Hide table of contents

We’re Successif, we’ve been around for a year, and we’re excited to finally formally introduce ourselves to the  EA community. This post will cover who we are, what we have been doing, some lessons learnt in the past year, and how you can contribute to our mission!

Executive summary:

Successif, previously known as EA Pathfinder and created over a year ago, is an organization designed to support mid-career and senior professionals transition into high-impact work. We adopt a holistic approach focused on cause prioritization, personal fit, and aptitude building. We offer collective workshops, one-on-one mentoring, women leadership workshops, peer support groups, and match-making.

In this post, we are sharing the most common bottlenecks mid-career professionals face, what we learnt about giving people permission, and issues specific to women. 

We are also inviting the community to contribute through referring candidates to our programs, sharing thoughts on our strategy and activities, providing voluntary help, and contributing funds to our new AI program. In a follow-up post, we will present that program. 

1. Context on Successif

Successif was created in May of 2022 as a result of the belief that there were mid-career and senior professionals aligned with EA values who did not work on EA causes due to lack of information, misconceptions or blockers, and that much expected value would be gained if the community captured these people earlier, especially those who could work on longtermist causes. 
 

Further investigation revealed a notable gap: a lack of resources and programs tailored to support mid-career and senior professionals in addressing the world’s most urgent problems. For instance, 80,000 Hours’ materials often cater mostly to young individuals, leaving an important segment underserved. To fill this gap, EA Pathfinder—the predecessor to Successif—was launched in 2022. Since then, we have rebranded and refined our strategy accordingly.

Successif’s core mission is to create a world in which professionals motivated by evidence and reason can find high impact work. Focusing on mid-career and senior professionals leverages unique expertise, skills, and experience to address pressing global issues and fill certain skills gaps in the high-impact talent pipeline. 

We recognize that our audience has specific needs, blockers, and concerns when it comes to transitioning to high-impact work, especially when the work is in a different field. We provide coaching, upskilling through training programs, networking opportunities, and matches with relevant opportunities. More fundamentally, we take a human-centered approach, helping mentees navigate the uncertainties that accompany career transitions. We help address feelings of discouragement from uncertain outcomes and overcome psychological barriers preventing them from being their most impactful professional self.

We work in six core areas: Technical AI Safety and AI Governance, Biorisk Prevention, Nuclear Arms Risk Prevention, Climate Change, Animal Welfare, and Global Health and Development. We have launched a specific track for AI jobs, which we will cover in a subsequent post.

2.  What we do

A.  Our approach

Our approach to career advising is based on the ikigai model and on the aptitudes framework. 

Ikigai Model

“Ikigai (生き甲斐, lit. 'a reason for being'): Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living.” When it comes to career advising, the Ikigai model offers valuable insights and guidance for career advising. It empowers us to effectively help our advisees discover what is at the intersection of what they love, what they’re good at, what they can be paid for, and what the world needs. 


 


 

We observe that by examining the intersecting elements of passion, mission, vocation, and profession, we can build positive and encouraging relationships with our advisees. This approach allows us to holistically consider the key personal and professional factors that are unique to every individual. It prompts individuals to reflect on their interests, values, and talents, helping them identify their true calling and purpose in their professional lives.

The component of what the world needs enables us to guide advisees through cause prioritization exercises and empowers them to learn more about different cause areas. 
 

Aptitudes Framework

Our approach to career advising is strongly inspired by Holden Karnowsky’s aptitudes framework, which differs from what usually prevails in the EA community. Our advising activities are guided by the following “aptitudes framework” principles: 

  1. “ Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it so much better if you’re better at it ”. We help our advisees figure out what their greatest aptitudes are, as well as what they may become extremely good at in the future. We have found that it is particularly important when working with mid-career and senior professionals. Their extensive experience has often allowed them to develop a particular set of aptitudes which, combined with their knowledge, makes them uniquely placed to help mitigate AI existential risks. For instance, an experienced project manager may have developed a remarkable aptitude to effectively maintain people's focus and progress, which in turn helps amplify the impact of a key AI organization (e.g., an AI evaluation organization).
  2. Unless there is a direct path to impact with a higher counterfactual, individuals should focus on building on their aptitudes, rather than focusing on obtaining a specific role in a specific cause area. As underlined by Holden Karnowsky, if someone has or develops a specific set of aptitudes, the latter may be transferable in whichever cause area they decide to pursue, allowing the individual to amplify their impact. For Successif, this may translate in helping an advisee pursue a nonlinear AI career path. For instance, we may not help place an advisee in a top AI auditing job right away, but would rather focus on placing them in a non-X risk auditing job so that they build their aptitudes and career capital. This, in turn, will make them a particularly strong candidate for obtaining an impactful position when the opportunity arises, and enable them to be particularly effective in the field of AI auditing.
  3. Fit is crucial. One has to ensure that they’re a good fit for a certain aptitude. It is critical for individuals to focus on identifying the areas where they can flourish. They should prioritize asking themselves this question early on, and one of our focuses is to help advisees navigate this often complicated question. Useful indicators may be receiving positive or negative feedback from peers, whether one’s enjoying oneself at a certain position, and if they find a given kind of work sustainable. Even though we don’t blindly advise people to do whatever they want to do, we encourage them to not dive head first into a role solely because they have calculated that it has a high impact and because they’re given the opportunity. Of course, we generally agree that if one has the chance to pursue the exact thing they believe is right for them in the long-run, they should go for it. Nonetheless, we also think that aptitude building and accumulation is important for enabling one to be particularly successful, inspirational, and effective once they get a highly impactful position. 

B.  Our activities
 

Collective workshops: These workshops address some of the most common blockers we have identified for mid-career people. They also foster a dynamic and interconnected environment where advisees have the opportunity to connect with fellow advisees. Through interactive activities, participants engage in meaningful discussions, sharing experiences, and building a supportive network. They also leave with concrete tools and strategies to navigate the changes successfully. 
 

One-on-one mentoring: Advisees are matched with one of our mentors based on their needs and backgrounds. Throughout the entire career transition process, mentors engage in one-on-one calls with their advisees, providing invaluable support and guidance. Our sessions draw inspiration from a combination of advising and coaching techniques, tailored to meet each individual's unique requirements. This includes offering targeted information specific to their field, such as exploring how a physical engineer can contribute to AI alignment, or how a medical research fellow can help mitigate biosecurity x-risks. We also assist in the investigation and decision-making process, helping advisees determine the most impactful path among various options. Furthermore, we address psychological barriers, using coaching techniques and offering support to overcome challenges that may arise during the transition.

 

Peer support group: We have found that it is particularly important for mid-career and senior professionals to be part of a community and receive peer support when seeking to reorient towards a high-impact role (although we believe this is applicable for any individual at any career stage). We cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to benefit from a nurturing environment where individuals connect with like-minded professionals who share similar goals and aspirations, and who face similar hardships. Thus, peer support within the Successif community offers encouragement, motivation, and a sense of belonging during the challenging phases of transitioning, which in turn boosts confidence and resilience. 
 

Women leadership workshops: Women face particular challenges in the job market. Qualified female candidates will often pursue roles that underutilize their talents and years of experience relative to male counterparts with similar accomplishments and expertise. This tendency towards underreach rather than overreach ultimately affects both the women and their total impact. Women leadership workshops aim to help them address the unique challenges and personal blockers that they face. 
 

AI-specific track: With recent developments in AI and shortened timelines for risk actualization, we determined our impact would be amplified if we developed additional programs specifically for those interested in transitioning into AI Safety and AI Governance. We will present our AI track in a subsequent post. 

 

3.  What we’ve learned across cause areas

Our career advising program, reinforced by continuous research and interviews, has allowed us to gain thorough, insightful, and sometimes surprising knowledge about (A) blockers and bottlenecks experiences by mid-career and senior professionals seeking to transition, (B) how the gender gap comes into play when doing career advising, and (C) that giving permission to people to do what they actually want to do (that is impactful) is crucial. 

A.  Blockers and Bottlenecks

In our work to date, we have identified a variety of psychological blockers and bottlenecks experienced by mid-career and senior professionals considering a career transition towards an impactful role. As we identify these, we find appropriate interventions and outside programs to work through these blockers. These interventions have worked with surprising efficacy and have provided us with the confidence to scale our work.
 

Some of the main blockers and bottlenecks we’ve identified and that we address through our program are:

Fear of…

  • change after being in the same field or job for years
  • salary cut
  • geographic displacement (especially if they have a family)
  • losing autonomy in job if transitioning to a more junior role

Lack of…

  • awareness of what is possible (e.g., person in AI-adjacent field without machine learning background is unaware they could be useful in technical alignment or governance)
  • confidence in one’s own capabilities 
  • credentials in field being considered
  • suitable jobs
  • network connections
  • industry knowledge and context
  • competence / suitability
  • job security in rapidly evolving fields
  • recognition and acceptance of one's competence or accomplishments (i.e. imposter syndrome)

Not knowing how to…

  • utilize niche skills
  • navigate the job market again
  • maximize impact
  • sell oneself for what they’re worth (often a gender-specific issue)
  • apply only for jobs at the appropriate level (often a gender-specific issue)
  • find a safe space and community for support during the challenging phases of transitioning 
     

Our advisors have acquired much useful information through their advising interventions. We have created archetypes of the advisees with appropriate interventions for different types. We are also continuously doing research on our hypotheses to make sure we are most impactful and perpetually revisit our advising strategy. 

 

B.  Gender gap

Our observations across most fields are constant: women feel unsure of themselves by existing in an environment which directly or indirectly perpetuates gender stereotypes. This is especially true in the field of AI, where the vast majority of professionals are men. A lot of the women that we accompany face additional barriers and challenges as they navigate their career, and are often grappling with a sense of insecurity and self-doubt. This in turn often blocks them from having the highest impact in their professional life. 

In analyzing career progression and job changes, we have found that women frequently sell themselves short. Qualified female candidates will often pursue roles that underutilize their talents and years of experience relative to male counterparts with similar accomplishments and expertise. This tendency towards underreach rather than overreach ultimately affects both the women and their total impact.

This tendency is often accompanied by a pronounced “imposter syndrome”, where women doubt their abilities and exhibit lower levels of self-confidence in self-promotion. For instance, they often diminish their own accomplishments during interviews. We take this gender gap seriously, and actively seek to empower women to recognize their competence, to aim higher, and to apply for more suitable and impactful positions. For instance, in response to some of our female advisees’ concerns about lacking qualifications, we reassure them that if they genuinely lack the necessary qualifications, they will not be selected for the role, and we encourage and accompany them in applying for the role anyways. 

To address these challenges, we have started offering women-only workshops. Our preliminary evaluation indicates that the workshop has helped women communicate their accomplishments better to prospective employers. 

 

C.  Giving permission

Often, much of our advising time is spent giving people permission to do things they wish to do. By doing so, we enable them to take agency in pursuing a path they would see fit for them in the long term. This approach is a core element of the aptitudes framework, discussed in section 3 (A). 

Transactional analysis, a branch of psychology elaborated by Eric Berne that studies the instructions and injunctions people subconsciously receive from their early childhood on, is particularly useful for understanding the importance of “giving permission.” For instance, a child who is constantly shushed and told to calm down will hear “do not exist.” That will make for an adult who always apologizes when entering a room. Other injuctions include “don’t express emotions,” “don’t succeed,” “don’t fail,” etc. Unfortunately, we keep receiving injunctions throughout our adult life: from a jealous romantic partner, colleagues’ peer-pressure, or a friend’s judgment. 

The opposite of giving people injunctions is to give them permission. We have observed that this simple intervention is extremely empowering for our advisees. Thus, in our role, we give people permission to leave a corporate job to go into a cause area that is dear to them, permission to turn down a job that some collaborators are guilting them into accepting, permission to contact someone they admire and view as unreachable, permission to be happy or do what they truly want. A surprisingly high proportion of individuals just need someone to tell them “yes.” This is the most fulfilling and easiest intervention that we can take to unblock people on a path to impact. The next step is to get them to give themselves permission.

4.  What you can do to help

A.  Refer candidates to our programs

Encourage people you think meet these criteria to apply for our services:

  • 5+ years of professional experience
  • Competent and promising
  • Proto-aligned
  • Proto-understanding of existential risks

B.  Share your thoughts on our strategy and activities

  • If you have thoughts on how we can better screen participants, let us know here.
  • If you have thoughts on how we can create a strong community for our participants to stay engaged with others in their fields in the long-run, let us know here.
  • If you know any mid-career professionals who have transitioned from another field into high-impact AI jobs, or if you are such a professional yourself, please let us know here. We're interested in incorporating these experiences into our case studies. 
  • If you are able to volunteer your services for podcast editing, please let us know here
  • If you can help us organize the High Impact Talent Ecosystem, a community to promote information sharing and collaboration between meta-EA and career-focused organizations, volunteer here.
     

C.  Fund Our AI track

We are actively seeking funding to accelerate the growth of our AI safety initiatives. Timelines for advanced AI progress are shortening, creating urgency. Simultaneously, recent media coverage and shifting perceptions have generated new momentum, political enthusiasm, and opened windows of opportunity. We believe that it’s crucial to seize them.  If AI safety or existential risks in general are your philanthropic priority, we invite your support via donation.
 

5.  How we can help you

Match-making: If you are a high-impact organization and have a potential project sitting on a desk that you never hired for because it would require niche skills, we can help you find a good person to take it on! 

Research: If you have an impactful research project idea, let us know! Our trainees could undertake it as their capstone project. 

Head hunting: If you have an open role that is difficult to hire for, we can help! 

Training programs: Let us know if our training modules could be useful to you or your organization. 

How Can We Support You Best?

Do you think that our program could be beneficial to you or someone you know, but wish to discuss it further with us? Please reach out to us at contact@successif.org

Comments15
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:52 PM

I agree it’s important to recruit more experience into EA. How do you relate to High Impact Professionals?

Hey David, thanks for the question. I just want to chime in from High Impact Professionals' stand point. 

High Impact Professionals has two main products, both of which are geared at getting professionals into more impactful roles. These are:
- Talent Directory - We have a talent directory with over 750 impact-oriented professionals looking for work at high-impact organizations and over 100 organizations sourcing from it. We encourage both professionals and organizations to sign up. I think this doesn't have much overlap with SuccessIf, except with their matchmaking work, where we'd be excited if they matchmade using our talent directory as a source.
- Impact Accelerator Program - We are currently running a 6-week program geared towards helping professionals form and execute on an impact plan, with a focus on identifying and removing barriers to impact. Participants meet weekly to discuss progress on their impact plan and take part in a mastermind session where they discuss current barriers. I'd say this program has decent overlap with Successif's programs, especially the peer support and overcoming barriers aspects.

I think one difference as I understand it is that SuccessIf is mostly focused on AI/Longtermist work in terms of resources dedicated to those areas, whereas HIP is cause neutral in the sense that it doesn't seek to prioritize a particular cause area. But I'll let Claire elaborate here.

Hi David,

Successif started with career advising as the primary activity in May of 2022. It's my understanding that High Impact Professionals has been focused on helping people fundraise through their companies and manage EA workplace groups.

We've had similar targets but different paths to impact. In the last few weeks, HIP announced new programs that overlap with some of our work, and we don't yet know how these services will differ.
 

Appreciate this update. I'd love to know more about what data you're drawing from in Section 3 to draw your lessons learnt e.g.

  • How many people total did you draw these insights from, and what was the spread of cause areas & geographies?
  • Did you do research outside of what knowledge you gained through career advising / interviews (e.g. did you run surveys)?

Thanks for the questions, Vaidehi.

These insights are based on 102 former advisees, including 43 women.

Their expressed interest when they applied for our services are as follows:

  • 44 Global health & development
  • 38 AI safety
  • 22 Animal welfare
  • 17 biorisks prevention
  • 2 nuclear arms risk prevention
  • 11 climate change mitigation

Note that these are not mutually exclusive as people can express interest in multiple cause areas when applying. (Later, they engage in cause prioritization as part of our program.)


In terms of our own MLE, we had in-depth interviews with 24 past advisees and have a bi-annual anonymous survey. We have occasionally run surveys to gain insights on specific things (e.g., recently, on how to make EA community building events more inclusive of mid-career people).
 

Thank you for this - really appreciate the specificity :)

Can't wait to read more! Especially as you build your alumni pool, I'm interested to see how much this coaching actually shapes people's careers. I've worked at places that did management training and coaching before, and a constant struggle was the difference between subjective individual benefit ("this coaching really helped me change my perspective and approach! I feel much improved!") versus objective aggregate benefit ("this person is demonstrably a better manager within the organization"). Obviously the two are connected, but I don't know that one predicts the other. 

Individual subjective benefit is still good though (especially looking at your section 3 'giving permission' - where the blocker is entirely internal and subjective in the first place)! Interested in seeing how this looks over time!

This is wonderful. I’ve posted before that EA will be far more effective if they mix in some life veterans…and this seems the Successif pathway.

Big fan. I love seeing more initiatives to expand EA outreach community building beyond the "<24 years old" demographic.

Thanks for this post! I'd love to read about any public case studies or data you can point to on the effects of your programs in the last year :) Do you have a quick summary of the things you're most excited of that have come out of Successif so far, even if still fairly preliminary?

(In general, I'm quite excited about people trying things within this niche!)

This is awesome, Claire!

I probably fit the profile for the people you help, and so much of what you share here in Blockers and Bottlenecks describes my experience. I must add that since I decided to go for this career change, I've found some fantastic resources within the EA community ready to help and advise me; people have been very helpful, encouraging and supportive. But maybe if I'd known about you I would have attempted the move 5 years ago. I love the "giving permission" mentality. 

I'll fill out one of the "let us know here" sections. But just wanted to reply publicly to highlight the importance of the support you provide. Many of the most innovative and successful companies continue to hire and retain people with a lot of seniority, so we're obviously useful for something :). 

Could you clarify a little bit regarding the "5+ years of professional experience?" This might play into imposter syndrome and the idea of 'giving permission,' but I'm not sure if you mean "has five years of work experience" or "has five years in a clear career path."

For example, my own work experience is a bit haphazard, and I've dabbled in a few fields, but I haven't really had a career per se; I've just worked different jobs. I know a man who finished his masters degree about 7 years ago whom I view as generally competent and promising, and he is very interested in contributing to making the world a better place (along EA lines)[1], but hasn't had a clear career path. I'm contrasting this to my imagination of someone who studies X in college, then works a junior-level role doing X, then a mid-level role doing X, then a manager related to X, and so on.

  1. ^

    He does communications. (Not PR or journalism, but verbal). I thought it would be great for him to coach/train people before EAGs or similar big public presentations. If you are making a speech to potential funders, imagine how many more donations you would get from a speech that is 5% or 10% better.

    If anyone reading wants to hire somebody who is skilled and knowledgeable about reading body language, modulating tone of voice, and similar 'public speaking' type topics, let me know and I'll put you in touch.

Thank you for the question, Joseph.


Many people do not have a “clear career path.” I think there might be a higher proportion of EAs who are very curious intellectually and have experimented with a variety of paths. I am 34 and I personally feel like I had many lives (advocate, refugee lawyer, lecturer, researcher…) that I am pressured to fit into a single narrative on the job market. When it comes to career transitions, it is important to be flexible and past career transitions can be a positive sign of that. So 5 years of work are 5 years of work. How wide or narrow these experiences are will play a role in determining what interventions are needed and what direction a person can take to an impactful career. 


We have many people in our program with 10+ years of experience. Some of them have variety in their career histories and others have been on a singular path. Both of these are valuable and can serve different purposes.


In terms of PhDs, we generally do not count those years toward work experience. 
We make exceptions and look at each individual profile as a whole, but in broad terms, we look at someone’s competence, motivation, commitment to effective causes and existential risks prevention, as well as specific signals (e.g., for agency, flexibility…).

Agreed, and does e.g. a PhD program / grad school count towards years of experience?

Great post ! I like the focus on already experienced people.


By the way, the bit about the "a number of people need permission" was fascinating ! I think I'll check transactional analysis.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities