Trevor decided to move from a non-profit to a for-profit to do more good in the long run. Was it the right call?

This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

I recently spoke to Trevor Shorb about how his career plans changed as a result of 80,000 Hours. After finishing university, Trevor worked in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and planned to work for an NGO in the developing world. But after reading our advice, he decided to gain skills in the private sector first, in order to have a bigger impact in the long run. Today Trevor does business development for an international education company in emerging markets in Latin America. He plans to start a non-profit or for-profit in the developing world in the future.

How and why did he make this transition? Read our interview with him to find out.

How did you find out about 80,000 Hours and effective altruism, and what were you planning on doing with your career before that?

I first became interested in effective altruism when I read “The Life You Can Save” around the time I graduated college and had committed to serve in the Peace Corps.

Before that I had undergone a fundamental change in perspective. Recruited to college to play lacrosse, I was fully dedicated to the pursuit of being the best and leading the team. A case of chronic Lyme disease led to multiple operations and much time spent in doctor’s offices.

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Is deep work the most underappreciated skill for career success? An interview with Cal Newport.

Deep-WorkIn the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – or so the saying goes. In his new book, Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that when it comes to deep concentration, we have become the land of the blind.

He believes that the ability to do focused work is essential for career success, but becoming increasingly rare. And the fewer people are capable of deep work, the more of an edge you should be able to get by being the exception.

We think Cal is one of the most interesting thinkers working on the issue of career strategy, so recommend you check it out. We interviewed Cal to learn more.

Quick summary of the book

Cal defines “deep work” as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”.

In his previous book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal argues it’s better to focus on gaining career capital rather than “following your passion” (we agree). Part one of Deep Work takes off where his previous book ends – he argues that deep work is essential to gaining valuable career capital. In short:

  • Deep work is increasingly valuable in the modern economy because it’s what allows you to master new intellectual skills and produce creative breakthroughs. People able to do both of these can take work that’s unlikely to be automated and reach the top of their fields,

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Which skills make you most employable?

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Summary

We correlated 35 key transferable skills with salaries, then rated them on how easy they are to learn, and combined them into 11 categories.

Based on this analysis, the five skills to learn that will most boost your employability are:

  1. Learning how to learn and personal productivity
  2. Persuasion and negotiation
  3. Science
  4. Communication
  5. Analysis and problem solving

This analysis is still preliminary, so we wouldn’t put too much weight on it.

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Working at effective altruist organisations: good or bad for career capital?

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Working in effective altruism directly is a good way to build career capital in some respects, and a bad way in others. How about on balance?

Many people in our community are interested in working at “effective altruist” (EA) organisations, which I define as organisations whose leaders aim to do the most good on the basis of evidence and reason, and explicity identify as part of the effective altruism movement (see a list).

These jobs are often seen as higher-impact and more fulfilling than alternatives, but there’s a common worry: they’ll provide worse career capital, putting you in a worse position in the long-term.

I argued here that career capital might not be a strong enough consideration to outweigh the additional impact.

In this post, I’ll explore whether the career capital you get from working at EA orgs really is worse than the alternatives. I’ll outline arguments give for and against, arguing the career capital is better than is often assumed.

Arguments against working in effective altruist organisations for career capital
Less prestige

The jobs are less prestigious – few people have heard of organisations like GiveWell or the Center for Effective Altruism – and so these jobs don’t provide as impressive general-purpose credentials as working at a brand name employer like Google or McKinsey.

Less concrete career progression

The jobs don’t come with an obvious career path.

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Are our most engaged readers overweighting career capital?

We’ve spoken a lot about the importance of building career capital. But now, it seems like some of our most engaged readers are putting more weight than we think they should career capital, and not enough on short-run impact.

A situation many people face is something like the following:

  1. The interesting project: Do something where there’s a small chance you really excel, achieve something exceptional and have a big impact.
  2. The safe project: Do something that offers a clear path to good options in the future.

The first option is usually something like doing a for-good startup, capitalising on a side project, or taking an unusual job with a mentor. The second is usually something like doing consulting, working at a prestigious large firm or doing graduate study.

The debate usually boils down to the following: the first path has a higher impact, but the second offers better career capital. Then people reason that since career capital is more important than impact early in their career, they should go with the second option.

That’s often going to be the right answer, but here’s a couple of reasons it might be a mistake.

You might be biased

There’s several biases that push in favour of the safe project.

  1. Ambiguity aversion. Usually it’s relatively clear what the safe project involves and what concrete next steps it’ll lead to (e.g.

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LinkedIn finds the most common ways in and out of every career

We recently wrote a career profile on medicine which said that one of the most common exit opportunities for physicians was into academia. How exactly did we know that?

LinkedIn has mined their enormous dataset to find the most frequent career transitions for people from a huge range of different professions. It turns out that the most frequent transfer for a physician or surgeon is to become a university professor, presumably studying or teaching medicine itself. Most roles have several common options.

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I strongly recommend playing around with it and reading their analysis. It turns out that ‘sales’ is a huge skill area and one of the most common next steps for people from a very wide range of professions. Almost every business needs some people to work on sales!

You can use this both to see what your natural next career moves are, and figure out what indirect paths you can use to get into a particular different position you have in mind. It doesn’t do the reverse lookup itself yet, so you’ll need to guess which options are most likely to lead you into the one you want.

We’ll be incorporating the wisdom of this tool into our career profiles as we update them.

The broad skill groupings they classified seemed to me to be:

  • Sales, hospitality and logistics (blue)
  • Health and education (red)
  • Information technology (pink)
  • Practical trades,

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Get the chance to save the world with this one weird trick

one-weird-trick2When I was an undergraduate I came to fully understand the depth of the world’s problems: tens of billions of animals were suffering in factory farms, humanity faced the risk of catastrophic nuclear war, billions continue to live in horrendous poverty, and that was just the start. I wanted to solve these problems, but when I tried to take concrete steps I mostly felt powerless and frustrated.

I was right to feel powerless. As an undergraduate there was relatively little I could do to directly solve anything.

I had no income to give; no insights that hadn’t been had; and no platform from which to ask people to change their behaviour. I really didn’t want the world to be incinerated in a nuclear apocalypse, but – fortunately – nuclear security policy isn’t set by random Australian undergraduates who happen to think they know what’s best.

Luckily for most of us, this powerlessness need only be a temporary, if unpleasant, condition.

If you are a high school student or undergraduate frustrated about your limited influence in the world, there’s one thing you need to be working to get.

With it comes the ability to change things.

Some younger people manage to get a lot of it very quickly, but the majority of us will have the most of it between 40 and 60, so you need to keep a long-term view.

A lot of our advice for young people is geared towards helping them accumulate more of it.

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What people miss about career capital: exceptional achievements

Pooja Chandrashekar is a good demonstration that sometimes the best way to show people you can achieve amazing things is just to achieve amazing things. (Photo by J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

When we talk about “career capital” it seems people first imagine “brand name” jobs e.g. working at Google, McKinsey, or getting a credential like a law degree or graduate study at a prestigious university. And it’s true these paths all boost your career capital. But I think there’s another important component of career capital that’s often neglected.

A big part of having really strong career capital is having eye-catching, valuable achievements. Eye-catching achievements make you stand out, another form of credential. Standing out helps you to meet successful people, building your connections. The process of getting exceptional achievements usually involves pushing yourself too, so it correlates with learning strong skills. Overall, striving for eye-catching achievements seems at least as important as gaining prestige or conventional credentials – so if you only focus on the latter you could be making a mistake.

One example to illustrate (but of course not prove!) the point: Pooja Chandraskekar, who this year was one of the few students in the world to be admitted to all the Ivy League Universities. Among much else, she developed a mobile app that predicts whether a person has Parkinson’s disease with 96% accuracy. She needed these achievements to make her stand out among all the other people who have “ticked the boxes” of good grades,

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80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term

Norman Borlaug didn’t make millions, his research just saved millions of lives.

One of the most common misconceptions that we’ve encountered about 80,000 Hours is that we’re exclusively or predominantly focused on earning to give. This blog post is to say definitively that this is not the case. Moreover, the proportion of people for whom we think earning to give is the best option has gone down over time.

To get a sense of this, I surveyed the 80,000 Hours team on the following question: “At this point in time, and on the margin, what portion of altruistically motivated graduates from a good university, who are open to pursuing any career path, should aim to earn to give in the long term?” (Please note that this is just a straw poll used as a way of addressing the misconception stated; it doesn’t represent a definitive answer to this question).

Will: 15%
Ben: 20%
Rob: 10%
Roman: 15%

Instead, we think that most people should be doing things like politics, policy, high-value research, for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurship, and direct work for highly socially valuable organizations.

The misconception persists for a few reasons: when 80,000 Hours first launched, we led with the idea of earning to give very heavily as a marketing strategy; it was true that we used to believe that at least a large proportion of people should aim to earn to give long-term;

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Stop worrying so much about the long-term

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Today I’ve been reviewing our most recent round of coaching, and something struck me about the applications. Many of them were written by people who were clearly desperate to plan out the next decade of their career, or even their entire working life. As a result, they tended to feel anxious and even overwhelmed by the options available and the weight of the decisions in front of them.

Might this be you? Some giveaways are phrases like “how can I find the right career for me?” or “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life”.

To people who feel this way, I have this advice: stop worrying so much about the long-term.

Don’t get me wrong, of course your career decisions are important. 80,000 Hours is built around the idea that you can make an incredible difference through your career choices, if you choose carefully.

However, I don’t think that making a detailed career plan is a particularly good way to ensure that your career goes well in the long-term. A better idea, especially at the start of your career, is to make sure you get the next step right: focus on getting into a better position, and then worry about what comes next when more decisions arise.

This may sound counter-intuitive. So why do I recommend it? Four reasons:

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Learn to code in 16 weeks for free in the UK at Founders and Coders

Introduction

Ben Clifford

Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?

In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.

If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.

Summary of main points:

  • Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
  • The course aims to make people full stack javascript developers in 16 weeks.
  • The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
  • The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
  • The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
  • Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.

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The Value of a Degree

Introduction

Many of our readers are students, and some have come to us wondering whether they should start a university degree or complete one they have already started. One thing to consider in making this decision is what effect getting a degree will have on your lifetime earnings. So in this post we summarise our reading of some of the empirical literature on this question, mostly focused on the UK.

Summary

  • There appears to be a consensus in the empirical literature that getting a degree provides a large financial return on the costs in increased lifetime earnings (generally better than an investment with a 10% return and maybe closer to 15%).

  • The most common way of studying the question of economic returns is to use correlations in data containing information on education, earnings and other variables (performing “ordinary least square regression” on it).

  • The obvious worry with this method is that the same abilities that help earn a higher income might cause people to go to university rather than the other way around. This is called ability bias. The standard view in the literature, however, is that this issue only has as minor effect on estimates of the return to education.

  • The literature here supports the common sense position that an undergraduate degree is generally a good investment in your career.

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An interview on which skills most boost your employability

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We recommend reading the following interview by Peter Hurford (an 80,000 Hours coachee, and volunteer at CEA) with Satvik Beri. Peter performed the interview as part of research into his career decision. We post it here because Satvik has invested a lot of thought into how to maximise his earnings in order to do earning to give, and we think he adds some new considerations to the discussion.

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How to prioritise – Meta skills part 4

Some activities have many more times more impact than others. For example, if you’re learning a new skill you’ll improve very quickly at the start as you learn the fundamental skills and then your progress will slow. For example, in language-learning the first hundred words you learn are by far the most useful, often gainig you ~80% coverage. Someone who makes sure they learn the most common words can thus reach conversational fluency several times faster than someone who picks more randomly from the most common couple of thousand words.

80_20_rule

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How to finally do what you’ve been putting off – Meta skills part 2

Commitment devices have boosted my productivity from spending hours or even days procrastinating to consistently achieving my aims. The idea is that you make it costly to fail to do what you say you’ll do. For example, you tell a friend that you have to do 8 hours work a day or you pay them £50. Or maybe you have to shave one side of your body if you fail (I know someone who had to do this!)

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How to improve your memory – Meta skills part 5

Learn more effectively using a spaced repetition system

If you can accelerate your learning then you’ll be able to learn more information useful for your job. You also get compound benefits from knowledge. The more you know, the more easily you can learn related topics and make links between different areas of knowledge to come up with novel solutions. There are lots of useful things you could learn: if you’re a student you could study your subject more efficiently. If your job involves a lot of networking you could use spaced repetition to learn names and information about people that you need to remember. Every time you come across something useful you didn’t know, you can make a new flashcard in seconds.

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Spending money to save time – virtual assistance

James Taylor once said, “Time will take your money, but money won’t buy time.” I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Yes, no matter how much you are willing to pay, you won’t be able to get more than 24 hours in a day. However, most of us can pay money to free up more time for the things we like doing–whether that is pursuing an effective career that makes a difference, or going for long wild swims.

A virtual assistant probably won't raise his eyebrows at your spats.

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