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!
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 (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.
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:
- “ 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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-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 email@example.com.