7 strategies for having an impact with your career

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A strategy is a general method for having a big impact that applies to many different jobs. While it’s important to focus on the particular decision at hand (for which our framework and how to choose process help), it’s also useful to have broad long-run aims for your career. Thinking in terms of career strategies can help you develop a long-run plan.

On this page, we outline the best career strategies we’ve identified so far. Click through to learn more about each one and which options are best within each.

Strategies for the start of your career

  • The experimenter: Finding a career that’s the right fit for you is important, but it’s also difficult to do just by thinking about it. It can therefore be a good strategy to try out a number of different areas in order to learn more about your own interests and skills.
  • The self-developer: When you’ve narrowed down which area you want to enter, focus on investing in yourself to build your career capital.

Strategies for impact

Once you’ve got a better idea of where to focus and started building your skills, it’s time to turn your attention more directly to impact. Below are five strategies we’ve found for making a difference. Choose between these on the basis of personal fit.

These strategies offer some combination of: track-record (high-impact people in the past have used them), potential for a large scale of influence, flexible influence that can be used to support whichever causes are most pressing in the future, and a shortage of the people doing them

  • The effective worker: There are many nonprofit and for-profit organisations that have a large impact, which are short of specific types of human capital. If you’re a good fit for a high-impact organization – an organisation that’s well-run and works in an effective cause – then working at that organisation can be a good option.
  • The entrepreneur: If you’ve got potential as an entrepreneur, attempt to found new effective nonprofit organisations or innovative for-profits that benefit their customers and create positive spill-over effects. Entrepreneurship is a way to address a problem in a new way, and potentially to reach a huge scale, but good entrepreneurs are rare.
  • The philanthropist: Some people have skills that are better suited to earning money than the other strategies. These people can take a high-earning career and donate the money to whichever organisations are most effective at the time. We call this strategy ‘earning to give’.
  • The researcher: If you’re especially good at research – attempting to create new knowledge – consider doing it, especially if you have you have the opportunity to work in a field that’s particularly important, tractable and neglected. New discoveries can be freely shared, so research is a way to have lasting impact at a huge scale, and people who can push research forward are rare.
  • The advocate: If you can develop a public platform, good network and credibility, you can use it to promote and unite people behind important ideas. This is a way to have influence at a large scale, and you can use your platform to promote whichever causes are most effective.

Appendix: Our reasoning

What other strategies are there?

Another possible strategy is to work in influential areas where you’re more focused on social impact than your colleagues, with the hope of spotting neglected opportunities to have a social impact. For instance, if a group of scientists were developing a new technology without much concern for the risk, there could be good opportunities for a socially motivated person to join the group and look out for cheap ways to reduce the risk that aren’t going to be taken otherwise.

We’ve also discussed the idea of taking an unglamorous role near a high-impact person with the idea of facilitating and amplifying their impact.

So far, however, we haven’t come across any concrete, widely applicable career paths that resemble either of these two strategies and are sufficiently distinct from advocacy or working at an organisation with good fit, so we haven’t included them.

How confident are we in these strategies?

We’ve used something similar to the five strategies for immediate impact since we first started in 2011 (previously, they were called the ‘five types of careers’ – research, improver, innovator, earner to give, and advocate), so we feel relatively confident they’re useful paths to consider. The Self-Developer and Experimenter are newer additions, since we’ve come to put more weight on building your long-run potential in the last year. We’re much more uncertain about which strategies are best from the seven, which types of people should do each one, and whether there might be other useful strategies we’ve missed.