. To optimize your career for earning-to-give, you would focus your career on reaching leadership positions in an area where you will be able to build a large and stable base of client relationships, rather than becoming a social impact partner.
This option is more feasible for those working at the consulting firms where compensation is more competitive, though the gap in compensation between firms is relatively smaller until mid-senior levels. If you currently don't have the time to research where your donation would be most impactful, you can Invest To Give now and donate later (read more).
Reasons to prioritize this
- The global problems you want to work on could effectively use more money now. If organisations working in a cause you care about have room for more funding, which means they could effectively use more money on their work, then earning-to-give would be very promising.
- The earnings potential for consultants increases rapidly with your tenure. Consulting salaries are high, especially for senior people. The rapid advancement makes consulting a viable career path to earn to give, especially for people who stay at least 5-7 years.
- Fairly strong counterfactual impact. It’s unlikely the consultant who’d be working in your place would donate to the same causes that you’d prefer.
- You can start small. Even if you choose not to optimize your career path to earning-to-give immediately, you can still regularly donate 10% of your income to charity, as many members of the EA community do. If you're uncertain whether you can commit to a 10% pledge, consider the Try Giving pledge from Giving What We Can or One for the World's 1% pledge.
“Just having started my first full-time job, I decided to regularly donate a part of my income to charity. … What started as a simple resolution back then turned into a total of slightly above 10k in donations at the end of 2020 and counting. … Personally, I knew back in 2017 that I will be lucky enough to have a regular and good salary which however comes with a significant time commitment. Assuming that I will not be able to donate my time, I rather opted for donating money.” - Andreas Fazekas, Consultant at Inter-American Development Bank. Read more about Andreas’ giving here.
Reasons not to prioritize this
- You want to optimize your consulting path for direct impact or career capital building. You may choose to do more socially impactful direct work, pro bono work or pursue particular skills-building opportunities, even if that means you're going to progress less quickly and get less recognition and therefore earn less. Career capital building for longtermist causes will likely swamp any donations you can make, because this area is primarily constrained by people with senior leadership abilities such as: entrepreneurs, managers or research leads able to run these projects and hire lots of people, researchers to generate ideas for big projects, new cause areas, or other new ways to spend funds at scale,and grantmakers able to evaluate these projects. (Read 80,000 Hours’ article on the topic)
- You would rather earn-to-save instead. If the causes you care about need direct work more than money, you may choose to save a larger portion of your income to give you the flexibility to take lower-paying jobs in the future.
“The job gives me the opportunity to donate a significant portion of my salary to charitable organizations - last year, for example, more than 20,000 U.S. dollars (17,000 euros). This allows other people to work with full dedication to make the world a better place for all of us...many non-profit organizations also or especially lack the financial resources to expand their activities and achieve even more.” - Felix Werdermann, Consultant at d-fine. Read about Felix’s giving here.
Earning-to-save is when you optimize your savings and invest them, to use at a later date. This could be to donate your savings later, or gain financial independence and do low-paying or pro bono jobs earlier than you otherwise could.
However, EA salaries are increasing and quite high already, especially in the more longtermist areas in which there are many talent bottlenecks.
Reasons to prioritize this
- Some options take time to think about. Savings can give you a runway to take time to think through your long-term career plans.
- More flexibility to do direct work in the future. Having savings can let you do full-time pro-bono or low-paying direct work. If the causes you care about need more people doing direct work, then being flexible can help you contribute to those causes much more easily.
A late-career job switch can be difficult: it could involve a major reduction in pay and other aspects of status, recognition, appreciation, and comfort. I think anyone who has set themselves up to be truly open to a late-career job switch has (just by that fact) accomplished something impressive and important. I'd guess that your odds of being able to do this are higher if you have significant "reserves" in terms of physical and mental (and financial) health.- Holden Karnofsky, My current impressions on career choice for longtermists
- Prepare for the long-term / have savings for retirement. If you’re able to set yourself up in the long term, you could be more comfortable taking riskier career decisions to have an impact. You can check out this introductory talk by Rebecca Herbst to learn more.
- Keeps open the option of giving later on. You could choose to give at a later date after exploring other options. For longtermism, which currently has a funding overhang, this could be more promising than giving now.
- You can still donate to effective charities. Even while saving, you can still choose to donate a portion of your income to charity. While it may slow down your saving plans a little, it can help you build the habit of giving, and think more about where to donate.
Reasons not to prioritize this
- For some causes, acting now may be (much) more important than acting later. People interested in working to preserve the far future and some other causes may find that direct work now will be more valuable than good done later on.
- It may increase your risk of value drift over time. Value drift refers to the change or "drift" that our values may undergo over time as we begin to care more about certain values and less about others. You may want to avoid drifting away from positions that you currently value highly. Some ways to reduce this risk are to stay engaged with the EA community through community building or attending events. More ideas are listed here.
2.6 Other kinds of volunteering
There are a few different kinds of volunteering opportunities available within firms. Overall, we are most excited about building EA communities and skilled volunteering. We are least excited about traditional volunteering. This 80,000 Hours article covers some of the main ideas around volunteering. Below, we outline some of the main other kinds of volunteering for consultants and the case for and against them.
You could likely help more by being a skilled volunteer for effective organisations. Skilled volunteers bring industry expertise to help organisations do work at a higher experience level than they could afford, or even work that they may not be able to hire for at all. The main challenge here is that as a consultant, you will likely be time poor and may not be able to dedicate as much time to such efforts. You could try to investigate whether your firm could count the work you do as pro bono or volunteer work since some consulting firms do volunteer work with social impact teams and charities.
Non-EA Related Interest groups
Many firms have interest groups or social impact teams around topics like the environment, LGBT rights, unemployment and education. These groups can help you connect with like-minded colleagues and some can serve as a platform to create an impact depending on the cause area and your ability to steer the group’s strategy and focus
In the short term, you can work on joint projects or try nudging people towards more effective solutions. Over time, engagement can help position yourself as an expert in a certain topic, which might result in leadership proactively consulting you for high-impact decisions, asking you to contribute to the firm’s thought leadership or staffing on related projects.
On average we think this is a less exciting option for direct impact, and that you will probably have a higher counterfactual impact by founding or supporting EA communities at your workplace or offering your skills to best-in-class NGOs. We think this could be a fairly good way of building your platform within specific interest areas but recommend trying to directly build relationships with relevant partners through staffing if possible.
“By launching and scaling a regional Green Team, I have been able to position myself as a climate & environment expert within our geographical region. This has led to leadership asking me to develop our regional long-term emissions reduction strategy - a great opportunity to identify and push for impactful measures relating to the future of our working models.” - BCG consultant
Many firms will offer the opportunity to participate or organise what we would call traditional volunteering activities like gardening at the local mental health centre, litter picking on a beach or conducting skills workshops for disadvantaged youth. Some consultants have organised their own events such as organise food waste reduction initiatives or blood donation drives.
We think that traditional volunteering as a consultant is less promising as a way to maximize your impact than the other options we’ve explored in this article because it could be an opportunity cost in terms of time spent. At some firms, you can be a skilled volunteer for local social impact teams and support/mentor local NGOs (e.g. by conducting market research). The impact of these kinds of volunteering roles would be limited by the causes those organisations focus on.
However, you can have more than one goal. Traditional volunteering can help you feel connected to your local community, and there are activities within it that are more effective on average.
“I think taking part in [traditional] volunteering is great for mental health and for your sense of connection to community. It’s definitely a nice counterbalance to the corporate culture. And I actually have slightly missed that kind of thing in other non-consulting EA roles since. I do think there’s a danger of this seeming more impactful than it actually is though." - Habiba Islam, 80,000 Hours
2.7 Mitigating the risk of accidental harm
It is important to communicate about EA and new or sensitive EA cause areas in a high fidelity way to avoid misrepresenting the movement. For example, while it often makes sense to start a discussion about EA by talking about the cost-effectiveness of charities because it’s an easily understandable topic, it’s important to also draw out the deeper-level values that lead us to those kinds of object-level ideas. We provide more details about how to talk to consultants about EA above.
If you don’t feel confident in communicating EA ideas to others yet, you can check out this article on Communicating About EA. This is especially important if you are considering discussing problems that may have significant information hazards, such as biosecurity. This EA Global talk covers some other type of accidental harm. If you’re not sure about whether or how to discuss topics, reach out to the EACN and we can connect you to relevant experts.
Considering how to have an impact with your consulting career? Reach out to members of the EACN if you are unsure if staying in consulting is still the most impactful career path. We offer networking opportunities with a broad network of EA aligned consultants.