If you want a career that’s both fulfilling and impactful, but are feeling unsure what to do, we’ve created this free weekly course to help you make a plan.
Each week, you’ll receive one article to read and some questions to answer, which start with clarifying your longer-term goals, and work towards actionable next steps.
If you complete the whole thing, you’ll have considered the most important questions about your career, made a career plan you can feel confident in, and given yourself the best possible chance of finding work that’s satisfying and makes a real difference.
The course will help you apply everything we’ve learned about career planning, drawing from academic research on decision making and our experience giving career advice to over 1,000 people.1
It’s designed to be helpful no matter which issues you want to work on or what your skills are, and whether you’re still a student or have been in a job for years.
It aims to help you step back and ask the big questions. If you need to decide between a couple of concrete options right now, we have a shorter decision process specifically for that.
It’s not necessarily an easy (or a particularly short) process. But you have 80,000 hours of working time in your life, so if you’re lucky enough to have options for how to spend that time, it’s worth really thinking about how to spend it best.
You can sign up now, or see all the sections right below.
If you sign up, then each week, we’ll send you one article to read, and a couple of exercises to do. The most important sections are marked with a ★. You can save time by skipping or skimming the others.
To be ready for Part 1, which we’ll send tomorrow, here are the two key things you need to do:
Schedule in your calendar when you’ll do the exercises. A couple of hours each week is ideal, though feel free to spend more or less. Some parts are also faster than others.
Other things to keep in mind:
You might want to find a friend to work through the course with you. This makes you much more likely to finish, and it’s really useful to have someone to discuss your plans with. Plus, it’s more fun. If you know someone who might be interested, send them this page right now and ask them to sign up.
Otherwise, jot down the names of 2–3 other people you might be able to discuss your plans with. An ideal workflow might be something like filling out each section of your worksheet on Sunday afternoons, discussing it with someone during the week, and then updating it based on what you learned the following Sunday, when you do the next week’s exercises.
You can also ask questions in our LinkedIn Group, as well as use it to find people in the fields you’d like to enter.
There are many other ways to use the process. E.g. you might prefer to do a rough pass over everything in one weekend and then do some follow up research, or you might want to discuss it with a friend over dinner (or both). You can find all the sections online on this page, so you don’t have to follow the weekly cadence. You can also see a 3-page summary of all the main advice.
Some of the questions in the process are difficult. You might find that there are no fully satisfactory answers. But best guesses (which can be revised over time) are much better than not thinking about these questions at all, so when in doubt just write something down.
Approach your uncertainties like a scientist. Make some best-guess hypotheses about which options are best, identify key uncertainties, and then investigate them. Test out ideas empirically where you can. Don’t aim for certainty. In fact, you can think of much of your career as a series of experiments: You can try something for 6–24 months and then review your plan, improving your best guesses over time.
We often ask you to think about things from several different angles. This is because much career planning is about finding a balance, like between shooting for what the world most needs and using your strengths, or between careful planning and opportunism. We’ll introduce several of these pairs to ensure you’ve considered everything.
At 80,000 Hours, we focus on social impact — but you will have other goals. Although we try to provide space in the process for these other personal priorities, we’re not providing a complete picture of career planning — you’ll need to balance what we cover with your personal priorities.
Seek support on the emotional aspects of changing your career. Your career may be a big part of your life and identity. The questions we pose might bring up fears about the future, insecurities, guilt about not doing more, or other worries. That’s okay and normal. However, the emotional side of career choice is not our expertise, so we’d encourage you to seek support on this from friends or others. That said, you might also find some of our tips on general self-development and happiness useful here.
You can’t control the lot you’ve been given, and you can’t determine the results of your efforts. The best you can do is to spend time thinking about your strategy, work toward your best-guess goals, and improve over time. If you follow the steps in the process, then even if the results are not as hoped, or you don’t achieve as much as other people, you’re doing the best you can, which is all anyone can do.
Learn how to generate ideas for your next steps over the coming years, both by working backwards and by working forward. Then learn to narrow those options down based on our framework and your strategy.
This article is the most comprehensive collation of advice on how to plan a high-impact career we’ve written or know about. It’s based on all our research into social impact careers, and what we’ve learned from the academic research on decision-making, and what has seemed helpful in our experience advising over 1000 people one-on-one. We’ve used elements of this material since 2013, though it first appeared in roughly this form in our workshops in 2016 and 2017 career guide (which have been used by thousands of people). This version contains a number of additions and improvements compared to the version in the career guide, which are listed here.
However, because the full and updated process articulated in this article is new, we don’t have examples of people who’ve used the entire thing successfully. It’s also true that the people who we think have done the most good in the world historically haven’t necessarily done this themselves. That said, we know that people have found bits and pieces of the process useful from workshops and one-and-one advising, and our experience (plus common sense) suggests that people who want to have the most impact they can will benefit from thinking through what they want to do and being intentional about their career — and that this can beat the methods people usually use or have used in the past. We intend to keep collecting feedback and improving the particulars of this process. But we are willing to bet that if more talented, altruistic people adopted an intentional approach like this, we’d have a significantly better chance at solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.↩