This list is preliminary. We wanted to publish our existing thoughts on what to do with each skill, but can easily see ourselves changing our minds over the coming years.
You can read about our general process and what career paths we recommend in our full article.
Sometimes, however, it’s possible to give more specific advice about what options to consider to people who already have pre-existing experience or qualifications, or are unusually good at a certain type of work.
In this article, we provide a list of skills, and for each one give a list of socially-impactful options that people who are unusually good in that area should most often consider.
We start with three “strengths” (quantitative, verbal & social, and visual). Then we go on to give advice for people with existing experience in fifteen specific fields.
Bear in mind it’s often possible to completely change field: we’ve seen people switch from philosophy to software engineering, and architecture into economics. Nonetheless, these are good starting points.
The skill types also overlap, and you probably also have several of them. The aim is just to give you some tips on narrowing down your options more quickly.
Table of Contents
- 1 Advice for people with particular strengths
- 2 Advice for people with experience in particular occupations or fields
- 2.1 Government and policy
- 2.2 Business, management and accounting
- 2.3 Currently in academia
- 2.4 Economics
- 2.5 Engineering (excluding software)
- 2.6 Entrepreneurship
- 2.7 History
- 2.8 Knowledge of China
- 2.9 Law
- 2.10 Life sciences, biology, medicine and healthcare
- 2.11 Marketing
- 2.12 Media, art and entertainment
- 2.13 Philosophy
- 2.14 Psychology
- 2.15 Software engineering
Advice for people with particular strengths
Strong quantitative skills: mathematics, statistics, physics, computer science etc.
If you have this skill-set, the first path to consider is probably research, especially if you’ve attended or might be able to get into a top 10 global graduate school in a relevant subject. We recommend considering research first because research training is useful for many other paths and the more time you spend away from academia the harder it can be to return. One exception is that it’s useful to experiment with other options for 1-2 years before doing a PhD unless you’re absolutely sure you want to do research in a specific discipline.
Whether or not you’ve already attended graduate school, an especially good, but also especially difficult, option is to learn machine learning, then work on issues relevant to AI safety research. Many quantitative graduate degrees are also good preparation for working on global priorities research. If you have a relevant degree, you might also work on biorisk reduction or decision-making psychology.
If you haven’t yet attended graduate school, a PhD in economics is particularly good preparation for global priorities research (and many other high-impact issues) and is often feasible for people with strong quantitative backgrounds even if they didn’t study economics as an undergrad. We’ve also seen people with quantitative degrees work on global priorities research directly after graduating from university. You might also consider graduate training in biology (where quantitative skills are in-demand) with a focus on biorisk reduction or decision-making psychology. Plus, there are many other potentially high-impact fields of research if you have good personal fit.
If you don’t want to do research, then what else might be a top option? One advantage of quantitative skills is that they open doors in many areas. If you have strong quantitative skills, it’s likely you could consider many of our other top recommended options, including working at top non-profits, research management & operations, or government & policy careers (options listed below). If your non-quantitative skills are also OK, then you can take most of the options recommended in these paths. If they’re not so good you can seek out roles with more focus on analysis (e.g. research positions at these organisations).
If you have excellent software engineering skills, one of your best options might be an engineering role with an AI safety team.
If none of these work out, then you could earn to give. An especially high earning option which can be competitive with the above options in terms of impact is quantitative finance, especially quant trading in hedge funds. Beyond that you could consider investment banking with a focus on sales & trading or asset management; actuarial science or middle office investment banking.
Besides finance, you could work in technology. These positions are usually lower earning, but let you build a better network, potentially while also learning about important technologies if you choose the right company. The most competitive and risky option is working as a startup founder. Otherwise, you could work as a software engineer or data scientist at a large company. In the middle is working as a startup early employee. And there are many other higher-paying careers beyond these you could consider.
Strong verbal and written skills
We think that people with this skill-set should likely focus on government and policy roles, ideally with a focus relevant to a top problem area, such as emerging technology, international relations or China. If you haven’t yet attended graduate school or are willing to retrain, a masters in public policy or security studies would be one way to enter this career path. Many people with strong verbal and written skills can also get good jobs in government or public policy without graduate training. We outline more specific paths below.
Outside of policy, you could focus on non-profit positions, especially with a focus on management, operations, outreach and marketing.
Within research, the most promising areas might be international relations, security studies, public policy and China, with the aim of working on issues relevant to emerging technologies and global catastrophic risks. Getting a PhD in international relations might be a good early step for this path, although you might wish to explore by working as a research assistant for a researcher doing relevant work.
Philanthropy requires people with particularly good communications skills, so you might consider trying to work at one of the philanthropic foundations that make grants to organisations working on our priority problems.
Outside of our key categories, you could consider building a career in the media, which we cover later.
As a back-up, the main earning to give options to consider are likely law, consulting, management, and certain positions in finance (i.e. areas like M&A which are more about dealmaking and advising than analysis).
Learn web design, graphic design, product design etc. then apply those skills at socially impactful non-profits and other organisations.
You could also consider building a career in the media with the aim of helping to do intelligent advocacy around key problem areas, as covered later.
Otherwise, you can work in the corporate sector and earn to give.
Learn more in this podcast.
Advice for people with experience in particular occupations or fields
Government and policy
If you already have expertise here that’s great, because it’s one of our most recommended paths right now.
If you’re in this path, then the ideal would be to develop an area of expertise that’s relevant to one of our top problem areas, such as emerging technology, security and risk surveillance, international relations especially with China, public health, biosecurity & pandemic preparedness, nuclear security, and others. You can do this by working on the issues, meeting people in these areas, and perhaps through relevant graduate study or work experience (e.g. work at a top AI company).
Once you have this expertise, you can aim to work in a relevant policy position. We list these within our problem profiles. The aim in these roles would be to help better inform policy-making, and ensure that existing policy is implemented well.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, working on U.S. federal policy can be particularly valuable because the U.S. federal government is so large and has so much influence over many of our priority problems. People whose career goal is to influence the U.S. federal government often switch between many different types of roles as they advance. In the U.S., we know about four main types of roles that can lead to a big impact on our priority problems. (We focus on the U.S. here because of its influence. We think working in policy can also be quite valuable in other countries although the potential career paths look slightly different).
- Working in the executive branch such as the Defense Department, the State Department, intelligence agencies, or the White House. See our profile on the UK civil service, which starts with a general case for working in government. Note, though, that in the U.S. top executive branch officials are often hired from outside the traditional career civil service. So even if your goal is to eventually be a top executive branch official, the best path might include spending much of your career in the other types of roles we describe next.
Working as a Congressional staffer. Congressional staffers can have a lot of influence over legislation, especially if they work on a committee relevant to one of our priority problems. It’s possible to achieve seniority and influence as a Congressional staffer surprisingly quickly. Our impression, though, is that the very top staffers often have graduate degrees sometimes including degrees from top law schools. From this path it’s also common to move into the executive branch, or to seek elected office.
Working for a political campaign. We doubt that political campaign work is the highest impact option in the long run but if the candidate you work for wins this can be a great way to get a high impact staff position. For example, many people who work on a winning presidential campaign eventually get high impact positions in the White House or elsewhere in the executive branch.
Influencer positions outside of government, covering policy research and advocacy. For example, you might work at a think tank or a company interested in a relevant policy area. In this kind of job, you can develop original proposals for policy improvements and/or help to set the agenda around a specific area of policy. You can also often build expertise and connections to let you switch into the executive branch, working on a campaign, or other policy positions. Journalists can also be very influential but our impression is that there is not as clear of a path from working as a journalist to getting other policy jobs.
In the UK, the options are similar except there is more separation between political careers (e.g. working for a campaign, a political party, or a staffer for an elected official) and careers in the civil service (which is the equivalent of the executive branch). Read more in our profile on UK civil service careers and UK party political careers.
You can be influential in any of these areas but if you want to work on the emerging technology issues we especially highlight, then we suspect the very highest impact roles are senior roles in the executive branch and White House. However, even if that’s your eventual goal, starting with more junior executive branch roles isn’t necessarily the best way to get there; top officials are often hired from outside the executive branch. We therefore mainly advise people to focus on wherever they can be most successful.
If you don’t want to work on issues around emerging technology, then there are many other high-impact areas of policy to get involved with, such as international development or animal agriculture.
If you want to leave government and policy careers, then you’ll likely have options in the social sector relevant to the areas of policy you worked on, such as non-profits or grantmaking. If you worked on emerging technology policy, you may be able to find a job at a technology company. You can also likely switch into many other career paths.
Business, management and accounting
If you have this background, the most obvious option is to aim to work at an effective non-profit, focused on one of the most pressing problem areas. Operations and management staff are especially in-demand in many non-profits and research organisations. Longer term, you could aim to work on entrepreneurship as covered earlier.
Another top option that will use these kinds of skills are many government careers, as listed earlier.
Otherwise, you could seek a higher-earning career in business management, technology startups or finance to earn to give.
Currently in academia
If you’re in academia, you’re probably well positioned to make a big contribution to some of our priority areas.
If you’d like to stay in academia, the most obvious way to have an impact is through your research. When applied to our recommended problems, we think that academic research is one of the highest impact ways to spend your career. To get ideas for specific research questions to work on, check if your discipline is discussed in the above list.
In general, we prioritise neglected problems, so many of the topics we recommend are currently small, emerging subfields within academia. In these areas, the impact of your research may extend beyond your direct contributions. By doing thoughtful foundational research in an understudied area, you can lend academic credibility to urgent research problems, pave the way for additional researchers to join in, and potentially help to grow the field.
Academics can also serve as public intellectuals, bringing attention to an issue and improving the quality of public dialogue. However, see our advice for people with experience in media for a discussion of some risks of this approach in many of the cause areas we recommend. We cover these kinds of options in more depth in our upcoming profile on academic careers.
If you’re talented at operations, you can help an important field develop without working as a researcher yourself. Research institutions in our priority areas have reported that one of their biggest bottlenecks is operations management (e.g. Administrators and Research Project Managers) and these jobs often require training in academia. The impact of cultivating a scholarly community dedicated to an urgent problem could easily exceed the impact you could have had by doing research on your own. For more information, we recorded a podcast with Michelle Hutchinson, an Oxford philosophy PhD who set up and ran the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford to spark academic engagement with effective altruism and global priorities research.
If you’re considering leaving academia, there are many impactful career paths that will take advantage of the experience and skills you’ve gained.
If your PhD is in a quantitative discipline, see our advice for people with quantitative skills earlier. A particularly high-impact but difficult path is to try to learn machine learning and then work on AI safety research at a nonprofit research institution or in industry.
Another good option is to work in government and policy, where there’s a strong need for people with PhDs. For example, scientists are badly needed to work on emerging technology policy, which is one of our top priorities. Many think tanks employ former academics to do policy research. In the US, a particularly promising option is the AAAS Fellowship. See our advice for people with experience in government and policy above for more information on this area.
You could also be a grantmaker at a foundation focused on one of our top problems, which is another of our top priority career paths. These positions often require a PhD in a relevant discipline.
For more options, you should see whether your discipline is included in the list of areas above, which may have non-research recommendations for people in your field. Depending on your discipline, your academic training has also provided you with broader quantitative, verbal, or writing skills so you’re also likely a good fit for many of the options discussed in our advice for people with particular strengths.
Otherwise, there are many other potentially interesting areas of research, such as science policy reform, immigration, decision-making, macroeconomic policy and more. See some links for further reading at the bottom of this page.
Outside of academia, the most obvious path is government and policy, discussed in much greater detail above, where having an economics background is useful.
You could also transfer into many other paths, such as non-profit jobs.
If you want to earn to give, then finance might be the most obvious area.
Engineering (excluding software)
If you’ve studied engineering, then you likely have good applied quantitative skills. This means that many of the quantitative options listed earlier will be open to you.
It seems hard to address our top recommended problems right now by working as an engineer, so if you’re committed to doing that, then earning to give might be the best path. In particular, you could focus on hardware startups, which are rapidly expanding right now due to recent advances that have made hardware much cheaper (e.g. 3D printing) and where the potential earnings are much higher than conventional engineering jobs.
Another option would be to seek out a different problem area where the skill-set is more in-demand, such as climate change. In particular, see this guide to reducing climate change as a technologist.
If you have an entrepreneurial skill-set, then you could work towards founding an effective non-profit in a top problem area where a gap exists.
However, it’s difficult to come up with good ideas for new organisations, and easy to set the area back by founding a second tier project. This means we recommend that you start by building expertise in the problem area for 1-3 years. This could be done part-time by meeting lots of people in the area, or by working in a relevant organisation.
Once you have this background, you’ll be much more likely to spot a good idea, and your idea will be more likely to succeed.
Another great option is find a startup non-profit that already has a good idea, and join them in scaling it up.
Related, in the non-profit sector it’s more common for donors to initiate new organisations rather than entrepreneurs. So, another source of ideas is to find a donor who already wants to start a new organisation and to help them do it.
Alternatively, you could work in for-profit tech startups with the aim of earning to give. Ideally, you can also work at an organisation that’s involved in a relevant area of technology so that you gain more useful career capital.
You could also try to work at a for-profit startup that has significant direct impact, but this usually seems very hard within our top recommended problem areas (read more).
Within research, study areas that are relevant to understanding the long-term arc of history, and social change. For instance, three relevant but neglected topics are the history of philanthropy, the history of happiness, and “macro” history. Several topics in these areas could be important contributions to global priorities research.
If you want to leave academia, then consider verbal skill options listed earlier.
Knowledge of China
Consider the “China specialist” options listed here.
If you have experience as a lawyer in the U.S. that’s great because it’s among the best ways to get positions in government & policy, which is one of our top priority areas. We’d recommend you read our advice for people with experience in government or policy above. (People from other countries can also try to transition from law to public policy, but it’s comparatively easier to go into government as a lawyer in the US so law is a more attractive first step there.)
Within research, you could aim to work on legal issues concerning AI and other emerging technologies, or other important and neglected areas of legal academia. From there you could also aim to influence policy.
You could also earn to give in law.
Some other (competitive) options to consider aiming for long-term include (i) being a judge (ii) impact litigation in a neglected area (though in general, impact litigation seems crowded and less influential over policy than working in government).
Otherwise, consider the other verbal options explained earlier.
Life sciences, biology, medicine and healthcare
If you have a background in biology or medicine, the most natural area to focus on is reducing biorisks. You can start by doing graduate school in a relevant area, then either focus more on research or policy.
If you don’t want to do research or policy yourself, you could work in operations and research management or other roles at a relevant organisation.
Outside of biorisks, you could try to switch into another one of our top recommended fields. Healthcare workers typically have a well-rounded skill-set that lets them work in a wide range of roles. We know one medic who retrained in machine learning and now works on AI safety, or you can enter AI through neuroscience. We’ve even hired two medics to work at 80,000 Hours, and CEA hired a former nurse and a former pharmacist to work in operations. You could also take a wide range of other non-profit and policy jobs that don’t require a specific background.
If you have more of a biology background, then your strength might be in analysis, so you could consider some of the quantitative roles listed earlier.
Outside of our top recommended areas, you could consider aiming to work on other potentially transformative areas of research, such as genetic engineering, which could be used to fundamentally alter human characteristics and values, or anti-ageing research. You could also work on carefully selected areas of conventional biomedical research, either in academia or industry.
You’ll probably start by building up your skills by working in a company with a top marketing department. Try to focus on digital and data-driven marketing rather than traditional marketing.
Then, you can aim to do marketing for an effective non-profit, either full-time or on a freelance basis, or another important organisation, such as in government.
Alternatively, you could use marketing skills to earn to give by working in a startup, or otherwise a large company, seeking executive positions in the long-term.
If you’re willing to go broader, then you could consider the verbal skill options listed earlier.
Media, art and entertainment
If you have built a career in this area, then you can consider many of the options listed under verbal skills above.
If you want to stay within media and entertainment, then the most obvious option is to try to use your position to advocate for an important problem area. It’s usually best to focus on targeted advocacy to your connections (e.g. speaking one-on-one) rather than mass media, since the risks with mass media are higher and it’s often less useful (read more).
However, you could also consider medium breadth advocacy, such as through written articles, TV shows, documentaries, podcasts and so on. It’s crucial to choose an issue that is robustly useful to promote. For instance, much media coverage around AI safety portrays it as concern about “the terminator” which reduces the credibility of the issue, and is not the real concern. It’s easier, in contrast, to promote solutions to factory farming, though vegan advocacy in the past has also created a backlash.
Due to the risk of being misunderstood, which is especially likely for the complex issues we focus on, we favour longer form content, since it allows for nuanced discussion.
Alternatively, you can focus on succeeding in your career, which might let you earn to give, as well as make connections you can work with later.
Another option would be to help an effective non-profit with marketing and outreach.
If you want to leave academia, then consider the verbal skill options listed earlier.
Bear in mind that since many philosophers have good analytical skills, you can probably also retrain into some quantitative options e.g. we’ve seen philosophers switch into programming and economics.
If you’re trained in psychology, you might be able to focus on the intersection of improving institutional decision-making and global priorities research, which are two of our top recommended areas. You can either work on these issues as a researcher, or as a practitioner who helps to implement best practice, or on operations and management at a relevant organisation.
You could also pursue many other options in government and policy. In particular, there’s increasing interest in policy informed by “behavioural science” (e.g. at the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK), so you could use that as an entry point. Or you could switch into non-profits.
Otherwise, you could earn to give in a wide variety of jobs. Perhaps one of the most interesting areas is the growing number of mental health startups, which aim to cheaply distribute evidence-based psychology interventions. This includes companies like those founded by Spencer Greenberg, Pacifica, Sleep.io, Joyable, and Headspace. You could use statistics skills to transfer into data science and the technology industry; or otherwise psychology is relevant to marketing. However, it may be better just to start from scratch in one of the higher earning paths (e.g. consulting).
If you want to work on a different problem area, there are many other important areas of research open to psychologists, including positive psychology, moral psychology, improving research methodology, and more.
We find that many people end up earning to give in software engineering, when they could probably do something else that’s higher-impact.
If you want to stay working in software engineering, then the ideal might be to become an ML engineer working with an AI safety team.
Otherwise, it’s worth giving serious consideration to leaving. If you’ve succeeded as a software engineer, then you likely have good quantitative skills, so you could consider any of the options listed under that section from earlier. In particular, hedge funds that practice quant trading sometimes hire software engineers and may pay more than tech companies. So you might look into switching into this field, especially if you’re willing to move to New York.