How to narrow down your career options

You can’t try everything, so before you explore, you need to cut your long-term career options down to a shortlist. How best to narrow down? Since gut decision making is unreliable, it helps to be a little systematic.


From a excerpt on the https://80000hours.org website.



Many people turn to pro and con lists, but these have some weaknesses. First, there’s no guarantee that the pros and cons that come to mind will be the most important aspects of the decision. Second, pro and con lists don’t force you to look for disconfirming evidence or generate more options, and these are some of the most powerful ways to make better decisions. It’s easy to use lists of pros and cons to rationalise what you already believe.


Here’s the process we recommend for narrowing down. It’s based on a literature review of decision making science and what has worked well in one-on-one advising. You can also use it when you need to compare options to shortlist, or compare your current job against alternatives.


1. Make a big list of options.

Write out your initial list, including both what problem you want to focus on and what role you want e.g. economics researcher focusing on global health; marketing for a meat substitutes company, earning to give as a software engineer.


Then force yourself to come up with more. But here are some questions to help you think of more:

  1. If you couldn’t take any of the options on your first list, what would you do?

  2. If money were no object, what would you do?

  3. What do your friends advise?

  4. (If already with specific experience) how could you use your most valuable career capital?

  5. Can you combine your options to make the best of both worlds?

  6. Can you find any more opportunities through your connections?

2. Rank your options.

Start by making an initial guess of how they rank.


If you have more time, then score your options from one to five, based on:

  1. Impact

  2. Personal fit

  3. Supportive conditions for job satisfaction

  4. Any other factors that are important to you.

  5. Career capital, if you’re considering options for the next few years (rather than your long-term aims).

Here are some questions you can use to do the assessment, and a worksheet. Doing this ensures that you’re focusing on the most important factors.


Then, try to cut down to a shortlist. Eliminate the options that are worse on all factors than another (“dominated options”), and those that are very poor on one factor. You can add up all your scores to get a very rough ranking of options. If one of your results seems odd, try to understand why. For each option, ask “why might I be wrong?” and adjust your ranking. This is a very useful way to reduce bias.



3. Write out your key uncertainties

What information could most easily change your ranking? If you could get the answer to one question, which question would be most useful? Write these out. For instance, “Do I meet the vetting requirements to work in the nuclear industry?”, “Would I enjoy programming?” or “How pressing is the UK’s energy needs compared to nuclear deterrent?”.


If you’re stuck, imagine you had to decide your career in just one weekend – what would you do in that time to make the right choice?



4. Do some initial research.

Can you quickly work out any of these key uncertainties? For instance, if you’re unsure whether you’d enjoy being a data scientist, can you go and talk to someone about what it’s like? Or is there something you could read, like a career review?


At this point, you might have a clear winner, in which case you can skip the next part. Most people, however, end up with a couple of alternatives that look pretty good. At that point, it’s time to explore. But how best to do that?

If you want a more detailed version of the process just above, try the 80,000 Hours decision tool:


DECISION TOOL



6 steps online course.png