Career Change To Make A Change

In the course of my work as a career and executive coach I have the pleasure of working with many people who have reached a point in their careers where they are re-evaluating the contribution that they make to society through the work they do. The way that clients express their aspiration varies considerably, as you would expect, and their goals are, of course, very diverse. However, it is not uncommon for clients to express a desire to want to maximise their chance of having a big positive impact with the rest of their career, often in areas which would be considered to be part of a global problem.

At the heart of their aspiration they are often seeking high-impact careers where their additional contribution could help towards solving one of these pressing global problems. This aspiration may be expressed with more or less certainty, clarity and conviction. Indeed, part of my role as a coach is sometimes to help my client refine their goal and their understanding and expression of it.

For some clients an enormously valuable resource is the work that’s been undertaken by 80,000 Hours. This non-profit has been analysing global problems for a number of years, working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford’s Global Priorities Institute and the Open Philanthropy Project. In particular, they have been scanning global dilemmas to find problems that are large in scale, solvable and neglected.

One outcome of this research focuses on providing preliminary ideas about career change with a purpose. It is aimed at those who already have pre-existing experience or qualifications, or are unusually good at a certain type of work.

The resource starts with three “strengths” (quantitative, verbal & social, and visual). Then the writers go on to give advice for people with existing experience in fifteen specific fields. The resource was written before the Canadian research we discussed in “Humans Required”  became widely available. It doesn’t benefit, therefore, from an understanding of the Royal Bank of Canada’s research into six fundamental occupational clusters and their skills emphasis, their susceptibility to automation, and examples of career transitions that can occur within each.

80,000 Hours work in this area is, they admit, preliminary. They anticipate possibly changing their minds over the coming years concerning both the content and the advice associated with their work. It is also true that, from the outset, the career development pathways that 80,000 hours plot are contested by some with personal experience of career change making with a purpose. Indeed, this is one area of thinking and practice where the comments attached to the original work do add value and are well worth considering.

Lying behind the work there is a methodology that anyone can use when thinking about this type of career direction setting. The outcome of the work would be to generate a list of roles that would have high impact on pressing problems and then to narrow this list down. 80,000 Hours demonstrate their application of the methodology – given their own, research-based, view of global priorities – to come up with a list of five key categories of high impact careers. My clients may disagree with 80,000 Hours perspectives on pressing global priorities and can tailor their use of the methodology to align with their own views. Indeed, the originators of the method recognise that:


“The best career path for you will depend on your values, strengths and situation, so the ideal approach is to generate your own list of promising options, rather than use a generic list.”


Furthermore, the method can be applied no matter what your career stage – whether you’re an undergraduate or nearing retirement. What’s particularly interesting about this method is the way in which qualitative and quantitative decision making are combined into a relatively strong research-driven approach. At each twist and turn of the method the user will find that the underpinning rationale, exceptions and further research is available.

Would this method appeal to all? No. In my view the user would need to have a commitment to an evidence-based decision-making approach combined with a willingness to accept that a complete purity of process is impossible. It is also true that all of 80,000 Hours work is aimed at academically gifted and/or highly successful people who face a wide range of choices and options for making a difference through their work.