Towards Better EA Career Advice

post by lexande · 2018-11-21T02:52:01.329Z · score: 64 (41 votes) · EA · GW · 40 comments

Making thoughtful and informed career choices in order to have a more positive impact on the world is a core part of the practice of Effective Altruism. New and existing EAs are usually directed to the 80,000 Hours website for career advice, but it has a number of issues and gaps that make it poorly-suited for this purpose in many or most cases.

1) Most people starting careers suffer from extremely poor and and incomplete information about the necessary and sufficient conditions for getting various jobs. This seems to me to be the most important source of inefficiency/market failure in the labor market and suboptimal (both altruistically and selfishly) career choices generally. I’ve seen many people follow the careers of their friends/family, or stay in academia long after it makes sense, not because of their preferences or incentives but because these are the only paths where the necessary and sufficient conditions to get jobs are legible to them (and they were unwilling to personally accept the costs and risks of attempting career paths they have no idea of the feasibility of). I hoped 80,000 Hours would fill this gap and give risk-averse people more options (and enable risk-neutral people to evaluate the feasibility of more options more quickly); I believe that this is a core part of the value a career-advice website can provide. But, while their career reviews provide an “ease of competition” rating on a 1-5 scale, there’s no explanation how they arrive at these ratings or what a given rating means concretely, and what information they provide on standards and expectations in different fields is frustratingly vague.

2) Given the difficulty of competition in the careers most often recommended to EAs, the vast majority of people following EA advice will ultimately end up following their “backup” plans, and a good backup plan is absolutely necessary for most of them to be comfortable taking the kind of risks the highest-expected-impact paths require. Further, while the very highest-impact careers are by nature likely to be unique and anti-inductive, and thus difficult to give general advice on, it should be much more feasible to give generalizable advice about backup plans that large numbers of people can reliably follow. Yet, while 80,000 Hours occasionally mentions in passing the value of having a backup plan, their website contains almost no concrete advice or recommendations about what such a plan might entail or how to make one. If anything their emphasis on sui-generis career paths where a detailed roadmap is necessarily impossible has increased over time.

3) Even when 80,000 Hours has written about a topic, their website is often unhelpful for people trying to learn about it. Somebody coming to the 80000hours.org front page might start by reading the “Career Guide”, where in the section on career capital they would read that the most impactful years of one’s life are probably one’s 40s, and that in the meantime it’s important to build up broad flexible skills since the most important opportunities and cause areas will likely be unpredictably different in the future. However, buried in the 2017 Annual Report where a new reader is unlikely to find it is a more recent discussion reaching the exact opposite conclusion, that one should focus exclusively on narrow career capital that can apply directly to the things that seem most important right now. (It’s fair enough if 80k have changed their minds on this point, but in that case they should modify or remove the first page to reflect this, and not try to blame the reader for “misunderstanding”.) Other widely-linked parts of the website seem neglected or broken entirely; for example no matter what answers I put into the career quiz it tells me to become a policy-focused civil servant in the British government (having neglected to ask whether I’m British). And even when fully up-to-date and endorsed, pages almost never explicitly specify their intended audience, which creates additional opportunities for people to wind up getting inconsistent or counterproductive advice (e.g. advice intended for someone with much more or less human/social/career/financial capital than they have).

4) Many of my friends report that reading 80,000 Hours’ site usually makes them feel demoralized, alienated, and hopeless. I’m not sure how to address this problem, and it’s likely impossible to eliminate entirely, but it seems unwise to ignore it completely. I think there is reason to hope that addressing the above three issues would at least decrease the prevalence and intensity of such reactions.

It is unclear to me whether these issues are best addressed through additions and changes to the existing 80,000 Hours site or through a new site with differently-focused EA career advice. Either way addressing them well will take substantial effort, but I believe it’s a worthwhile project. In the meantime, particularly in light of points 3 and 4 I think EAs should perhaps be more cautious about promoting 80,000 Hours as a source of general career advice for newcomers.

40 comments

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comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-23T21:49:18.124Z · score: 63 (25 votes) · EA · GW

Hi lexande,

Thank you for taking the time to post this, we’re keen for the feedback. We hate the idea that we’ve contributed to people feeling demotivated about their careers, particularly because we believe that most people living in rich countries have the power to do an immense amount of good. Saving a life is the kind of incredible feat that most people wouldn’t expect ever to be able to do. But if we donate under $10,000 over our lifetime to AMF, we can do the equivalent of that.

That said, we also want to highlight ways people might be able to achieve even more. This includes highlighting some extremely competitive but high-impact jobs, and we understand that this may be demotivating for many of our readers. We wish we knew how to do a better job of communicating our priorities without having this effect.

I think the core issue behind your comments might be that there are two visions for 80,000 Hours.

One vision is a broad ‘social impact career advice’ organisation that could be used by a significant fraction of graduates choosing their careers, helping a large number of people have more impact whether or not they’re a fit for our highest priority areas and roles.

Another vision is to focus on solving the most pressing skill bottlenecks in the world’s most pressing problems. Given our current view of global priorities, this likely involves working with a smaller number of people.

In the second vision, we would talk more about cutting edge ideas in effective altruism, while in the first, we talk more about regular career advice - how to get a job, how to work out what you’re good at etc - and a wider range of jobs.

It seems like one thrust of your post is that we should focus more on the broader ‘social impact career advice’ vision.

We currently think the narrower ‘key skill bottleneck’ vision will have more impact. There’s a lot going into this decision, some of which is mentioned in our last annual review. One factor is that it seems easier to get and track a small number of plan changes in crucial areas than a much large number of smaller shifts. One reason for this is that the problems we most prioritise seem most constrained by the need for a small number of people filling some key roles and types of expertise (discussed more here).

The narrower vision is also more neglected, since no-one else does it, while there is already lots of general careers advice out there. You say:

Most people starting careers suffer from extremely poor and and incomplete information about the necessary and sufficient conditions for getting various jobs. This seems to me to be the most important source of inefficiency/market failure in the labor market and suboptimal (both altruistically and selfishly) career choices generally.

I think the biggest source of altruistic inefficiency is not considering the importance of choosing the right problem area, knowing what the key bottlenecks are within each area, not being scope blind about choice of intervention, and other ideas like these. Information about what it takes to get different jobs that’s currently available may not be great, but it’s already out there and can be provided by people outside of the effective altruism community. I don’t think 80,000 Hours should try to compete with normal careers advice when the core ideas in effective altruism haven’t been properly developed and written up, something that almost no-one else is going to do.

These two directions put us in a difficult position. Given our limited resources, if we go narrower, then we’ll make our site worse for the broader audience, and vice versa. We’ve received a lot of feedback in the opposite direction, where people who are more involved in effective altruism have said we weren’t able to help them, or people in a great position to enter our priority paths told us that the advice seemed too simplistic and they stopped reading. It’s already challenging even if we just have one audience, since each person needs different advice at different stages in their career and in different situations.

A particularly tough aspect of the situation is that I think a lot of our content is relevant to the broader audience (such as most articles in the career guide), but mentioning the narrower material (such as our list of priority paths) sometimes demoralises others.

Likewise, I expect that a broader range of people can enter our priority paths than you seem to suggest. For instance, you don’t need to be in the “top half of Oxford”/ Cambridge / Ivy League to get a relevant job in government, which I think is often higher-impact than earning to give, which is in turn higher impact than most ‘social impact’ jobs. But mentioning the narrower options often causes people to conclude everything we list isn’t suitable.

Another issue is that we’ve been narrowing our focus over the last few years, but the site started out broader, and still has some legacies from that time (e.g. the career quiz). We’re steadily fixing these but there’s a long way to go. Likewise, we’d like to make it clearer who our target audience is, and we're currently working on a major redraft of the front page and career guide which will address this.

Unfortunately, in part due to being held up by the redraft, we haven’t yet managed to adequately convey to the community that our focus has narrowed. Hopefully this will also become clearer after we redraft the site.

Doing both visions well would require substantially more capacity than we currently have. In the meantime, we aim to finish the redraft as soon as possible to make our intended audience really clear to readers. We will also continue thinking through and testing new ways to try to communicate both that we think that almost all university graduates in wealthy countries can have an incredible impact, and also the importance of us each considering whether and how we could be doing even more good. If you have thoughts on how we can strike this balance, and in particular do so in a way which is supportive and encouraging, please let us know.

comment by Taymon · 2018-11-24T03:55:50.318Z · score: 38 (23 votes) · EA · GW

I think the big problem with the narrow focus is that newbie EAs, especially if they're students, tend to get saturated with the message that the way to do good with your life is to go to 80,000 Hours and follow their career advice. Indeed, CEA's official advice for local group leaders says to heavily emphasize this. And they get this message relatively early in the sales funnel, long before they've gone through anything that would filter out the majority who aren't good candidates for 80,000 Hours's top priority paths. So it ought not to surprise anyone that a huge fraction of them come away demoralized.

There's an obvious sense in which this is still the impact-maximizing approach, in that the global utilitarian cost of demoralizing a bunch of people who weren't going to change the world anyway, is likely outweighed by the benefit of getting even one person who needed that extra push to start working on a priority program. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I feel as though, if EA is going to choose to be a community (as opposed to just a thing that some individuals happen to do), then it has at least some kind of responsibility to take care of its own, separate from its mission to maximize aggregate global utility. And there's a sense in which setting up expectations that most of us can't live up to constitutes a systematic failure to do that.

(Incidentally, I think most local group leaders don't want to send their members through the gauntlet like this. But even if they realize that there's a problem, it's still the accepted thing to do and they don't have any better ideas. EAs want to be doing something impactful, or else they wouldn't be EAs, and there aren't a lot of great alternative activities that groups of nonspecialists can do, especially now that fundraising for GiveWell top charities has (rightly) gone out of fashion.)

comment by lexande · 2018-11-24T10:12:47.952Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not convinced it's the impact-maximizing approach either. Some people who could potentially win the career "lottery" and have a truly extraordinary impact might reasonably be put off early on by advice that doesn't seem to care adequately about what happens to them in the case where they don't win.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-25T09:34:32.824Z · score: 12 (10 votes) · EA · GW
So it ought not to surprise anyone that a huge fraction of them come away demoralized.

I want to quickly point out that we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that ‘a huge fraction’ are demoralized. We have several reports and some intuitive reasons to expect that some are. We also have plenty of reports of people saying 80,000 Hours made them more motivated and ambitious, and helped them find more personally meaningful and satisfying careers. It’s hard to know what the overall effect is on motivation.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-23T21:58:14.807Z · score: 33 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Here are some responses to your specific points:

while their career reviews provide an “ease of competition” rating on a 1-5 scale, there’s no explanation how they arrive at these ratings or what a given rating means concretely, and what information they provide on standards and expectations in different fields is frustratingly vague.

We aim to assess entry criteria, predictors of personal fit and how to test out your fit within each career review, although we admittedly do a substantially better job of this in our ‘medium depth’ reviews than in our ‘shallow’ ones. The score, along with the ‘key facts on fit’ section in the summary of each profile, is just a very quick summary of that material. For instance, you mentioned working out whether to continue with academia, and we have about four pages on assessing personal fit in academia in the relevant career review.

while 80,000 Hours occasionally mentions in passing the value of having a backup plan, their website contains almost no concrete advice or recommendations about what such a plan might entail or how to make one.

We encourage people to make a ranking of options, then their back-up plan B is a less competitive option than your plan A that you can switch into if plan A doesn’t work out. Then Plan Z is how to get back on your feet if lots goes wrong. We lead people through a process to come up with their Plan B and Plan Z in our career planning tool.

Precisely what a person’s Plan B and Plan Z will be will depend a great deal on their skills, interests, existing resources, and on what Plan A they are aiming for. For that reason, in our profiles on particular career steps, we try to discuss what the highest value roles to aim for might be, and also what other paths they open up, for example in our page on studying economics. Having said that, unfortunately (being a small team) we are not able to discuss the specifics of the vast majority of career paths. This is less bad than it could be because Plan Zs are likely to involve ways of building up savings or taking jobs which aren’t peculiar to effective altruists, and so to be covered by other careers advice.

To ameliorate this somewhat, we also often discuss donating as a great option which allows most people to have a huge impact. While we think it’s crucial to find the most important skill bottlenecks and work out how people can train to fill them, that shouldn’t be taken to imply that we think donating to effective charities is not important.

Somebody coming to the 80000hours.org front page might start by reading the “Career Guide”, where in the section on career capital they would read that the most impactful years of one’s life are probably one’s 40s, and that in the meantime it’s important to build up broad flexible skills since the most important opportunities and cause areas will likely be unpredictably different in the future. However, buried in the 2017 Annual Report where a new reader is unlikely to find it is a more recent discussion reaching the exact opposite conclusion, that one should focus exclusively on narrow career capital that can apply directly to the things that seem most important right now.

I agree this is a mistake, for which I apologise. We’ve been working on an update to our content on career capital this year, but haven’t been able to finish it due to the lack of writing capacity. I agree we should have flagged this at the top of the career capital article, and I’ve now added a note there. We’ll likely add it to our mistakes page too. Thank you for prompting us on this.

Other widely-linked parts of the website seem neglected or broken entirely; for example no matter what answers I put into the career quiz it tells me to become a policy-focused civil servant in the British government (having neglected to ask whether I’m British)

I agree there are some major problems with the career quiz. It was last reviewed in 2016 and no longer reflects our current views - we’ve therefore removed most links to it from the website (dramatically reducing traffic), and added a note on the page to the effect that it doesn’t reflect our views. We're considering whether to remove it altogether when we redesign our site next year. In the meantime, we recommend people use the general process for generating options listed here.

For what it's worth, civil service only stays on the top if you select 'no' to working in the most competitive fields. We do think this can be a high-impact but less competitive option, but it'd obviously be better to have more such options, and better tailored ones. I agree that sending people of all nationalities to our UK civil service career review is confusing; though we do think many of the general points are relevant to working in government in other countries.

We built the tool to be a fun way of thinking about new options, and to act as a springboard for further research. We hoped that this would be evident from the format (only asking 6 questions). Unfortunately, we failed to anticipate how people would in fact use it.

Many of my friends report that reading 80,000 Hours’ site usually makes them feel demoralized, alienated, and hopeless.

We deeply regret this. Unfortunately, as noted, we also often hear the opposite reaction. I think it’s going to be difficult to be helpful for our whole potential audience. With the narrowing of our focus, we’ve been putting a lot of time into thinking about ways to make it clearer who will find our content most useful, and to avoid demoralising others. We’re sad that we haven’t yet succeeded in striking this balance, and are keen for more ideas on this front. We think that the number of importantly impactful jobs in the world are far more than we can expect to cover, and we at root want to convey a message of hope: that by thinking carefully about our career decisions, we really can help others and build a better future.

comment by lexande · 2018-11-24T10:04:54.767Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW
We encourage people to make a ranking of options, then their back-up plan B is a less competitive option than your plan A that you can switch into if plan A doesn’t work out. Then Plan Z is how to get back on your feet if lots goes wrong. We lead people through a process to come up with their Plan B and Plan Z in our career planning tool.

This tool provides a good overall framework for thinking about career choices, but my answer to many of its questions is "I don't know, that's why I'm asking you". On the specific subject of making a Plan Z, it appears the sum total of what it says is "Some common examples of Plan Z include: move back in with parents and work at deli from last summer; sleep on a friend's sofa and spend savings until you can find a job; doing private tutoring." These depend on resources many people don't have, and in fact have plenty of ways they can go wrong themselves (the deli might decline to hire you, you might run out of savings before you can find a job, you might be unable to find any tutoring clients). Certainly I wouldn't be willing to take a major career risk if one of those were my only backup plan, without a lot more concrete data on tractability (which basically doesn't exist as far as I know; I don't think anybody publishes acceptance rates for jobs at local delis).

I understand this isn't your focus, just noting that my concerns on that point still apply.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-25T09:43:57.213Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree it's better to give the most concrete suggestions possible.

As I noted right below this quote, we do often provide specific advice on ‘Plan B’ options within our career reviews and priority paths (i.e. nearby options to pivot into).

Beyond that and with Plan Zs, I mentioned that they usually depend a great deal on the situation and are often covered by existing advice, which is why we haven’t gone into more detail before. I’m skeptical that what EAs most need is advice on how to get a job at a deli. I suspect the real problem might be more an issue of tone or implicit comparisons or something else. That said, I’m not denying this part of the site couldn’t be greatly improved.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2018-11-24T22:44:05.574Z · score: 23 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Given some of the issues raised on this thread, I suggest that either 80K should broaden its role and hire (lots) more staff to make this possible, or that new organisations should be set up to fill the gaps.

I'm glad to see the discussion of the "two visions." I would guess that there is a discrepancy between how 80K thinks of its role (the second vision, focusing on key bottlenecks) and how most people, especially people newer to the EA community or not involved in EA meta orgs, think of 80K's role (the first vision, focusing on broader social impact career advice).

When I come across someone who cares about making the world a better place / maximising their impact who is looking for career advice, I either point them towards 80K or discuss ideas with them that have almost entirely come from 80K. It may well be that 80K doesn't see some of those people that I have conversations with as their intended target audience, but since 80K is the only EA org focusing on careers advice, I default to those recommendations. I would guess that many other people do the same.

A crude summary of some of the ideas here would be that increasing "inclination" is more important than increasing awareness from a long-term perspective. But if 80K is demoralising people new to the movement because it focuses on the second vision of its role over the first vision, then this probably decreases inclination quite a lot and so has negative long-term implications (even if in the short-term, it has higher impact).

Although I haven't thoroughly looked at impact or cost-effectiveness metrics for 80K and other meta orgs, there are several factors that make me think that the EA community should prioritise devoting more resources to filling the gaps in the area of career advice:

1) Conversations about career decisions happen pretty regularly. Even if the most impactful thing for the handful of individuals working at 80K is indeed to focus on the narrower vision of their role, it seems important that other individuals work on the broader conception, so that these regular conversations that are happening anyway can be relatively informed.

2) Given that 80K focuses on the narrower vision, there is probably quite a lot of work that could be done relatively easily and be quite impactful if people were working on the broader vision (i.e. low hanging fruit)

3) We talk about EA movement-building not being funding constrained. If that's the case, then presumably it'd be possible to create more roles, be that at 80K or at new organisations.

4) If I remember correctly, the EA survey suggests that 80K is an important entry point for lots of people into EA. It's also a high-fidelity form of communication about EA ideas/research.

5) Generally there are loads of opportunities for impact that I can think of that a much larger 80K (or additional organisations also working on the intersection of EA and careers advice/decision making) could work on, that seem like they would plausibly have higher impact than some other ways that funds have been used for EA movement building that I can think of:

  • Research/website like 80K's current career profile reviews, but including less competitive career paths (perhaps this would need to focus on quantity over quality and "breadth" over depth)
  • Career coaching calls (available all year round, for anyone focusing on any of the higher priority EA cause areas)
  • Regular career workshops, perhaps run through additional employees at local groups who are trained in how to run them, or perhaps as a single international organisation. This seems like a high fidelity method of EA outreach; if marketed well, I suspect these would get a lot of take-up. Targeted marketing to groups which are demographically under-represented in EA might also be a good way to start addressing diversity/inclusion/elitism concerns.
  • Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focusing on specific cause areas (e.g. animal advocacy broadly, including both farmed animals and wild animals)
  • Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focused on high school age students, before they've made choices which significantly narrow down their options (like choosing their degree).

In short, 80K does some amazing and important work, but there seems to be lots of space for the EA community to do more in the broad area of the intersection of EA and careers advice or decision-making. So it seems to me that either 80K should prioritise hiring more people to take up some of these opportunities, or EA as a movement should prioritise creating new organisations to take them up.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-25T09:39:10.530Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Jamie,

Here are some additions and comments on some of your points.

If I remember correctly, the EA survey suggests that 80K is an important entry point for lots of people into EA.

It’s true that this means that stakes for improving 80,000 Hours are high, but it also seems like evidence that 80,000 Hours is succeeding as an introduction for many people.

3) We talk about EA movement-building not being funding constrained. If that's the case, then presumably it'd be possible to create more roles, be that at 80K or at new organisations.

Unfortunately lack of funding constraints doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to build new teams. For instance, the community is very constrained by managers, which makes it hard to both hire junior people and set up new organisations. See more here.

Research/website like 80K's current career profile reviews, but including less competitive career paths (perhaps this would need to focus on quantity over quality and "breadth" over depth)

Note that we have tried this in the past (e.g. allied health, web design, executive search), but they took a long time to write, never got much attention, and as far as we’re aware haven’t caused any plan changes.

I think it would also be hard to correctly direct people to the right source of advice between the two orgs.

It seems better to try to make some quick improvements to 80,000 Hours, such as adding a list of very concrete but less competitive options to the next version of our guide. (And as noted, there are already options in earning to give and government.)

Research/website/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focusing on specific cause areas (e.g. animal advocacy broadly, including both farmed animals and wild animals)

Agree - I mention this in another comment.

Regular career workshops

Yes, these are already being experimented with by local effective altruism groups. However, note that there is a risk that if these become a major way people first engage with effective altruism, they could put off the people best suited for the narrow priority paths. As noted, this seems to have been a problem in our existing content, which is presumably more narrow than these new workshops would be. They’re also quite challenging to run well - often someone able to do this independently can get a full-time job at an existing organisation.

One-on-one calls seem safer, and funding someone to work independently doing calls all day seems like a reasonable use of funding to me, provided they couldn’t / wouldn't get a more senior job. (Though it was tried by ‘EA Action’ once before, which was shut down.)

Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focused on high school age students, before they've made choices which significantly narrow down their options (like choosing their degree).

This seems pretty similar to SHIC: https://shicschools.org/

So it seems to me that either 80K should prioritise hiring more people to take up some of these opportunities, or EA as a movement should prioritise creating new organisations to take them up.

Unfortunately, we have very limited capacity to hire. It seems better that we focus our efforts on people who can help with our main organisational focus, which is the narrow vision. So, like I note, I think these would mainly have to be done by other organisations.

comment by Denkenberger · 2018-11-27T00:57:32.795Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I use 80,000 Hours as a low-pressure way of introducing people to EA, because it is providing practical advice, rather than talking about giving lots of money away. So I think it is important for it to be inclusive. But maybe there is a way to direct these sorts of newcomers to articles like yours on having a high impact in any career? This is also great for older people who might become defensive if the first thing they see is that they chose a low impact career. I agree that it would be hard to do a really good job in both focus areas. But I think you have already produced useful content for a more general audience, so it is a question of making it accessible to the right people.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2018-11-27T17:01:26.427Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree with most of your comments/additions on my comments! Here are some further comments on your comments on my comments:

<< Unfortunately lack of funding constraints doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to build new teams. For instance, the community is very constrained by managers, which makes it hard to both hire junior people and set up new organisations... [local workshops ] are already being experimented with by local effective altruism groups... [but are] also quite challenging to run well - often someone able to do this independently can get a full-time job at an existing organisation."

Do I take these two comments combined to mean that you believe someone needs managerial experience, or extensive experience to set these up? I feel there might be a half way house here, where those at 80K who are more experienced in running career workshops spent the days/weeks/months required to set up some clear training resources and infrastructure to make these more easily/systematically run at a local level. At this point, it wouldn't require managers or hugely experienced people to run these. For example, I would imagine that anyone with teaching experience who spent a few weeks (paid?) making sure that they were sufficiently up to speed on key EA and career-relevant knowledge could then run workshops like this very successfully. In short, I suspect we have different opinions about a) the resources required to set up the initial infrastructure to make these sessions workable, and b) the level of experience and skill needed to run them locally. Intuitively I feel quite strongly about this but I also have a tendency to underestimate the effort/time required for large projects like this.

<< One-on-one calls seem safer, and funding someone to work independently doing calls all day seems like a reasonable use of funding to me, provided they couldn’t / wouldn't get a more senior job >>

Similarly to the above point, my current impression is that the EA community has more people who are sufficiently talented to do a role like this sufficiently well than it has jobs like this for them to fill. This seems like it would be a fairly generalist role, which could be done well by quite a range of people. Again, I think I might have a lower bar for the calibre of applicant that I would see as sufficient to make it worth funding someone to work on this full time though.

<< Note that we have tried this in the past (e.g. allied health, web design, executive search), but they took a long time to write, never got much attention, and as far as we’re aware haven’t caused any plan changes. >>

Fair enough. However, these metrics assess their usefulness within the context of the current audience and demographics of the EA community / 80K. Part of my understanding of the broader vision of 80K's role (or for other new organisations to step in) assumes a broader / changing audience for the EA community.

<<This seems pretty similar to SHIC: https://shicschools.org/ >>

To my knowledge, SHIC don't spend much time on careers advice. I am aware that SHIC are working on different programmes / forms of delivery at the moment, but the "core curriculum" only includes one session on careers advice, which was mostly a selection of ideas from 80K.

More broadly, this probably fits into an issue that I think EA might have (understandably, given how new it is) of having 1 organisation working on 1 key area. E.g. 80K for careers, SHIC for students. Even ACE for evaluating animal charities/interventions... or Sentience Institute for doing social movement research for animal organisations. But none of those organisations do all possible work in those areas (although you could argue that they take up the low hanging fruit) and they all have particular views about how they should do each of those things that others in the EA community might disagree with.

<< Unfortunately, we have very limited capacity to hire. It seems better that we focus our efforts on people who can help with our main organisational focus, which is the narrow vision. So, like I note, I think these would mainly have to be done by other organisations. >>

My guess would be that it would be worth diverting some time/resources from 80K to actively advocate for the setting up of new organisations, to assist with supporting or selecting the right candidates to fill those roles (e.g. if they applying for some form of grant), and to advise them, based on your own experiences. Or even offer grants to set up organisations to fill those gaps?

(P.S. feel free not to reply to these comments; I added them to try and explain/explore why we might disagree on some of these issues despite me accepting most of the points that you just made)

comment by lexande · 2018-11-24T09:44:33.476Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you very much for your thoughtful replies.

It seems entirely reasonable if 80k wants to focus on a "narrower" vision of understanding the most pressing skill bottlenecks and then searching for the best people to fill them. (This does seem probably more important than broad social impact career advice that starts from people and tries to lead them to higher-impact jobs, though I have some doubts about its relative tractability.) As I said in my last pargraph, I think my hope for better broad EA career advice may be better met by a new site/organization rather than by 80k. But as you note, many in the community remain unaware of 80k's narrowing focus and abdication of the 'broad career advice' role; my actual trigger for this post was reading articles advocating that a major function of local EA groups should be directing new members to 80k's writings. I wrote this in the hopes that people would think twice before recommending 80k for such broad purposes, not to criticize 80k's ongoing valuable work on narrower priorities.

One point of factual disagreement is that I think good general career advice is in fact quite neglected. Most existing career advice is absolutely terrible. It's often extremely outdated, survivorship-biased, full of signalling, wishful thinking, and outright lies. The incentives of most people who write career advice are fundamentally not well-aligned with most people who want career advice; EA career advice can reasonably hope to do much better (if someone has committed to donate X% of their income, an altruistically-motivated advice-giver has unusually well-aligned incentives to help them maximize their income). I think actually good, rigorously-supported social impact career advice could be a tremendous asset for the EA movement, not only by helping those existing EAs who aren't a good fit for the most pressing skill bottlenecks still maximize their impact, but also potentially attracting new people to EA on a "come for the career advice, stay for the altruism" basis because the unmet demand for decent career advice is so acute.

Again, I totally understand that 80k doesn't want to focus on this; at this point it seems like probably I and others disappointed with the lack of broader EA career advice should do the research and write some more concrete posts on the topic ourselves. If you have any easily-conveyed pointers or meta-level lessons learned about the process of researching different careers from back when 80k did more of that I'd be extremely interested to hear them.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-25T09:40:41.011Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · EA · GW
One point of factual disagreement is that I think good general career advice is in fact quite neglected.

I definitely agree with you that existing career advice usually seems quite bad. This was one of the factors that motivated us to start 80,000 Hours.

it seems like probably I and others disappointed with the lack of broader EA career advice should do the research and write some more concrete posts on the topic ourselves.

If we thought this was good, we would likely cross-post it or link to it. (Though we’ve found working with freelance researchers tough in the past, and haven't accepted many submissions.)

I think my hope for better broad EA career advice may be better met by a new site/organization rather than by 80k.

Potentially, though I note some challenges with this and alternative ideas in the other comments.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-24T00:11:47.605Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW
These two directions put us in a difficult position. Given our limited resources, if we go narrower, then we’ll make our site worse for the broader audience, and vice versa.

Has 80k considered spinning off a sister org that focuses on the broader audience?

Seems like serving both the narrow-career-advice & broad-career-advice markets are important EA projects.

80k could be comparatively well-positioned to address both, given its track record & funder base.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-24T06:50:19.902Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Milan, this is a very quick response. The short answer is that we have considered it, but don't intend to do it in the foreseeable future.

The main reason is that it would cost one of our key managers, but we think it would be lower impact than our current activities for the reasons listed in the main post. I also think our donors would be less keen on it, and it seems hard to make work in practice - how would you tell people which one they should use?

My guess is that it might be better for a new team to work on. One framing might be to to approach the problem from a different angle, such as making a guide to contributing to politics part-time (e.g. neglected bipartisan bills you could call your congressperson about); or putting more emphasis on the GWWC pledge again. It would also be cheaper to start by just publishing a more concrete list of less competitive career options.

A slightly different project that might be worth someone taking on is an organisation focusing on global health or factory farming career advice.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-24T15:35:26.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Glad it's been considered. Have donors expressed that they wouldn't be excited about funding it? (If EA donors aren't keen on 80k spinning this out, seems unlikely that they'd be excited about a greenhorn org trying to do it.)

The Breakout List is one extant thing in the broad-advice space. It's aimed at SV tech folks and isn't EA branded, but it includes a bunch of EA-aligned orgs. (Or at least it did in a previous iteration; don't see many EA-aligned orgs on the beta version of the 2019 list.)

comment by deluks917 · 2018-11-21T17:40:42.972Z · score: 28 (16 votes) · EA · GW

80K Hour's advice seems aimed, perhaps implicitly, at extremely talented people. I would roughly describe the level of success/talent as 'top half of Oxford'. If you do not have that level of ability, then the recommend career paths are going to be long shots at best. Most people are not realistically capable of getting a job at Jane Street (I am certainly not). It is also very hard to get a job at a well regarded EA organization.

Unless someone has a very good track record of success I would advise them not to follow 80K style advice. Trying to get a 'high impact job' has lead to failure for every rationalist I know who was not 'top half of Oxford' talented. In some cases they made it to 'work sample' got an internship, but they still failed to land a job. Many of these rationalists are well regarded and considered quite intelligent. These people are fairly talented and in many cases make low six figures.

80K is very depressing to read. Making 'only' 200K and donating 60K a year is implicitly treated like a failure. We at least need advise for people who are 'only' Google-programmer levels of talented. And ideally we need advice for EAs of all skill levels. But the fact that our standard advice is not even applicable to 'normal Google programmer' levels of talent is extremely depressing.

comment by lexande · 2018-11-21T22:50:17.908Z · score: 25 (14 votes) · EA · GW

I think this actually understates the problem. I studied maths at Cambridge (with results roughly in the middle of my cohort there), and my intuitions informing the above concerns about 80k are in part based on watching my similarly-situated friends there struggle to get any kind of non-menial job after graduating. I'm a 'normal Google programmer' in the US now (after a long stint as a maths PhD student) but none of the others I've kept in touch with from Cambridge make 'even' $200k (though perhaps some of those I lost touch with who went into finance do). So I think 80k's target audience must be even more rarefied than "top half of Oxbridge". (Though I'm not sure if it's "top 10% of Oxbridge" or "top third of Oxbridge plus extraordinary talent in at least one skill that isn't assessed academically" or "literally like ten people in the whole world" or what; it sure would be nice if they'd specify it explicitly!)

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-23T22:00:44.516Z · score: 22 (10 votes) · EA · GW

It’s not our intention to give this impression - finding someone who donates $60k per year would be seen as a significant success within the team. We also highlight an example of someone doing exactly this (working at Google and earning to give) in our key career guide article on high impact jobs. I’d be curious to hear about anything we’ve done to exacerbate the problem other than our discussions of certain very competitive paths, which I admit can be demoralizing in themselves.

I think the main aspect of our advice that might be mainly relevant to people who have ‘top half of Oxford’ credentials is the list of priority paths. However, even within this list of our highest priorities, are options that don’t require that kind of academic background, such as government jobs and operations positions. We know lots of people without this background currently succeeding in these roles. What’s more, on that page, we also highlight five broader paths that a significant fraction of college graduates could pursue, as well as a general step-by-step process for coming up with options.

comment by lexande · 2018-11-24T10:33:34.933Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Are you able to briefly characterize here who your intended audience is, if we're mistaken about it being "top half of Oxford" or similar? I guess it varies some between pages.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-23T22:33:17.463Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Curious what impact-adjusted career plan change weight 80k would assign to someone who was already a software engineer earning $200k/year, and then decided to start giving away $60k/year.

Though perhaps that metric can't be applied to hypotheticals like this without knowing more of the context?

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-24T03:47:11.376Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Milan, it would depend a lot on the details, but if it were mainly due to us and they were donating to the EA Long-term Fund or equivalent, then it would roughly be a rated-10 plan change, which would mean it's in the top 150 of all time.

comment by Jon_Behar · 2018-11-27T14:46:21.577Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Ben! Can you give a sense of how sensitive your answer is to the specific org(s) someone gives to? Would your rating change if someone gave the same amount to e.g. the global development or animal welfare funds?

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-28T01:03:24.173Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

That's a complex topic, but our starting point for conversions would be the figures in the EA leaders survey: https://80000hours.org/2018/10/2018-talent-gaps-survey/

comment by Jon_Behar · 2018-11-28T16:01:28.780Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW
We asked leaders their views on the relative cost-effectiveness of donations to four funds operated by the community. The median view was that the Long-Term Future fund was 1.6x as cost-effective as the EA Community fund, which in turn was 10 times more cost-effective than the Animal Welfare fund, and twenty times as cost-effective as the Global Health and Development fund.

This suggests that someone giving $60k/year to the Global Health or Animal Welfare Funds (or one of the orgs they’re likely to support) would probably be rated as a single plan change even after impact adjustment (at least in a quick and dirty assessment). I would have guessed giving such a substantial amount to highly effective charities would be scored much higher.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-24T15:35:53.682Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Got it, thanks!

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-21T22:56:16.307Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW
Making 'only' 200K and donating 60K a year is implicitly treated like a failure.

A person in this position can do a tremendous amount of good by functioning as an early-stage funder of speculative projects.

altruism.vc is an interesting entry point for people who want to explore what being an early-stage funder could look like but don't know quite how to dive in.

comment by Stan (stan) · 2018-11-22T13:55:57.989Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

[comment deleted]

comment by rafa_fanboy · 2018-11-21T22:38:33.123Z · score: -2 (9 votes) · EA · GW

That's what happens when everyone who runs EA graduated from either an Ivy League school or Oxford

comment by smithee · 2018-11-21T06:20:36.879Z · score: 16 (10 votes) · EA · GW

1) I think it's important to try to specify exactly what 80k can improve. They're an extremely busy organization that doesn't have time for everything they'd like to do, so they can only improve if we can identify specific high-leverage uses of their time. General hopes for higher accuracy or helpfulness are likely not actionable.

2) I definitely agree with the worries about competition. I've been quite surprised to see how difficult it is to get hired at many EA orgs, often with <5% of applicants getting offers. Because people are often making years of plans based on thinking they have a realistic chance of working at these organizations, it's important that they understand their true chances. I think 80k should try to better publicize acceptance rates for certain jobs, and if possible the types of resumes and experience that are really necessary to be accepted.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2018-11-23T22:02:11.913Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

On 2), note there’s discussion about this here [EA · GW].

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-11-27T15:48:13.063Z · score: 12 (8 votes) · EA · GW

It seems like the main issue here is a disconnect between how 80k is generally described, including in its own guide ("career advice for EAs"/"how to use your career to increase your impact"), and 80k's own internal vision of what it is ("how to solve important problems by directing talented people at them"). It seems that the former is a misrepresentation of the latter and people including 80k should stop misrepresenting it.

comment by DavidNash · 2018-11-27T15:59:49.406Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I think even the slightly out of date advice is still pretty good for getting people to think about the right ways to approach finding an impactful job.

There isn't an alternative that I point people towards even if the latest content and coaching is more targeted than the general advice.

For the majority of their audience I think this is okay, but for people who might set up similar career coaching and content it might crowd them out, although this has already been mentioned in other comments.

comment by aarongertler · 2018-11-21T20:03:33.217Z · score: 11 (10 votes) · EA · GW

One page from 80,000 Hours seems especially high-leverage to improve: "How to Get a Job". It contains many practical resources of the type you wish there were more of.

However, it also seems to undervalue some topics. For example, I couldn't find a single recommendation there on how to write a resume, because resumes alone aren't very likely to get you a job. This is good to know, but even if you have good references, having an informative and competently-written resume seems important, so that the references have something they can send to your desired employer without feeling embarrassed.

(Also, I got my first job out of college just by submitting a resume, and so did a thousand other people who joined the company that year. I'd just graduated from Yale, but most of my friends there had degrees from colleges like Florida State or the University of North Dakota.)

Information I wish were more available:

  • The "necessary and sufficient conditions" you discussed in point (1), for various jobs. Coincidentally, the recent 80,000 Hours podcast on machine learning did go into this, near the end, but only in the context of machine learning.
  • Compiled information from recruiters discussing how they actually evaluate applications for jobs in various fields. This could be a good research project for an individual, even if they have no connection to 80K.
  • Information on the most reliable ways to make a living without spending very much time or energy. It's possible to help out a lot with research and volunteering even in your spare time (my favorite example of this is the EA Giving Tuesday project, which is, as far as I know, totally volunteer-driven). Some lines of work offer a lot of flexibility and pretty good hourly rates, even if they aren't "top careers", but because those positions are so desirable, there's a ton of low-quality information about them online. I'd like to see a collection of reliable info about freelancing, jobs that offer a lot of free unstructured time, etc.
    • A use case I'm thinking of: Someone wants to apply for EA Grants, but needs to spend a few hundred hours setting up a project. How should they sustain themselves in the meantime, while preserving mental energy for their non-working hours?
    • As another commenter mentioned, Floor Employment is a good start, though it's a few years out of date and geared toward one blogger's audience.

comment by Justis · 2018-11-22T09:12:25.279Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Test prep tutoring and nowhere-near-the-top programming are both very good for making a living without spending much energy. The Scott Alexander post you and lexande linked has a good description of the relevant considerations for test prep tutoring.

Living in a random non-hub city, programming jobs for the state pay only about $50k/yr to start, but they're easy to get (trial task for one was basically just "make an HTML website with maybe a button that does something") and the expectations tend to be pretty low. I worked one of these as my main source of income until enough EA volunteering became EA freelancing became just barely sufficient to quit the day job and see what happened. I think this route is underappreciated, and the movement's central orgs seem to have a lot more capacity to pay for specific work than to hire full-time, higher prestige employees.

Main downside of a low-stress programming day job is that being in an extremely unambitious environment for 40 hours a week can be psychologically uncomfortable.

comment by Khorton · 2018-11-22T18:05:04.741Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Honestly, there are a LOT of jobs out there that will pay your bills, teach you valuable skills, and allow you to help people. I've been a teacher and a policy professional. Both jobs have less impact than an AMF employee but enough to be satisfying. Both jobs paid my rent. Both jobs have taught me really valuable lessons about management, organization, and public speaking. These lower prestige, conventional choices can teach people the skills that EA will need to be a strong and balanced movement going forward.

comment by lexande · 2018-11-24T10:17:53.149Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Can you say more about your experiences as a teacher and as a policy professional? What did you have to do to get those jobs, and what were the expectations once you had them? What was the pay like? Were you able to observe the interview/hiring process for anybody else being hired for the same jobs? This is exactly the kind of concrete info I'm hoping to find more of.

comment by Khorton · 2018-11-24T13:26:31.186Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I entered the UK Civil Service this year. I work on Fuel Poverty Policy - I think of ways to make it easier for the poorest people in the UK to heat their homes. I think the 80k article about it is actually pretty accurate, but let me know if you have any other questions about it. https://80000hours.org/career-reviews/policy-oriented-civil-service-uk/

comment by Khorton · 2018-11-24T12:11:40.576Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Teaching was my first career. I entered by doing a Bachelor of Education degree in Canada and then being recruited to work in the UK, because the UK is struggling to fill teaching vacancies. You can usually enter teaching by doing a 1-2 year course after your Bachelor degree as well. Some countries have a program like Teach First or Teach for America that will let you straight into the classroom.

In Canada, teaching is very competitive, but in the UK many schools are struggling to recruit enough teachers. That meant it wasn't too difficult to get a job offer, especially through a teaching agency. I found that, to get an interview and offer from a "good school," it was useful for me to ask the headteacher to take me on a tour of the school. Making small talk with the headteacher and asking interesting questions helped me to get an interview.

Teaching is a hard job, and it's probably true that the easier it is to get hired, the harder your job will be. You're expected to work 40-55 hours per week during the school year. Pay varies by country, but in the UK it starts just above the national median wage (£25-30k). Most people aren't particularly good teachers until they've had 5+ years experience. However, in teaching you get useful feedback very quickly, you make a living wage, and you learn lots of useful skills. Going back to teaching is my "plan Z" right now and I'm glad I have it as an option.

comment by lexande · 2018-11-21T03:04:34.749Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Please comment if you have any object-level suggestions of the sort of advice called for in points 1 and 2. For point 1, I think the book "Cracking the Coding Interview" (which, in fairness, 80k does recommend in the relevant career review) is a decent source for understanding the necessary and sufficient conditions for getting a software engineering job, but my attempts to find similarly concrete information for other career paths have mostly been unsuccessful. For point 2, Scott Alexander's Floor Employment post is one possible place to start when thinking about backup plans, though a couple of the options he lists (e.g. North Dakota) are no longer feasible and several (e.g. Mechanical Turk) were never serious career options to being with.