Your career choices are among the most important decisions you will make. Most people spend the majority of their lives at work: on average around 80,000 hours. How you use this time has a huge impact on what abilities you develop and what resources are available to you.
Because of the potential impact that each of us can have with our careers, we should consider the evidence regarding those impacts, and approach our choices methodically. Common “follow your heart” wisdom is unlikely to lead to the greatest impact, or even the career that will make you happiest. Our advice here will provide a useful framework for thinking about your career choices, but because everyone has different abilities, limitations, and motivations, the most impactful career paths will vary greatly between individuals. At Sentience Politics, we want to help young people leverage their careers to help others as much as possible. If you attend one of our Career Workshops, we can help you figure out what career paths are best for you personally.
General considerations for helping others with your career
While good career choices will depend heavily on personal fit, some other general considerations can help guide your decision. Not all careers are as effective at reducing the suffering in the world as others, and we hope the following guidelines will help you find the best paths available to you.
The importance of replaceability
Replaceability refers to the chance that another similarly qualified person will take a position you are considering if you do not.
Suppose you were admitted to a veterinary school, became a veterinarian, and went on to spare 1,000 animals from serious health issues. Naively, it seems like your impact was to help those 1,000 animals. But veterinary schools are highly competitive, meaning there are multiple applicants for every open position. If you had rejected your offer, another similarly-skilled person would have taken your place instead. This person would probably go on to help the same 1,000 animals, so the true impact of becoming a veterinarian was actually much lower than it initially appeared to be.
In a career with low replaceability, the impact you make would not have happened otherwise. Say, for instance, that you have the necessary skills to become a bioengineer at a cultured meat start-up. There are very few bioengineers, and even fewer applying to work with companies developing cultured meat. If one such company made you an offer, and you declined, they might not be able to find another qualified candidate. Which means the animals you would have spared through your work with that company, simply were not.
Working for charities vs. funding them
Working directly on impactful projects is not the only way to make a significant impact. In fact, some of us are better positioned to pursue high-earning careers in order to donate significant portions of our income to fund positions at highly impactful organizations which would otherwise not be able to afford those hires. This strategy is called earning to give.
Say you are choosing between two positions, one at a private company — maybe in a particularly profitable field like tech, finance, or law — and one at an animal charity. Suppose the industry position pays 150,000 EUR (or USD, or GBP, or any currency) while the charity position pays 30,000 EUR. At first glance, you may think working at the charity will have more impact, as the direct effects of the work you would do at the charity are more impactful than what you would be doing in a private industry. But what if you take the private sector job, live on the 30,000 EUR you would have made at the charity, and donate the remaining 120,000 to the charity? Then they would be able to hire four new employees, in addition to your replacement. If the charity has plenty of qualified applicants, but not enough funding to hire them, giving them that funding is significantly more impactful than working for them directly. And conversely, if the charity has few qualified applicants, but enough funding to hire more than they are able to find, taking the position at the charity is likely the better option.
The replaceability for such philanthropic careers is also very low: the overwhelming chances are that the next best candidate would not donate anywhere near as much of their income.
Additional Resources from Career Advisor 80,000 Hours
- How to make a difference with your career
- Why and how to use your career to end factory farming
- 80,000 Hours career guide