Reducing EA job search waste

byAgrippa2d17th Apr 20196 comments


Broad intuition: Private industry isn't optimizing for the same things as EA organizations, so we should expect that private industry's hiring system doesn't optimize EA values. Here I make some proposals for hiring practices and job listings. Aside from being implemented by orgs themselves, they could be implemented / coordinated / enforced by job boards such as the one on 80k hours.

With all of these proposals, I can't begin to form principled estimates of the scope and tractability because I have almost no data. My intuition is that the amount of time spent applying to EA orgs is in the thousands of hours, and that implementation of my first proposal alone would reduce EA application expenditure by around 30% while also improving hiring outcomes.

I don't have a sense of how controversial my intuitions / basic arguments here will be, so I'm trying to keep things short and intuitive before filling in given feedback.

Applicant pool transparency

Expose # of applicants in each stage of hiring process

(note that this includes counts of both pending and rejected applications)

This should hugely impact an EA's ability to estimate their probability of being hired. It also informs EA's about demand & neglectedness; this is highly relevant for EA's with skills in multiple areas as well as EA's taking on new skills.

Cost: While I am not intimately familiar with modern HR software solutions, it should be very cheap to query the number of applicants in each stage of interview and publish this value in real time. I would be happy to personally implement this for any firm.

Publish resumes and application notes of past acceptances

This is only relevant for large-ish orgs hiring multiples of similar positions; however, I assume that this characterizes the majority of applications. I also assume that a high percentage of applicants for these positions are uncompetitive against the field and would not apply given more information.

In my weakly held opinion, it would not be necessary to protect the privacy of employees by making this optional. Non-optional publication has the secondary benefit of incentivizing/enforcing honesty among applicants.

Cost: This should be inexpensive, since hiring is relatively infrequent. I assume the largest cost would be making a frontend for browsing this information, but that would be easy to replicate across firms. I would be happy to personally implement this for any firm.

Publish [scrubbed] resumes and application notes of past & pending applications (with consent)

I am not enthusiastic about this proposal but would consider it net positive. It's much more costly than the others so I will not spend more time on it, I just wanted to point out that it's an option.

Note: What if [policy] would dissuade the actual best applicant?

I assume this is possible. On the other hand, it is possible that the applicant you want does not apply but would have if they were more informed about the applicant pools of your firm and others.

Even if we expected hiring outcomes to in fact be worse somehow, it still seems likely to me that it would be optimal for some amount of firms to experiment with the policies and report back.

Furthermore, this argument is essentially paternalistic on the part of the firm towards the applicant. I think it would be more appropriate to place more trust in applicants to make generally more effective decisions in an environment with strictly more information.

We should also ask our institutions to expose themselves to feedback and regulation from the community where possible. I think we should be allowed to see the labor cost on the community of MIRI or OpenAI's current recruitment process, we should be allowed to grade 80k hours on the outcomes of its career recommendations, etcetera.

Feedback to rejected applicants

Basic argument: Applicants are not very informed about their hireability. The hiring process is an expensive effort by a firm aimed to assess the hireability of all willing applicants. Currently, most firms share the bare minimum of the fruits of this effort with applicants, in the form of a binary decision. Shouldn't we expect it to be beneficial to share as much as possible instead?

Assuming that firms record at least some notes about each applicant, increasing the richness of feedback should be pretty cheap.

Coordination between employers

Here I would differentiate between "soft" coordination, such as creating a standardized portal through which to issue applications to multiple firms, and "hard" coordination, such as how sports teams use a draft system. It seems obvious to me that both forms of coordination could be useful under some circumstances, but I don't have a lot to say about this idea otherwise and merely wanted to point out the option.