How to write a career plan

80,000 Hours is a non-profit that gives you the information you need to find a fulfilling, high-impact career. Our advice is all free, tailored for talented graduates, and based on five years of research alongside academics at Oxford. Start with our career guide.

We see lots of career planning mistakes.

Some people simply don’t have a plan, and hope the future will figure itself out. This leads them to take steps that seem attractive in the short-run but don’t help in the long-run e.g. we’ve met quite a few people who ended up regretting doing a philosophy PhD.

Other people try to figure out “what to do with their lives”, or make a detailed “10 year plan”. That doesn’t work either.

Instead, we recommend:

  1. Have a plan, but make it flexible – we call this flexible plan a “vision”.
  2. Review your plan at least once a year. Think like a scientist testing a hypothesis.
  3. Make sure you gain flexible career capital, that way you’ll be in a better position no matter what the future holds.

We recently updated our key article on career planning to explain.

Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize both in Physics and in Chemistry
Think of choosing a career like a scientist: have hypotheses you want to
test rather than a fixed plan.

For long-term readers, what’s new?

1. New content on how to make your “vision”

We added a new step-by-step process for making your plan based on “ABZ planning”, an idea we found in Reid Hoffman’s excellent book “The Start-Up of You”.

Here’s the process we recommend:

First start by asking:

  1. What does the world most need? List the 1-3 causes that you think are most pressing. If you’re trying to make an impact, then you need to start by understanding what the world most needs. Focusing on how you can help others is also the key to being successful and fulfilled. To get ideas, see our list of pressing causes.

  2. What do you want out of your career? Next, make sure you understand your personal priorities. See our research on job satisfaction to see what the evidence says is normally most important.

  3. What’s your most valuable career capital? Your career capital comprises your skills, connections, credentials and resources. Clarifying what you have to offer can help you better spot opportunities and figure out what you’ll be good at. Make sure to especially focus on what you’re best at relative to other people aiming to make a difference.

Now you can make your plan:

  1. Plan A: What would you like to do over the next 3-10 years? How are you going to use your career capital to make a big contribution to the causes that you think are most pressing? Why is this the most effective thing to be doing? To get ideas, check out our strategies list.

  2. How are you going to do this? Sketch out the possible routes to getting there. This will help you spot better next steps. Also ask what are the challenges you’re most likely to face and how you’ll deal with them. This can help you deal with problems before they get serious.

  3. Plan B: If your main plan doesn’t work out, what are some nearby alternatives?

  4. Plan Z: If you totally mess up, what’s your backup? Keeping in mind how you’d cope in the worst case scenario can help put your mind at ease while pursuing your plan A, even if it’s difficult or risky.

2. We clarified how much to plan at different stages

We think it’s reasonable to not have a medium-term plan early in your career, unless you’re doing something which involves a big commitment like a PhD.

A typical career could look something like this:

  1. Exploration phase. Spend several years trying out lots of promising paths, as we explain on the exploration page.
  2. Career capital phase. Spend 3-5 years developing useful expertise, as we explain on the career capital page.
  3. Set a vision. As explained above.
  4. Update your vision as you learn more. Review your career and vision at least once a year.

Read the full article, or if you’re facing a career decision right now, work through our process for making career decisions.