How to Choose an Impactful Career

career effectivealtruism impact Sep 06, 2022

How to Choose an Impactful Career

By Brian Angus 

While donating a portion of your income can have a significant impact, a strategically chosen career may allow you to do even more good for the world.


The non-profit organization, 80,000 hours, named after the estimated amount of time spent in a career, provides advice on how to select a highly impactful career. According to the organization, there are four factors that should be considered:


  • How pressing the problems you focus on are
  • How effective the solutions you pursue are
  • The amount of leverage you can apply to those solutions
  • Your personal fit for the path


If you are searching for a high-impact career it is imperative that the problem your career will focus on is an important one. An important problem is likely one that affects many people and causes or could cause a great deal of suffering. For example, cardiovascular disease would be a very important problem to focus on given the number of people that are affected by it. Problems like climate change or nuclear war would also be important to focus on because they have the potential to negatively affect many lives in the future.


However, in fields where there are already many people working, it is important to ask yourself whether your contributions will make a difference. If there are 10,000 people working on a problem the likelihood that your contributions will make a difference is much less than if you were to work on a problem that only has 10 people working on it.


Sometimes the difference in the level of importance of a problem can be easily distinguished. For example, preventing climate change or nuclear war is obviously more important than selling a car. However, other times it may be difficult to tell. There is no one problem that is the most important to focus on. Even if there were, it would not be wise for everyone to go and work on that one singular problem. At a certain point, an impactful career choice must be made based on preference and personal fit, which will be discussed later.


Once you have decided on which problem to focus on, it is important to ensure that the solutions you are applying to the problem are the most effective ones. For example, if you decide to tackle the problem of mental health, you could provide therapy to patients or conduct research to find better treatments. The most effective solution will be the one that has the greatest positive impact on the most people. To find this solution, you will likely have to do some investigating on the outcomes of different solutions to your problem.


The next step in your journey towards finding an impactful career would be to find a job that allows you to work on your chosen problem and apply your chosen solutions. Then, consider the following questions: What kind of education or degree will you need? Will you need to take other jobs as stepping stones to your ideal job? Will any financial resources be required to attain this career? Again, it will be up to you to decide which career will allow you to most effectively tackle your problem. The answer is not always obvious. For example, could you do more good as a doctor or as a healthcare policy reformer? It will be important to research questions like these.


Lastly, it is key that your career is a good fit for you. You may find an issue particularly problematic, but would you be good at applying solutions to fix it? Would you even enjoy working to fix that problem? It is much more likely that you will be successful in your career if you are good at what you do and genuinely enjoy it. Also, if you are successful in your field you will likely have connections, credibility and money to direct further resources towards your chosen problem.


Not everyone is going to have the ability to choose their career, or make a career change. However, if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, then pursuing a highly impactful career could be the best way to have a positive impact on others.



You can be the change you want to see in the world through effective, efficient, and impactful philanthropy. Check out my course, The Physician Philanthropist, for a comprehensive education on and strategy for maximizing the impact of your giving both for you and your causes

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