One big picture consideration in career choice is the question of how important it is to make a difference now versus later. Here’s the issue: suppose you could either work at a charity next year or go to graduate school. If you work at the charity, you’ll be making a difference right away, speeding up progress. If you go to graduate school, you’ll be investing in yourself and able to have a larger impact later. Which is better?
If you think it’s better to make a difference as soon as possible, the more you’ll value your immediate opportunities for impact. In our framework, you’ll put more emphasis on path impact potential. If you think it’s better to invest and give later, the more you’ll value activities that build your skills, connections and credentials (career capital), and the more you’ll value learning about the world so you can make better decisions in the future (exploration value).
There’s a similar issue with charitable giving. If you have some money, you can either give today, or you can invest your money, which will grow over time, and give a larger amount later. Under what circumstances should you invest rather than give now?
Overall, we favour investing in your human capital and wealth early, so that you make a greater difference later in your career. Why?
- You’ll be able to find better opportunities to make a difference in the future, because you’ll get wiser and be able to use better research in which causes and careers are most effective.
- Early-to-mid career, most people can make investments that significantly increase their career capital, such as learning new skills, doing a graduate degree and building a professional network. The returns from these investments more than justify the cost of waiting.
Nevertheless, there are a few other reasons to start making a difference now: it will teach you about the world; it will help you find collaborators; it’s motivating; and it will help you build altruistic habits.
So, overall, we suggest that early in your career you mainly focus on building career capital and learning more, though still put some weight on your immediate impact. If choosing between two jobs, this could mean choosing the one that best builds your career capital, using immediate impact as a tiebreaker. As you get older, put more and more weight on your immediate impact.
Read on to see a full discussion of the considerations and our reasoning.