Update: How to choose a career

New: We’ve just launched our in-depth career planning process.

It’s our most comprehensive overview of all our advice on career planning, and includes a step-by-step template you can use to plan your career.

(It’s designed to replace the process below, which we left for posterity.)

One of our key new pages is ‘how to choose’ – a step-by-step process for making your next career decision. It explains how to tie all of our information together to make a rational next decision, and is based on the process we use in coaching and workshops.

In summary, recommend writing out answers to the following questions:

  • Next decision(s): What’s the next one or two key decisions you need to make?
  • Initial list of options for next steps: What options are you choosing between at your next decision(s)?
  • Your vision: What roles and causes are you interested in pursuing medium-term? Check our strategies and cause selection page for ideas.
  • Your criteria: What factors are important for your next decision? Check our framework for ideas.
  • Additional options: What other options can you think of? Check our top rated careers for ideas.
  • Discarded options: Which options can you quickly discard? Aim to get down to a list of the best three to five.
  • More analysis needed?: If you’ve got plenty of time, pursue all the options (e.g. apply to everything). If you need to choose one, carry on.
  • Ranked options: Based on what you know now, how would you rank your remaining options from best to worst?
  • Key uncertainties: What are you biggest uncertainties about this ranking?
  • Learning goals: What are you going to do to learn more about which option is best?
  • Next step: After you’ve carried out your learning goals, reassess, and decide: which option are you going to take?

See the full description.

We supplement the process with a checklist for how to rationally assess your career options.

In addition, on the page we summarise our general philosophy on career planning:

  • Think of your current plan as a best guess.
  • Focus mainly on your next steps, but have a broadly defined medium-term direction – what we call your ‘vision’.
  • Find your uncertainties and address them.
  • Embrace failure.

See the full description.

How have our views changed?

Our views are similar to when we initially designed our deciding process in spring 2013 (for instance, see these three key posts here, here and here), though we didn’t have a fully comprehensive write up until now.

The process hasn’t significantly changed because we’ve found it has generally been working well in our coaching and workshops. The main changes have been tweaks. For instance, we noticed that some people had a tendency to overanalyze rather than just try to get promising jobs – there’s little point doing an in-depth analysis of finance vs. consulting jobs if you find you only get offers from finance firms. We’ve worked on improving our presentation.

The findings behind checklist for how to rationally assess your options has been developing over time. The bulk of the advice is from our literature survey of decision making biases, but in the last year we also added (i) considering the problem from many angles and (ii) being Bayesian in your approach, because we gained more confidence that these are regarded as best practice and they have been widely adopted in the effective altruism community.