Early career, we recommend you focus on building useful skills. So which skills are most useful for solving important global problems? Here’s our list.

We recommend choosing between these skills primarily based on which one you could be best at – your personal fit. Click through to the profiles to learn more about why we recommend them, how to get started learning them, and how to work out which is the best fit for you.

  • Learn to get things done in the world’s largest and most important institutions (particularly national governments), which often play a crucial role in tackling global problems.

  • Help build and boost great organisations doing important work through skills like management, operations, legal and financial oversight, entrepreneurship, and fundraising.

  • Learn how to do research, with the aim of eventually making intellectual advances on important questions about tackling global problems.

  • Convey important ideas and information in a compelling way in order to help others focus on the right things and work more effectively.

  • Learn to code and then apply your skills to build useful software or conduct analyses relevant to pressing problems.

  • Learn about an emerging power (especially China) and use that experience to help improve global coordination in crucial areas.

  • Speed up the development and use of technology to help solve global problems.

  • Gain relevant — but sometimes niche — knowledge in important areas, like vaccinology, AI hardware, or development economics.

Frequently asked questions

You should pick based on your degree of personal fit for the skill.

That is — whether you can learn it quickly, stick with it, and have a chance of excelling.

There are other factors. In particular:

  1. The back-up options that learning the skill provides. This ensures you’re in a good position if you decide to either stop focusing on impact for a while or switch to another path. We’ve tried to point out the back-up options provided by different skills in the articles.
  2. How useful the skill is for tackling problems you think are most pressing, i.e. does it give you the potential to make a large-scale contribution to those problems? You can read more about which skills let you make the biggest contribution in our article on high impact jobs.

Our list is based on the skills that we think are likely to be useful to tackling global problems. So if you’re picking from our list, you should focus on personal fit (and, to a lesser extent, back-up options).

Also, each skill in our list is very broad, and there are many ways they could be useful once you’ve specialised in that skill — which means the difference in usefulness between different skills is probably relatively minor. In comparison, your personal fit likely varies substantially across the possible skills.

What’s more, a very high degree of personal fit can outweigh lower usefulness. Being very good at almost anything can help you build a good reputation and network of connections, and give you access to resources that you can use to tackle global problems. And — more commonly — it’s better to be good at something less useful than mediocre at something very useful.

Testing your personal fit can be tricky. So on each skill page we’ve gone into detail about how you might test your fit. And if you’re new to 80,000 Hours, also see our general advice on assessing personal fit.

If, after all of that, you’re still unsure which skill to learn, work through our career decision process to compare your options in more detail.

You should seriously consider focusing on that skill.

First, this list is nowhere near comprehensive. There are many useful skills we haven’t included, either due to lack of space or because they’re less common among our readers. If you’ve found another skill that’s a good fit and seems useful, by all means focus on it.

Second, almost anything you can really excel at is worth keeping on your shortlist.

For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger started off as a very successful bodybuilder — he won the world’s most prestigious bodybuilding competition a total of seven separate times. He managed to turn his success in bodybuilding into success as a movie star, and eventually ended up as Governor of California.

This is an illustration of how success in almost any field can give you profile, connections, or resources that can be used to support almost any problems.

First, there may well be a way to apply your existing skill set to pressing problems.

For example, Isabelle Boemeke was a fashion model who came to really care about climate change. From talking to experts, she became convinced that nuclear energy could be an important part of the solution, but was unfairly unpopular. So she decided to use her social media and fashion skills to create a character, Isodope, and use it to popularise nuclear energy.

Or to give an even more niche example, anthropology isn’t the field we’d most often recommend someone specialise in, but it turned out that during the Ebola crisis, anthropologists played a vital role because they understood how burial practices might affect transmission and how to change them. So, the biorisk community needs at least a few people with anthropology expertise.

To find these kinds of opportunities, speak to experts in the problems you think are most pressing, learn where the gaps are, and try to spot opportunities to use your skills. Apply to speak to our team and they may be able to make introductions.

If you can’t see an opportunity to contribute right now, then you can work to put yourself in a better position to switch into something more impactful later. For instance, save money and don’t let your cost of living get too high. Simply being psychologically ready to make a big change is a rare and valuable trait.

Second, you may be able to use your current position to support pressing problems indirectly, for example through making donations or by speaking up about important issues. (Learn more about how to make a difference in any job.)

Third, you should consider learning new skills. Most mid-career people we speak to are keen to find something that “uses” their current skill set, but they often think about this too narrowly.

For example, someone who has worked in banking wants to find a job in banking with a big social impact.

However, some global issues are much more pressing than others, and some ways of tackling these issues are much more effective than others. So if you stay too narrow in your current focus, you’ll probably overlook your best opportunities to have an impact.

Instead, try to think more broadly. Someone who has worked in banking probably has skills relevant to organisation-building and policy — by thinking more broadly and considering adjacent skills, you can open up many more options.

Moreover, it might be best to learn something new. Hopefully you have many years left in your career, so if you can spend a couple of years learning a much more useful skill, that can be well worth it. This requires courage but is worth seriously considering.

For more ideas, read our article on work you should consider doing if you already have expertise. And if you’re already experienced in a field, our team might be keen to speak to you.

We usually recommend focusing on learning one skill at a time.

However, it can sometimes be best to develop a hybrid skill set. For example, consider someone who is a reasonably strong programmer and a reasonably strong people or project manager. This would allow them to contribute more as a software engineering manager than they could as either a software engineer or a nontechnical manager.

Or as another example, combining research and communication skills can let you do very effective outreach.

So we recommend staying open to building hybrid skill sets, but also keep in mind that specialisation is powerful. The ideal way to pursue a hybrid skill set is usually to start with one and then notice an opportunity to develop a complementary skill that improves your career options, rather than starting out learning both at once.

First, there’s probably a skill that’s not on this list that you can focus on learning. To get more ideas, see our lists of career reviews, and use the advice on generating options in our career decision process.

Second, if you’re not yet sure how to have an impact, take a look at these ways to do good in any job.

New to 80,000 Hours? Take a look at our career guide.

Our career guide is based on 10+ years of research alongside academics at Oxford. It aims to teach you how to find a fulfilling career that does good.

It’s full of practical tips and exercises. At the end, you’ll have a draft of your new career plan.

Read now

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