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.