Connor McGurk
Connor McGurk

Busting Misconceptions: Transitioning into High-Impact Work

We spoke with Conor McGurk, a former Deloitte consultant, now Product Manager at the Centre for Effective Altruism. Conor shares insights about his new role, misconceptions about transitioning from consulting to high-impact direct work, and how to leverage the consultant skillset for good.

Thanks for speaking with us, Conor, let’s dive right in! As the Centre for Effective Altruism’s Product Manager, what are your goals and what does your day-to-day look like?

Absolutely! As a Product Manager at CEA, I try to focus on broad direction, strategy, prioritization, and optimizing our internal resource allocation. My primary goal is to develop a comprehensive strategy for our Virtual Programs, but I’ve also contributed to other initiatives, such as raising awareness around AI risk and optimizing our evaluation of the impact of various EA groups. I’d encourage those interested in better understanding CEA’s vision and mission to learn more here.

My day-to-day responsibilities comprise a blend of activities that include conducting user interviews, analyzing data, and drafting communications outlining proposed changes or additions to our programs. I also engage regularly with our internal stakeholders and team members through meetings while also managing everyday minutiae, such as responding to emails and Slack messages.

Sounds very similar to the variety of tasks consultants are engaged in day-to-day! How did you first hear about Effective Altruism (EA)?

A friend of mine from my college debate team introduced me to EA during my undergraduate years. I started donating effectively while I was working as a consultant at Deloitte, but at the time, I didn't have much capacity to do more than that. Later, when I joined Meta and moved to the Bay Area, I began running the Meta workplace group. Through my efforts to run EA@Meta, I engaged more with EA broadly, immersing myself in its philosophy and principles.

As you became more interested in this philosophy, which resources best enabled you to learn more about EA?

Through my involvement in organizing EA events, I started to have a bunch of friends who shared a passion for EA and were motivated by its core ideas. This experience was further enabled when I moved to New York, where I had the opportunity to live in an EA group house, which allowed me to meet and engage with many other EAs regularly in a social setting. Additionally, participating in Virtual Programs and receiving 80,000 hours career advising deepened my understanding of the movement and provided me with valuable personal insights and topics to ponder. I would highly recommend them both!

Going further back in your journey a bit, when you first joined Deloitte, what were you hoping to get out of your time there?

My main goals were to develop fundamental “professional” skills and a strong work ethic while gaining credibility that would set me up for great exit opportunities. I was eager to explore consulting as an opportunity at the intersection of my interests in technology and strategy. I felt (and still do) that I had a unique perspective and skill set that would thrive at the intersection of these two fields.

What misconceptions did you have about transitioning from consulting and tech to high-impact work at CEA?

Having spent considerable time in the tech industry, I assumed that EA organizations would be less chaotic, more structured, and more mature than they actually are. Since joining CEA, I have discovered that while high-impact organizations are indeed filled with talented and dedicated individuals, their workforce also tends to be relatively young and with less industry experience. As a result, the contributions and expertise of those with diverse professional backgrounds can prove to be more valuable than I initially anticipated, providing ample opportunities – especially for high-profile consultants – to make a significant impact!

Makes sense! Can you expand on exactly how a consultant's skill set can best be used for solving the world's most pressing problems?

The professionalization of early-stage organizations – which spend their time trying to solve those very problems – is a big need, in my opinion; applying to roles at these organizations can be a great way for consultants to leverage their skill sets to indirectly facilitate higher impact. Moreover, scaling smaller organizations to run more efficiently through the hiring of ex-consultants and generalists seems like a great opportunity.

What has been most valuable to you having a global network of altruistically ambitious current and former consultants?

I think hearing about others’ experiences, learning what types of high-impact jobs are available, and broadly having a community of like-minded people can be really motivating to actually push yourself to pursue high-impact opportunities!

Advice for Consultants

What advice would you give to a current consultant who is thinking of exiting to a value-aligned organization or role similar to yours?

  • Network. The more you engage in a cause area, and the deeper your understanding, the stronger position you’ll be in when it comes time to apply to roles.
  • Think actively about exit opportunities. Building specialized skills that can serve you well in your work beyond consulting, in addition to the generalist skills you’ll be developing already, will help you pivot into direct work later on. Broaden your sense of what types of work you could do, and be diligent in job hunting. There aren’t a ton of especially high-impact jobs and many talented people are looking for them, but if you remain persistent, there will be a moment when someone needs you.

The Latest Update
This feature was first published in June of 2023, since then Conor has left the Centre for Effective Altruism to focus on AI Governance work full-time.