Are you able to briefly characterize here who your intended audience is, if we’re mistaken about it being “top half of Oxford” or similar? I guess it varies some between pages.
Can you say more about your experiences as a teacher and as a policy professional? What did you have to do to get those jobs, and what were the expectations once you had them? What was the pay like? Were you able to observe the interview/hiring process for anybody else being hired for the same jobs? This is exactly the kind of concrete info I’m hoping to find more of.
I’m not convinced it’s the impact-maximizing approach either. Some people who could potentially win the career “lottery” and have a truly extraordinary impact might reasonably be put off early on by advice that doesn’t seem to care adequately about what happens to them in the case where they don’t win.
We encourage people to make a ranking of options, then their back-up plan B is a less competitive option than your plan A that you can switch into if plan A doesn’t work out. Then Plan Z is how to get back on your feet if lots goes wrong. We lead people through a process to come up with their Plan B and Plan Z in our career planning tool.
This tool provides a good overall framework for thinking about career choices, but my answer to many of its questions is “I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you”. On the specific subject of making a Plan Z, it appears the sum total of what it says is “Some common examples of Plan Z include: move back in with parents and work at deli from last summer; sleep on a friend’s sofa and spend savings until you can find a job; doing private tutoring.” These depend on resources many people don’t have, and in fact have plenty of ways they can go wrong themselves (the deli might decline to hire you, you might run out of savings before you can find a job, you might be unable to find any tutoring clients). Certainly I wouldn’t be willing to take a major career risk if one of those were my only backup plan, without a lot more concrete data on tractability (which basically doesn’t exist as far as I know; I don’t think anybody publishes acceptance rates for jobs at local delis).
I understand this isn’t your focus, just noting that my concerns on that point still apply.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful replies.
It seems entirely reasonable if 80k wants to focus on a “narrower” vision of understanding the most pressing skill bottlenecks and then searching for the best people to fill them. (This does seem probably more important than broad social impact career advice that starts from people and tries to lead them to higher-impact jobs, though I have some doubts about its relative tractability.) As I said in my last pargraph, I think my hope for better broad EA career advice may be better met by a new site/organization rather than by 80k. But as you note, many in the community remain unaware of 80k’s narrowing focus and abdication of the ‘broad career advice’ role; my actual trigger for this post was reading articles advocating that a major function of local EA groups should be directing new members to 80k’s writings. I wrote this in the hopes that people would think twice before recommending 80k for such broad purposes, not to criticize 80k’s ongoing valuable work on narrower priorities.
One point of factual disagreement is that I think good general career advice is in fact quite neglected. Most existing career advice is absolutely terrible. It’s often extremely outdated, survivorship-biased, full of signalling, wishful thinking, and outright lies. The incentives of most people who write career advice are fundamentally not well-aligned with most people who want career advice; EA career advice can reasonably hope to do much better (if someone has committed to donate X% of their income, an altruistically-motivated advice-giver has unusually well-aligned incentives to help them maximize their income). I think actually good, rigorously-supported social impact career advice could be a tremendous asset for the EA movement, not only by helping those existing EAs who aren’t a good fit for the most pressing skill bottlenecks still maximize their impact, but also potentially attracting new people to EA on a “come for the career advice, stay for the altruism” basis because the unmet demand for decent career advice is so acute.
Again, I totally understand that 80k doesn’t want to focus on this; at this point it seems like probably I and others disappointed with the lack of broader EA career advice should do the research and write some more concrete posts on the topic ourselves. If you have any easily-conveyed pointers or meta-level lessons learned about the process of researching different careers from back when 80k did more of that I’d be extremely interested to hear them.
I think this actually understates the problem. I studied maths at Cambridge (with results roughly in the middle of my cohort there), and my intuitions informing the above concerns about 80k are in part based on watching my similarly-situated friends there struggle to get any kind of non-menial job after graduating. I’m a ‘normal Google programmer’ in the US now (after a long stint as a maths PhD student) but none of the others I’ve kept in touch with from Cambridge make ‘even’ $200k (though perhaps some of those I lost touch with who went into finance do). So I think 80k’s target audience must be even more rarefied than “top half of Oxbridge”. (Though I’m not sure if it’s “top 10% of Oxbridge” or “top third of Oxbridge plus extraordinary talent in at least one skill that isn’t assessed academically” or “literally like ten people in the whole world” or what; it sure would be nice if they’d specify it explicitly!)
Please comment if you have any object-level suggestions of the sort of advice called for in points 1 and 2. For point 1, I think the book “Cracking the Coding Interview” (which, in fairness, 80k does recommend in the relevant career review) is a decent source for understanding the necessary and sufficient conditions for getting a software engineering job, but my attempts to find similarly concrete information for other career paths have mostly been unsuccessful. For point 2, Scott Alexander’s Floor Employment post is one possible place to start when thinking about backup plans, though a couple of the options he lists (e.g. North Dakota) are no longer feasible and several (e.g. Mechanical Turk) were never serious career options to being with.