You can help solve the world’s most pressing problems with your career
At 80,000 Hours, we do research into how people can most effectively have a large-scale positive impact with their careers.
This page is a summary of the most important things we’ve learned so far about high-impact careers. It links to resources that explain our views and reasoning in more detail.
We start with the big picture and end with practical next steps. We cover: (i) the ethical views that inform our advice, (ii) the global problems we currently think are most pressing to work on, (iii) the careers we think most effectively address these problems, (iv) some advice on long-term career strategy that’s useful for whatever problems you focus on, and (v) a career planning process that accounts for your personal strengths and priorities.
Our advice is tailored for graduates aged 20-35 who want to ambitiously focus on social impact in the most demanding options, though much of it is relevant more broadly.
This series is a work in progress. We are currently working on this page, and drafting new articles. Join our newsletter to get notified when we release updates.
In our view, ‘having a positive impact’ is about promoting long-term welfare in ways that respect the rights of others.
We’ve tried to identify the most pressing global problems. These are not necessarily the world’s biggest and most well-known problems, but rather those where additional effort can make the biggest difference at the margin. Right now, we think these involve the risk of global catastrophes that could have permanent negative consequences — i.e., ‘existential risk’. Nuclear war and runaway climate change are the two most well-known catastrophic risks, and both may contribute to existential risk. However, we think that, all else equal, additional people can have even more impact by working to reduce the risk of large scale pandemics and to positively shape the development of advanced artificial intelligence, mainly because these areas are so much more neglected, which has left many of the most promising interventions untried.
Because we are very uncertain about these priorities, we also provide support to people building the new field of global priorities research, as well as people working in other areas.
We currently think some of the most promising career paths involve addressing these problems through work in carefully chosen areas of research, government policy and nonprofits. For those with the flexibility to pursue a new career path, we especially recommend considering whether one of our ‘priority paths’ might be a good fit. Those who already have specialised skills or are further along in their careers should also consider applying those skills to the most pressing global problems. This will often involve taking approaches that differ from our suggestions for other readers. People in any field can also contribute to whichever problem they think is highest priority by donating to effective organisations in these areas.
If you’re unsure of where to focus, or if doing so will let you advance more quickly towards what you think are your top options, then consider first investing in gaining the skills, connections and credentials — ‘career capital’ — that are needed to address the most pressing problems.
Note that the paths we discuss on this page are suggestions we recommend highly, but they are far from a comprehensive list of high-impact career options. Our research is ongoing and there are many excellent paths we’ve not written about. We cover more ways to contribute in our profiles on specific problems.
Once you have ideas about which career paths seem most promising to you, aim to identify the option where you have the best chance of excelling in the long term i.e. where you have the best ‘personal fit’. This is one reason we’d almost never recommend pursuing a path you dislike. It’s hard to predict ahead of time whether you could potentially excel in a particular career, so it’s useful to test out different paths. If in doubt, one good approach is to enter the path that would be highest-impact if you perform towards the top end of your expectations. If it works out, you can continue for many years. If it doesn’t, you can limit the downside by switching to something else (ideally a backup plan you’ve identified ahead of time). This strategy only works, however, if you’ve also tried to avoid risky options that might do more harm than good. We cover this and other strategic considerations below.
To integrate all of these considerations, and work out the best options given your personal strengths and priorities, you can use our step-by-step process for comparing your choices. Once you decide to push ahead with your best guess option, bear in mind that career decisions are not fixed. We recommend that you plan to review your career every 1-2 years. Between reviews, we think it’s best to focus on excelling in your current option.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Our ethical views: What does it mean to ‘make a difference’?
- 3 Global priorities: What are the most pressing problems to work on?
- 4 Best opportunities: Which careers effectively contribute to solving these problems?
- 5 Career strategy: How should your priorities change over time?
- 5.1 Personal fit: how to increase your chances of finding a career path where you’ll excel
- 5.2 Exploration: focus on the option with the most long-term upside, but have a backup plan
- 5.3 Accidental harm: the risk of doing more harm than good and how to reduce it
- 5.4 Career capital: deciding how much to prioritise investing in yourself relative to having an impact right away
- 5.5 Coordination: how to work with a community to have a greater impact
- 5.6 Personal wellbeing: How to handle conflicts between your own happiness and making a difference
- 5.7 Further reading
- 6 Take action: How to write your career plan and choose your next step
- 7 How else can we help?