Thank you to Peter Wallich, Peter Barnett, and Megan Jamer for their encouragement and feedback on draft versions.
I would like to share my experience applying for junior to mid-level operations roles at EA-aligned organisations. This is my first post on the EA Forum, and I was encouraged to write it for two reasons: to seek community feedback, and to venture what could be a potential blindspot in recruitment faced by EA-aligned orgs. (Noting here that these orgs are not "one thing," but vary team to team.)
80,000 Hours and others point to pressing talent gaps, for example in operations. Perhaps part of the problem is that experienced, EA-aligned people go unnoticed because they don't tick clear boxes of EA involvement and are unknown in EA networks. If there are many people like this, then finding them could be a win.
In my career I have worked for 18 years as a structural engineer and project manager in senior roles at small, niche companies. I've been fully remote for several years, have worked with teams on five continents, and have always worked hard to excel as a people manager and to produce rigorous technical work and robust, efficient systems under challenging conditions.
From 2015 to 2020, I did this work while travelling slowly through sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world by bicycle. I came to intently question the chasm of inequality between my own life and that of the people I met every day. This led me to build a deep interest and knowledge of EA through investigating the principles and ideas of the movement.
My partner and I ended our journey primarily to try to get more involved in EA. We decided to try pursuing work in the movement. First, I kept working in the engineering world so that she could pursue EA-aligned volunteering full-time. It has been awesome that this translated into contracting and employment. Now we've swapped, and I have been volunteering at two EA-aligned orgs, and have applied for six junior operations roles.
Through EA volunteering work and other recent non-EA work I have been assessed as experienced, engaged, and self-directed in my operations work. I received a single response from the six applications and was removed from consideration there before an interview.
I am fully aware of the competitiveness of EA roles. I'm also aware that there are several potential reasons I did not progress in the application process, and that a team's needs can be idiosyncratic (unfortunately, I have not received feedback yet on what else I could have done to improve my candidacy). I'd love to connect with anyone who might be able to provide feedback on how I could improve how I present myself.
But it does seem like there could be an incongruity here - I do have several years of relevant experience, I am strongly EA aligned, and I didn't receive responses from five applications.
I’ve discussed this with people working in EA orgs and they suggest that it could be because I don’t have any material EA signalling, specifically:
- EA work experience (I am volunteering, but it started while I was applying so was not on my CV, and prior to this I had a full time non-EA role)
- I’m not yet known in EA networks
- No EA Forum posts to my name (I’ve have been passively engaged for 4 years but felt intimidated to comment, kudos to everyone who posts here, rising above the fear and self-doubt)
- I don't have shared connections on LinkedIn with other EAs
- I didn't have an EA Virtual Programs on my CV (I am now working through the In-Depth EA Program)
- I have not applied for 80,000 Hours coaching
- I haven't participated in any virtual EA groups yet
- I have donated to EA Funds for the last few years, but I haven't taken a GWWC pledge
I want to be clear that I personally do not lament this situation. As well, I accept the possibility that maybe there is not a place for me at present as a contractor or staff member of an EA-aligned org. Right now I am focusing on building EA experience through volunteer positions and productive networking, as I have the means to do so.
Rather, I intend the value here in this post to be about bringing awareness to the EA community that this may be a blindspot in identifying potentially promising candidates.
Relatedly, it could also prevent potentially good candidates from getting into EA because they cannot commit unpaid time to building EA experience through volunteering, engaging on the EA Forum, in virtual groups, local groups, etc. Certainly, we can all point to examples of someone we know in EA who may have less of certain types of privilege or access, and this is a great democratising principle about the internet. But in general, I would argue that a history of volunteering, unpaid internships, and significant unpaid time invested in EA engagement, not to mention donating, is more accessible for people with the time and financial stability to do it.
So, if certain EA involvement signals are used, this could also tend to restrict EA from becoming more diversified, which I think few would argue, is still quite lacking in the movement, recent efforts and improvements notwithstanding.
Understandably, with so many applications, hiring managers need an efficient system for selecting the preferred candidates. And EA interest, knowledge, commitment, and/or alignment is understandably a primary consideration.
Possible ideas for improvement
- It could be useful for EA-aligned orgs, if they haven't already done so, to explicate the assumptions that inform the keywords or signals they use to screen applicants for EA interest, knowledge, or alignment.
- Consider making the importance of these signals transparent to candidates, e.g., “We prefer candidates with evidence of involvement with EA, this could include taking part in virtual programs, writing forum posts, or organising a local group”
- Consider adjusting or broadening the ways that EA interest and alignment is measured in applicants.
- Consider experimenting with a “speed-dating” style, quick-fire 10 minute interview system, with the goal of catching possible outliers among a larger number of candidates.
- If a team has gone through the process of reflecting on what EA alignment signals they use and are happy with them, there could be some productive knowledge sharing among hiring managers at multiple orgs, to discuss best practices and unanswered questions.
I welcome feedback, particularly if it relates to considerations I’ve missed, gaps in the reasoning I’ve shared here, or other ideas for improvement.
As an employer in an EA org, this definitely bothers me a great deal. We're currently hiring for a bunch of operations roles (open for two more days as of the time of this writing) and I think you'd be a great fit. One of my biggest goals is to only screen for EA alignment as much as is necessary, though I think we still have some work to do on this and I welcome your (and other's) feedback. Some of our roles do not require any EA alignment at all!
One thing I have learned is that it is important that people who are trying to screen for EA alignment do so via a prompt question (e.g., "Describe your familiarity with effective altruism") rather than try to glean it from a CV/resume. I've found even very involved EAs often do not have any easy way to discern this from their CV/resume as it is not something people frequently think about needing to do (nor should they).
I think your suggestions are smart. I'd definitely be keen to see if there are other ways we could be vetting candidates that would allow less traditional candidates to thrive. A "speed dating" style isn't a bad idea though I wonder if it could be done more scalably in writing.
Thank you for your considered comments. When I was completing the applications for your roles I thought the phrasing you used was encouraging to describe one's individual journey and perspectives regarding EA, and it was much appreciated.
I'm really glad to hear that!
I'm glad you posted this. Although my situation differs from your in many ways, it is similar in that I do not have many of the signals of EA alignment, and I also have experience in operations management. I've considered writing something similar, but I think that anything I say on this issue would have a perception of "this is person is bitter/frustrated because they aren't getting a job they want."
Thanks for your feedback, indeed I was concerned that I would be perceived as bitter and I hope I mitigated that by explicitly stating the opposite, which is true.
I'm fortunate to have the time to commit to volunteering and integration into the movement, and if I don't find a workable place for myself I have a previous career to go back to, so really the intention really just is to inform and discuss.
Really enjoyed your post (and meeting you earlier). I've begun to see that this type of demonstrable evidence of your engagement is key in the job search within EA. I know this post was written as constructive criticism for EA orgs and their recruitment departments, but it can also be considered advice to job seekers!
The fact that some orgs already say things like 'knowledge of effective altruism is preferred but not essential' probably doesn't solve this issue. I can imagine that many jobs are competitive enough that you could only reasonably have a shot if you ticked certain boxes related to EA knowledge/experience, even if you might be a better and more-aligned candidate but don't have obvious evidence.
I think there's information value from doing lots of 10-minute speed-interviews, at least sometimes, so that we can get a sense of how many competent and EA-aligned people might be off EA orgs' radar.
p.s. I can confirm that Evan has been an excellent volunteer for the EA & Consulting Network.
Thanks for writing about your experience, especially in the face of the EA forum being an intimidating place.
I'm curious if the organizations asked any open ended questions that let you signal your alignment, or allowed/asked for a cover letter that would have given you that opportunity.
They did indeed ask such questions and I answered them indicating I had been engaged with EA for over four years and had made a career change as a result.
Given the much more positive response to my applications since I made significant progress on having the required signals, I am reasonably convinced that it is a case of requiring these signals to progress with most EA applications.
You are right but have you considered you can have more impact elsewhere?
Also 6 applications is a small sample, try 60 or 120 and you will surely get employment.