80,000 Hours is a non-profit that provides research and support to help people switch into careers that effectively tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
This page is a summary of the most useful things we’ve learned so far. We start with the big picture and end with practical next steps, covering:
- The ethical and big picture views that inform our advice.
- Some neglected global problems we think are especially pressing to work on.
- Some ideas for career paths that especially help to address those problems.
- A list of career strategy considerations that are useful regardless of what problem you focus on.
- A process for planning your career in light of your strengths and personal priorities.
You’ll probably need at least an hour to read this page in full. If you want to start applying these ideas to your own career, you may find it useful to set aside a weekend to reflect and explore some of the materials we link to.
We know this is a lot of time to invest, but if just one idea we cover helps you significantly increase the impact of your career, it’ll be worth it. A typical career lasts for 80,000 hours, so if you can make your career just 1% better, then in theory it would be worth spending up to 800 hours working out how to do that. Hopefully, we’ll be a lot faster.
In our view, ‘having a positive impact’ is about promoting welfare over the long term. However, we’re highly uncertain about this definition, so in practice we aim to consider other perspectives.
We started by trying to identify the most pressing global problems to work on based on this definition. These are not necessarily the world’s biggest or most well-known problems, but rather those where an additional person can make the biggest long-term difference on the margin. Right now, we think these involve shaping the development of emerging technologies and reducing the risk of global catastrophes that could have permanent negative consequences — i.e. ‘existential risks’. Nuclear war and runaway climate change are the two most well-known; 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 (which you can read more about here), mainly because these areas are so much more neglected, which has left many of the most promising interventions untried.
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 non-profits. 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 in the long-term, perhaps after spending several years gaining relevant skills.
Those who already have specialised skills or are further along in their careers can also consider applying those skills to the most pressing global problems — this will often involve taking approaches that differ from our general suggestions. People in almost any job can also contribute to whichever problem they think is highest priority by financially supporting effective organisations in that area. Our research is ongoing and there are many excellent paths we’ve not written about — we discuss other promising options below.
Once you have ideas about which career paths might be best for 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’. It’s hard to predict your personal fit, so look for low-cost ways to test different paths, such as speaking to people and doing side projects.
Once you’ve done these tests, look for a next step to pursue for a couple of years. The ideal next step is one that has a good balance of:
- Specialist career capital — how much does it advance you towards your top long-term options?
- Transferable career capital and back-up options — does it open up other promising options?
- Information value — does it let you test out a potentially excellent but uncertain long-term option?
- Personal fit — where do you have the highest chances of excelling? (& relative fit if coordinating with a community)
- Immediate impact — will it let you contribute to a pressing problem right away?
- Personal priorities — does it fit with the rest of your life and risk-tolerance?
If you’re in your first couple of jobs and/or very uncertain about your long-term options, focus more on testing out paths and building career capital; later in your career, focus more on immediate impact. To combine all of these considerations, you can use our step-by-step process.
When you take whatever next step you choose, remember that career decisions are not fixed — we recommend that you review your career every 1-2 years. Between reviews, focus on excelling in your current path.
These are a lot of claims to digest (and indeed, they might be wrong). Read on to see where they come from and how to apply them.
Careers decisions are highly individual, so there are many questions we can’t easily help with. We aim to focus on career questions that are more widely relevant. To answer the questions we tackle, we draw on:
- Expert interviews — you can listen to over 60 examples of these interviews on our podcast, and also see the results of some anonymous interviews, and our annual survey. Our first pass on many questions involves synthesising what several experts say on the question.
- Academic literature — we aim to draw on academic literature where it’s available, such as the literature on existential risks, the distribution of productivity in different fields, and how to make good decisions.
- Advising our readers — we’ve given one-on-one advice to over 1,000 people since 2011, many of whom we’re still in touch with. This gives us a sense of what mistakes are common, as well as some indication of how decisions play out over time.
It’s not usually possible to confidently answer the kinds of questions we tackle. However, we do our best to synthesise the sources of evidence we draw on, using our research principles. We also aim to highlight the key aspects of our reasoning so that readers can make their own assessments.
The topics we tackle are complex, and in the past we’ve noticed people interpreting our advice in ways we didn’t intend. Here are some points to bear in mind before diving into our advice.
- We want our writing to inform people’s views, but only in proportion to the likelihood that we are correct. Given that, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve been wrong before and we’ll be wrong again. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, but we still have a lot to learn. Our positions often change every couple of years, and due to the nature of the questions we take on we’re rarely more than about 70% confident in our answers. You should try to strike a balance between what we think and your previous position, depending on the strength of the arguments and how much you already knew about the topic.
It’s extremely difficult to give universally applicable career advice. The most important issue here is that which option is best for you depends a huge amount on your skills and circumstances, and the specific details of the opportunity. So, while we might highlight path A more than path B, the best opportunities in path B will often be better than the typical opportunities in path A. Moreover, your personal circumstances could easily mean the best option for you is in path B. So, treat the specific options we mention as an aid for compiling your personal list of career ideas. Also keep in mind that many issues in career choice are a matter of balancing opposing considerations — for instance, if we say people put too much emphasis on X, there will usually be some readers who put too little emphasis on X, and need to hear the opposite advice.
Our advice is aimed at a particular audience: namely, people with college degrees who want to make having a positive impact (from an impartial perspective) the main focus of their careers, especially in the problem areas we most recommend; who live in rich, (for the most part) English-speaking countries; and who want to take an analytical approach to their career. At any given moment many people need to focus on taking care of their own lives, and we don’t think anyone should feel guilty if that’s the case. Certain parts of our advice, such as our list of priority paths, are especially aimed at people who are unusually high-achieving. In general, the more similar you are to our core audience, the more useful the advice will be, although much of what we write is useful to anyone who wants to make a difference.
Treat increasing your impact as just one long-term goal. Working on the world’s most pressing problems is among the most worthwhile challenges we can imagine, though it can also be overwhelming. Bear in mind, 80,000 Hours is about how to maximise your impact, and this can make it sound like we don’t care about other goals. However, the team sees increasing our impact as just one important goal among several in our lives, which means we often do things that aren’t optimal from the perspective of doing good. Indeed, even if your only goal was to have an impact, to do that it’s vital to do something you can stick with for years — and this means taking care of your personal priorities as well.
Aim for steady progress rather than perfection. It can take a long time to work out how to factor the ideas we cover into your own plans and find the right opportunity. Along the way, because there’s always more that could be done, it can be easy to become overly perfectionist, get caught up with comparisons, and never be satisfied. When using our advice, the aim is not to find the (unknowable & unattainable) perfect option, or have more impact than other people. Rather, focus on making steady progress towards the best career that’s practical for you given your constraints.
Older articles on the site are less likely to reflect our current views, so check their publication date. We also aim to keep this key ideas page up-to-date as the canonical source of advice, and to flag older articles when our views have changed, though we have hundreds of pages of content, so we don’t catch everything.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The big picture: 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: Other important career priorities
- 5.1 Personal fit: one of the most important considerations in choosing a career
- 5.2 Exploration: do low-cost tests and focus on the option with the most long-term upside
- 5.3 Accidental harm: the risk of setting back your field and how to reduce it
- 5.4 Career capital: deciding how much to prioritise investing in yourself versus having an impact right away
- 5.5 Take care of yourself and your mental health
- 5.6 Coordination: how to work with a community to have a greater impact
- 5.7 How much risk should you take?
- 5.8 Personal wellbeing: how to handle conflicts between your own happiness and making a difference
- 6 Planning and decision-making: Tips on making career plans
- 7 Summary: How to put everything together and write a career plan
- 8 Take action: How to put your plan into practice
- 9 How else can we help?