In some careers your parents can give you a huge boost. Should you do what they did?

Angelina-Jon-GettyWould Angelina Jolie have been as successful if her father wasn’t Jon Voight?

In our talks we often note that in the past people typically went into the same career as their parents, but today young people are free to choose from a much wider range of options that might suit them better. That’s true, and it’s a great thing. However, there are still sometimes reasons to follow in your parents’ footsteps.

New research shows that working in the same field as a successful parent can give your odds of success a huge boost. Surely some of what’s going on here is that the child of a star parent is more likely to try to enter the same field in the first place, but part must also be that they are more likely to succeed when they do so.

Some, perhaps even most, of that effect will be due to to unfair and zero-sum nepotistic advantage, and so shouldn’t be actively exploited. But part of it must also be down to nothing immoral: you will start learning about the work incidentally from a young age, you’ll happen to make useful contacts as you grow up, and your parent may even be able to offer you personal coaching.

Unfortunately, the boost seems to be largest in fields where performance is hardest to measure (it’s smaller in sport and science) or where a brand surname matters, as in politics.

Here are the results for some of the most competitive positions in society:


I recommend reading the full article which has many more details.

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Announcing the effective altruism handbook

Effective Altruism HandbookA new Effective Altruism handbook has been released, which features some of 80,000 Hours’ ideas about high impact careers.

This handbook is made up of blog pieces and essays that are freely available online, and has been compiled by Ryan Carey, and released with some assistance from the Centre for Effective Altruism.

It has 24 mini-chapters altogether, split into five sections What is Effective Altruism, Charity Evaluation, Career Choice, Cause Selection and Organizations. Its foreword by Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, is new, as are concluding letters by seven effective altruist organizations. A lot of discussions have gone into deciding which writings are the best for describing the main concepts of effective altruism, so that’s another reason to check it out.

The rest of the essays are freely available online, and were compiled by Ryan Carey with the support of the Centre for Effective Altruism.

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The winner takes all economy

It’s said that we live in an increasingly “winner takes all” economy. The following chart provides a nice illustration.

From “The Rich are Getting Richer” by The Investor Field Guide (click image for link)
From “The Rich are Getting Richer” by The Investor Field Guide (click image for link)

It shows that from the mid-90s, the companies with the largest profit margins have seen their profit margins expand dramatically – from about 15% to over 20%.

Those at the bottom have seen their profit margins shrink, and the middle 60% have seen little change. The winners are increasingly taking it all.

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How to network

It’s no secret that networking can be one of the keys to career success. It’s useful in helping you to find out about jobs and to land them. But what’s the best way to go about building a successful network?

The best advice we’ve come across so far on how to network is Keith Farrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.1 It’s not as evidence-based and rigorous as we’d like (and his style can be annoying!), but the core of his recommendations makes sense.

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How to get “elite” jobs: Dartmouth is not good enough

I just came across a study of what top-tier investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms look for when recruiting. The author of the study interviewed over 100 recruiters at these firms to find out what criteria they used.1

The Chronicle of Higher Education summed up the results:

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy:2

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.
2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

Here’s a chart showing the key signals that recruiters used to screen candidates.

How to get elite jobs
Graphic re-created from original figure in Rivera (2011)

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Should I help now or later?

If you’re committed to making the biggest difference possible with your career, you may well find that there is a tension between doing good now and laying the groundwork for doing good later.

For example:

  • Next year, you have two choices. You could work for an effective charity, making an immediate difference to its beneficiaries. Or you could go to graduate school and build up your career capital, (hopefully) allowing you to have a larger impact later.


  • You have a substantial sum of money. You could give it today, or you could invest it, allow it to grow, and then give the larger amount later.

How can you go about deciding between these options? Here we present a summary of our findings – the full research has been published on the Global Priorities Project page.

The main factors

Which option is highest-impact varies from case to case. In general, the earlier you are in your career, the less stable your view of the best cause and the more well-established the cause, the more the balance shifts from doing good now towards doing good later.

Here’s a summary:

Now vs Later flowchart

We’ll further explain each factor below.

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We change more than we expect (so keep your options open!)

How much will your personality, values and preferences change over the next decade? Probably more than you think, at least according to a recent paper, “The End of History Illusion” by a team of psychologists at Harvard and the University of Virginia.

In a number of separate experiments, the authors asked a total of over 19,000 people between 18 and 68 to measure their current personality, values and preferences. Half of them were also asked to complete the assessment as they believed they would have done ten years earlier, while the other half were asked to predict what they would say in ten years’ time.

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Which careers are most likely to be automated?

New and improved technologies will make jobs redundant, even as they open up new opportunities. This has always been the case, but with recent advances in Machine Learning and Mobile Robotics, changes in the labor market could be particularly extreme in the years to come. In fact, a recent paper suggests that up to 47% of American jobs could be vulnerable to automation within the next couple of decades.

That paper is “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?”1 by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the Future of Humanity Institute (which is affiliated with 80,000 Hours). In the paper, widely discussed in outlets such as The Economist and The Financial Times, Frey and Osborne look at the likely impact of recent advances in order to determine which jobs are likely to be automated.

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The social impact of different professions

Economists and Harvard and Chicago recently published a paper1 that contains a number of estimates of the social value produced by different professions per dollar of salary. The estimates aren’t the core aim of the paper, but are none-the-less fascinating.

The first set of estimates are by one of the authors of the paper, Lockwood, and aims to stick to views that would be typical based on the the economics literature:

ProfessionLockwood’s estimates (additional social $ value produced per $ of salary at the margin)
Business operations0.1
Financial Services-0.5

What do these figures mean? Read on for more…

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A meta-analysis may not mean much

Scott Alexander recently posted an interesting and provocative article: “Beware the man of one study” (and see the follow up post here).

In the post, he points out that it’s not uncommon to find two meta-analyses with opposite results on the same question.

Indeed, especially when it comes to a politically divided issue, both sides can sometimes produce apparently overwhelming evidence in support of their case.

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Should you move to Thailand?

Chiang Mai Coffee Shop
Chiang Mai Coffee Shop. Credit:

By moving to Thailand, you can cut your cost of living by two to six times, and probably have a higher standard of living than you would have in a big city in the US or UK. NomadList currently estimates that you can live in Chiang Mai for only £400 per month, and flights from London can be had for £500 return. There’s several other cities in Thailand, Vietnam and Eastern Europe, which offer a cost of living under £900 per month.

In the case of Chiang Mai, this includes:

  • A nice, serviced apartment on short-let.
  • Fast internet.
  • Plenty of good cafes and co-working spaces.
  • Warm weather all year.
  • No commute.
  • Big community of international remote workers.
  • Eating out every meal.
  • No visa required for 3 months.
  • Set up within a day.

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Good Done Right: audio recordings now online

This July saw the first academic conference on effective altruism. The three-day event took place at All Souls College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. The conference featured a diverse range of speakers addressing issues related to effective altruism in a shared setting, including the CEO of JPAL, Derek Parfit, Nick Bostrom, Larissa MacFarquhar of the New Yorker, and many of our donors and supporters. It was a fantastic opportunity to share insights and ideas from some of the best minds working on these issues.

I’m very pleased to announce that audio recordings from most of the talks are now available on the conference website, alongside speakers’ slides (where applicable). I’m very grateful to all of the participants for their fantastic presentations, and to All Souls College and the Centre for Effective Altruism for supporting the conference.

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What we can learn about career choice from the Terman study


The Terman study is the longest running longitudinal studies ever to be carried out in psychology. The study included 1,528 of the most intelligent children born between 1900 and 1925. It started in 1921, and the participants have been followed up every four to five years ever since. Data was collected on their personality, habits, life-choices, health and much more. This allows researchers to track the results of different life choices over decades.

Two of the leading researchers working on the Terman study recently released a book: The Longevity Project, which aims to uncover the factors that lead to the participants having long and healthy lives.

The book has a fascinating chapter on career choice (though I’d recommend the whole thing).

Here’s a summary of the key conclusions:

The factors leading to career success

  • Intelligence predicts success, but it’s no guarantee. All of the participants in the Terman study were very bright, but a quarter ended up in less prestigious occupations, like clerical workers and craftsmen. Only one fifth ended up ‘highly successful’ – prominent doctors or lawyers, accomplished in the arts, or leading scientists. One fifth ended up ‘unsuccessful’ within their professions.
  • The more successful, the longer they lived. The most successful men lived on average five years longer than the least. In fact, Terman’s rating of success at age 30 predicted life-span decades later.
  • This effect was not explained by greater wealth, avoiding smoking and drinking, a happier marriage, more education, or conscientiousness (although conscientiousness did explain part of the effect).
  • A stable career with a clear progression of rising responsibilities also predicted longevity, compared to a ‘drifting’ career through many different professions.
  • Continuing to work into old age was a significant predictor of longevity.
  • Overall, the findings do not suggest that avoiding stress and responsibility is a good strategy for having a healthy life. Rather, they suggest that the becoming the type of person who perseveres to achieve ambitious goals leads to both success and health.
  • This links to a broader theme in positive psychology – in Flourish, Seligman proposes that achievement is one of the five key components of a flourishing life.

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The Undercover Economist speaks to 80,000 Hours


Tim Harford recently spoke to us at Oxford. He’s a journalist for the Financial Times and the best-selling author of the Undercover Economist, which we’d recommend as a popular introduction to Economics. He also wrote Adapt, which argues that trial and error is the best strategy for solving important global problems. The arguments he makes fit with some of the arguments we have made for trial and error being a good way to plan your career.

Tim gave a talk on innovation, similar to this. The talk introduced a distinction between two types of innovation, and asks, which one is more important?

  1. Marginal improvements – incremental improvements to existing systems.

  2. Revolutionary improvements – transformations of existing systems to create new ones.

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The Copenhagen Consensus speaks to 80,000 Hours about global prioritisation

In October, Bjorn Lomborg from the Copenhagen Consensus Centre led a global priorities setting session at 80,000 Hours: Oxford in the Oxford Union. The video of the event has been uploaded by the Union.

In the session, Lomborg guides the audience through the pros and cons of different uses of development aid, and asks them to put them in order of priority from the perspective of maximising the welfare of the global poor. Throughout the session, live votes are taken from the audience via wifi.

More on the Copenhagen Consensus…

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More Evidence on the Competitiveness of Charity Jobs


Here’s a short report, “Charities: Passion and skills in aid of a good cause,” on changes in the nonprofit sector’s employment landscape. The report provides evidence of increased competition over jobs, which is attributed to strong interest among recent graduates, greater professionalization across the sector, higher salaries, and an increase in the number of business people switching into nonprofit positions.

The report was published in 2008 by the Financial Times, but our sense is that the trends described have likely continued. The report features excerpts from an interview with a recruiter specialising in non-profit careers.

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Economics PhD the only one worth getting?


Here’s a case for doing an Economics PhD by Noah Smith, professor of finance at Stony Brook University. We think it’s an interesting argument, though there’s much more we need to investigate to work out whether this is an especially promising path for 80,000 Hours members. Regardless, we think that many of our readers will find this article and several of the embedded links useful.

If you’re persuaded, Smith also coauthored a guide on how to get into an Economics PhD program.

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Careers advice from top tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen

We just came across a series of four careers advice posts by Marc Andreessen (hat tip, Satvik Beri).

We’re always on the look out for thoughtful careers advice from very successful individuals aimed at people looking to make a big impact – we think it’s one of the best sources of careers advice, and we think these posts qualify. Andressen co-authored Mosaic (the first web browser), founded Netscape, and then led a successful career in venture capital.

The advice is particularly orientated towards people who want to enter the technology industry, which we think is a particularly promising path to social impact.

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What should you do with a very large amount of money?

A philanthropist who will remain anonymous recently asked Nick Beckstead, a trustee of 80,000 Hours, what he would do with a very large amount of money.

Nick, with support from Carl Shulman (a research advisor to 80,000 Hours), wrote a detailed answer: A long-run perspective on strategic cause selection and philanthropy.

If you’re looking to spend or influence large budgets with the aim of improving the world (or happen to be extremely wealthy!) we recommend taking a look. It also contains brief arguments in favor of five causes.

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