Vocational Career Guide for Effective Altruists

Hello, I’m Kyle, and I’ve writ­ten this guide to help any­one find an EA ca­reer. In par­tic­u­lar, it is aimed at peo­ple who do not have or in­tend to pur­sue a 4-year col­lege de­gree. Some peo­ple aim to pur­sue trade school, or work right af­ter high school /​ GED. If that sounds like you, keep read­ing.

The first step that any­one should take when mak­ing ca­reer de­ci­sions is to go through 80,000 Hours’ broadly ap­pli­ca­ble ca­reer guide. This gives a good gen­eral frame­work to as­sist your de­ci­sions. You can also make use of the EA com­mu­nity – ask on one of the fo­rums for ad­vice on your par­tic­u­lar op­tions.

Now in the fol­low­ing sec­tions I will go over some spe­cific vo­ca­tional ca­reer op­tions. I have also in­cluded an Ex­cel file that you can use to make fi­nan­cial com­par­i­sons among jobs. If you like it (or if you don’t) drop a com­ment and tell me what you think. This is only the first edi­tion of the guide, it is very rough, and there is a lot that I would like to add (or get added by oth­ers—feel free to con­tribute).

Earn­ing to give

Earn­ing to give means you fo­cus on get­ting the high­est wages and benefits you can, so that you can make greater dona­tions to effec­tive char­i­ties.

For earn­ing to give, there aren’t many unique con­sid­er­a­tions from an EA point of view. Just pick the job with the high­est wages and benefits that you can, while pay­ing at­ten­tion to em­ploy­ment prospects, your per­sonal skills, and your mo­ti­va­tion to suc­ceed in that field. Also con­sider your abil­ity to work in a place with a low cost of liv­ing and low in­come taxes be­cause those will let you make more room for con­tri­bu­tions. See this page for a list of high pay­ing trade ca­reers.

The differ­ences in salary be­tween one trade job and an­other will gen­er­ally out­weigh the differ­ences in their di­rect im­pact. For in­stance, a marine me­chanic works more for wealthier peo­ple’s lux­u­ries while an au­to­mo­tive me­chanic works more for av­er­age peo­ple’s trans­porta­tion, so you might think that the au­to­mo­tive choice is a bet­ter one for an EA. How­ever, the ex­tra $1,600 per year of the marine me­chanic (on av­er­age) means that an ex­tra life can be saved af­ter sev­eral years of dona­tions to AMF, which is sub­stan­tially more im­por­tant.

Arts and en­ter­tain­ment is a pos­si­ble ca­reer path for earn­ing to give that also offers some op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cial com­men­tary and ac­tivism if you are tal­ented. LOSTBOYEVSKY is an EA rap­per (on Sound­cloud).

An un­usu­ally good way to earn to give is to take jobs at com­pa­nies with match­ing pro­grams for char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions. See this page for a list of com­pa­nies with good pro­grams. Note that these are sub­ject to change and make sure to read the fine print. While there are some un­cer­tain­ties with the fu­ture of these pro­grams, and difficul­ties with get­ting into a spe­cific com­pany, I think that pur­su­ing work with the right dona­tion-match­ing com­pany is a good op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple who aim to earn to give but don’t ex­pect to achieve a six-figure salary any­time soon.

Here is a spread­sheet that will al­low you to calcu­late dona­tion amounts for differ­ent jobs. You can save a copy of the sheet to your own com­puter and then en­ter the jobs that you are con­sid­er­ing. The cells with black num­bers are for­mu­las that should be left un­touched; the cells with blue num­bers are for user in­put. The spread­sheet calcu­lates fed­eral and state taxes and re­bates for the US (as­sum­ing you are filing singly) as well as dona­tion match­ing amounts to com­pute an over­all dona­tion amount. It does not in­clude city and county in­come taxes, which are pre­sent in some lo­ca­tions; you can roughly ad­just for them your­self by cut­ting the salary a bit. For any state with no in­come taxes (Wy­oming, Wash­ing­ton, Texas, South Dakota, Ne­vada, Florida, Alaska, Ten­nessee, New Hamp­shire) just set “TX” for the state. I’ve in­cluded some rough es­ti­mates for a few pos­si­ble jobs just to illus­trate the way it works and the types of re­sults you might get.

Global Poverty and Disease

The worst and most eas­ily treat­able poverty and dis­ease are in the de­vel­op­ing world, where char­i­ties like the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion op­er­ate. There­fore, the prob­lem is best fought in two ways: earn­ing to give, and work­ing for a group that pro­vides valuable ser­vices in these ar­eas.

Boots on the ground in the de­vel­op­ing world are needed for the pro­vi­sion of goods and ser­vices. You will do things like ad­minis­ter­ing medicine and work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to ar­range pro­jects.

If you will not take a job that in­volves work­ing in a poor for­eign coun­try, you can work for the offices of the char­ity. Some kinds of ad­minis­tra­tive work can be done with­out a col­lege de­gree. Train­ing for these jobs also gives you more flex­ible ca­reer cap­i­tal, mean­ing you have skills that can be ap­plied to or­ga­ni­za­tions that ad­dress other cause ar­eas be­sides poverty should you ever change your mind.

Look up Givewell’s top and stand­out char­i­ties to see if they have any suit­able open­ings. Other or­ga­ni­za­tions can be effec­tive but suffi­ciently well-funded to avoid be­ing placed on Givewell’s list. Those would also be good places to work even though they don’t need dona­tions. They may not even be a char­ity: a job at a gov­ern­ment office or pri­vate com­pany can also be effec­tive if you will be able to fo­cus on the right area.

Helping Animals

If we are con­cerned about an­i­mals at least a mod­est frac­tion as much as we are con­cerned about hu­mans, then efforts to im­prove farm an­i­mal qual­ity of life will gen­er­ally be more effec­tive at im­prov­ing welfare than tra­di­tional poverty alle­vi­a­tion. Ad­vo­cacy char­i­ties are con­sid­ered very effi­cient at re­duc­ing or im­prov­ing farm­ing for a rel­a­tively large num­ber of an­i­mals.

Earn­ing to give is a very vi­able strat­egy here. Work­ing for an ad­vo­cacy group is an­other op­tion; see 80,000 Hours’ pro­file on work­ing at effec­tive al­tru­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. Also look through An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors’ re­ports for effec­tive an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy groups (some of whom are not in the EA com­mu­nity) which may have job open­ings. The num­ber of available jobs here is small, how­ever. It seems to be the case that the an­i­mal ac­tivism com­mu­nity is awash with vol­un­teers, which may make it difficult to get a paid ca­reer if you don’t have unique skills.

One might think that be­com­ing an agri­cul­tural in­spec­tor would be a good way to im­prove an­i­mal welfare. How­ever, it seems to be the case that an­i­mal welfare is most fre­quently gov­erned by com­pany poli­cies and cer­tifi­ca­tions rather than laws. Most agri­cul­tural in­spec­tion is about food safety, with en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues also play­ing a role, so an­i­mal welfare only gets a minor­ity of an in­spec­tor’s at­ten­tion. And the most suffer­ing-in­tense in­dus­try, fish farm­ing, has no di­rect laws on an­i­mal welfare. One benefit of be­com­ing an in­spec­tor is that it will place you in an in­formed po­si­tion to judge an­i­mal qual­ity of life for ethics and re­search pur­poses, how­ever it’s not clear how use­ful this may be for us as we already have some sources to judge an­i­mal welfare.

So, in my opinion, agri­cul­tural in­spec­tion gen­er­ally seems to be an in­fe­rior choice to jobs which make sig­nifi­cantly more money or lend di­rect sup­port to an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions. If one is able to find a po­si­tion for a busi­ness or non­profit group to check on pri­vate welfare cer­tifi­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly on fish farms, that would be a very good op­por­tu­nity. How­ever such jobs seem to be rare or nonex­is­tent.

Ex­is­ten­tial risks

There seem to be no vo­ca­tional jobs that di­rectly re­duce x-risks in any sig­nifi­cant way. How­ever, X-risk or­ga­ni­za­tions have a need for work­ers with ba­sic or­ga­ni­za­tional skills. Look at 80,000 Hours’ pro­file on work­ing at effec­tive al­tru­ist or­gani­sa­tions, and sign up for BERI’s con­trac­tor ini­ti­a­tive. The num­ber of available jobs here is very small, how­ever.

Long run growth

It’s not clear how we might best im­prove the long run tra­jec­tory (in terms of both size and qual­ity of life) of hu­man civ­i­liza­tion. Re­duc­ing cli­mate change, pro­mot­ing good poli­ti­cal cam­paigns, and ac­cel­er­at­ing tech­nol­ogy re­search are plau­si­ble con­tenders. But, as the EA com­mu­nity has not yet ar­rived at ro­bust ideas of whether and how to ac­cel­er­ate long run growth, it’s difficult to jus­tify a recom­men­da­tion for pur­su­ing a par­tic­u­lar ca­reer for di­rect im­pact on this is­sue. Earn­ing to give is more flex­ible. Many earn­ing-to-give jobs are plau­si­ble ways of con­tribut­ing to long run growth, as they gen­er­ally sup­port busi­nesses and the econ­omy.