Our first career workshop

Last month, 80,000 Hours ran its first ever career workshop! This post is a quick summary of the workshop: what we covered, what career changes it led to, and how it was received by our attendees.

The workshop took place in mid-July in the Welsh countryside, at the Centre for Effective Altruism’s (CEA) weekend away. Over 60 current and former volunteers and staff of CEA came to take part in workshops, receive training and attend talks on various topics in effective altruism. All day on Saturday, 80,000 Hours ran the career workshop. We had sixteen keen people work with us on making a concrete improvement to their next career decision.1

What we covered

Our aim was to get people to create a personal career plan, to improve their plan over the course of the day and to go away with concrete actions which to take after the weekend was over. The workshop consisted of a series of presentations and discussions, as well as breaks for writing down of thoughts and ideas.

In the presentations, we went over our latest thoughts on how to choose a career in which you can have the biggest possible impact. This included a section on how to choose which problem to work towards solving with your career (which we call your cause). We presented a framework for choosing between different causes and our current best-guess ranking of which causes are most important. Stay tuned to the blog to hear about this in more detail.

We also presented our framework for choosing between specific career options. We then used the framework to explain which careers we currently think allow you to make the biggest difference.

Finally, we raised and discussed key issues, including how personal considerations affect choice of both cause and career, and how to prioritise between having an impact now versus keeping your options open to have more impact later.

Key takeaways for attendees

The things that attendees reported as key takeaways from the workshop were:
* The usefulness of focusing on concrete, tractable questions when trying to make career decisions.
* That career capital is really important: many attendees had previously neglected career capital altogether, or they assumed that they would stay in the same job or sector in which they started in.
* That it is easy to slip into the attitude of trying to find the one right answer to what career you should pursue, rather than coming up with next steps, and developing a flexible plan.
* One cause that most people hadn’t considered before is global prioritisation. We will be writing more about this cause in the future. (For now, see the section on prioritisation from an old part of our site).
* Another cause that many people hadn’t heard of and were interested in is meta-research.
* The importance of transferable skills: for some people it hadn’t previously sunk in that they should consider these more explicitly when choosing between options and some decided to intentionally improve specific transferable skills.

Career plan changes

Below are the changes that attendees made to their career plans during the course of the workshop.2

For causes the biggest change was a large number of people increasing their confidence in the importance of (1) promoting effective altruism and (2) of doing global prioritisation research. In addition, some people increased their confidence in the importance of global health, some in the importance existential risk mitigation and many resolved to do much more research and thinking about cause selection than they had previously done.

For careers the changes were as follows: four people added entrepreneurship as an option to their plans or increased their confidence in it being a good option, four people added project management or increased their confidence in it, and four people added working for, or setting up, effective altruist organisations as an option. Other changes included a person adding working in foundations as a long term option to their plan, another decreased their confidence that academia is the best option for them and another started giving more consideration to non-programming careers.

The following next steps were either new to people’s plans, or people increased their degree of confidence in them:
* Find out more about transferable skills.
* Apply for a job with the Copenhagen Consensus.
* Try a job in law or management
* Do an internship with big name company
* Actively create networking opportunities
* Do a PhD in philosophy
* Do major research into jobs and contacts who can help with getting jobs
* Try delegating a significant part of current work to free up time for higher value activities
* Learn to pitch op-eds
* Take a job in international development research


In terms of content, many people said that our frameworks for choosing causes and careers were useful because they pulled together the relevant factors in one place, and gave a checklist to work through when assessing options. People also liked combining the frameworks with examples and practicing applying them with someone else, and they also liked seeing our lists of best careers and our rank ordering of causes (one person said they liked getting “causes on a platter”).
We got really useful feedback which helped us identify at which points in our presentations people would like more detailed explanations, at which points they’d like more examples, and which terms people found unfamiliar. For example, one thing we want to improve next time is spending more time explaining the link between causes and careers.

In terms of the format and the way the workshop was run, many attendees explicitly made the point that the environment was one in which people felt they could speak and say what they really thought. A number of people said that getting to actually write down their career plans made a big difference to them. Many people also really liked the interactive parts of the day and suggested that we have even more of them, with shorter presentations.

One thing we are likely to do differently next time is have even fewer people, so that the group is small enough for more in depth discussion. We also want to try out giving people more time to think on their own, as some people said they wanted this.

We are excited to do more iterations of career workshops and do more testing on how they compare in effectiveness with our usual one-on-one coaching.3

Follow up

We’re soon going to do a follow up with the people who came to our workshop to see how they are getting on. We’ll ask them if they’ve taken any of the next steps they identified at the workshops, what they feel like they need help with, and encourage and motivate them to continue striving to have the biggest possible impact with their careers!

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  1. This was just over our initially intended target of fifteen people. We’re pleased that people wanted to work on their career plans instead of joining others in outdoor activities like climbing, archery and mountain boarding! 
  2. We asked participants to write down a full career plan at the start of the workshop. This included their views on which causes they should work on, and which careers and next steps they think are best. We also asked them to indicate their confidence in each option. At the end of the workshop, participants wrote down a second full career plan, taking into account things they found out in the day. Looking at the differences between the two plans allowed us to see what changes the workshop resulted in for each individual. All in all, fourteen out sixteen attendees made some change to career plan. 
  3. We plan to do another workshop over a weekend in Oxford over the next six months, though potentially sooner. We’ll keep experimenting until we find the best model.