We’re changing how we do our career coaching. For at least the next couple of months, we’re only going to be coaching one or two people each week, but we’re going to spend up to a week of research on each one. We call these our case studies.

Why the change? Why are we going to turn away at least 80% of our coaching requests?

Over the last year, we’ve learned a lot about how to improve decisions about career choice. In the summer, we focused on evaluating the career advice that is already out there. Around the new year, we focused on working out the kinds of problems people who want to make a difference confront in choosing their careers. To identify these problems, we spoke to about 40 people one-on-one and asked them to tell us what they found most difficult about choosing a career. We also surveyed students in Oxford and turned to lots of people we respect for their advice.

Doing this research, we developed an understanding of the kinds of problems we could address in career choice that aren’t being well addressed elsewhere. Broadly, effective altruist minded people would like a bunch of concrete, evidence-based ideas for high impact careers and causes, and then they’d like some personalised guidance on how to narrow these down, with a particular focus on impact. So, we came up with a plan to produce reviews of a variety of potentially high impact careers and an individualised planning process delivered via coaching to help people narrow these down. Over the last few months, however, we’ve realised that there is a significant danger of doing research that turns out not to make much difference to actual career choices.

Although we think we’ve gained a reasonable understanding of the broad types of career problems facing altruist minded people, we understand much less about how to solve these problems. Which kinds of content will actually change people’s career decisions? You can approach a career decision from a variety of different angles: you could look at the ultimate values of the person concerned or you could drill down to an extremely practical concern, like helping someone with an application, and there’s all kinds of levels in between. We’re not sure where the bottleneck is. For instance, we could prepare lots of research on the salary of law compared to finance, but find that no one decides between law and finance based on this data. Rather, they could choose based on relative ability, or personal preference, the usefulness of the network in each, or something else.

We’ve produced some content over the last few months that we’re confident will be useful to many people. We’re going to write this up immediately for our findings page. Otherwise, we’re going to hold off, and instead focus on going into more depth with a smaller number of coachees. Talking to fewer people means that we can spend up to the first couple of hours of each case study gathering information about your situation and trying to thoroughly understand (i) which issue will make the most difference in your next decision and (ii) what research would most help you make progress on that issue. After that, we’ll spend several days doing the research, keeping in close contact with you to keep it relevant. This makes sure that the research has as much chance as possible of being relevant to the career decision of at least one member of 80,000 Hours. We’ll also write these studies up, anticipating they’ll be useful both as information and as a concrete example of our approach.

As we do more and more case studies, we aim to build a picture of which issues make a difference in general to people who want to have as much social impact as possible. To speed this process up, we’ll prefer to work on issues that we expect to apply to lots of people, drawing on our previous experience and surveys.

Once we’ve spotted an issue we can make progress on that we’re confident is important to lots of people, we’ll write it up for our findings page and share it with everyone.

We think that initially focusing on speaking to a smaller number of people will be the fastest way to eventually be useful to lots of people. In the longer term, we’re still aiming to turn our research into some combination of (i) a careers guide (ii) an online planning process (iii) a coaching process that can be delivered on a mass scale.

Focusing on a smaller number of people offers several other benefits. First, it will be easier to track our impact. Second, we’ll be able to focus more on the people who we think will get the most out of our coaching i.e. people who are broadly sympathetic to our methodology and are open to many different options.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we release our first case studies and write ups for the findings page.

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