Talent gaps from the perspective of a talent limited organization.

by Joey3rd Nov 201719 comments



Many organizations report being talent constrained and many organizations report to be working on fixing these gaps. This trend is great and one I am really excited about as the founder of a talent limited organization. However, I feel there is a bit of a disparity between the specific talent organizations are looking for compared to what talent creation groups are often focused on. I do not think this is true for 100% of organizations working on talent or looking for talent, but from conversations I have had with others, I expect the trends below to be broadly true rather than just true for my organization.

Focus on talent quality over quantity

The first biggest difference that I noticed and the one I have heard talked about by other organizations the most is the different focus on quality vs quantity. From the perspective of running an organization (both in meta and direct poverty) what I really need are top hires, mostly in senior positions. This is the main talent that is really hard to find in the EA movement and will have a much higher impact on my organizations running (or new organizations getting founded) than any number of 10% donors or solid volunteers. To give a really concrete example, this recent EA project launched was only made possible because there was enough highly talented and dedicated people who applied, but there are still other ideas that could be founded if there were more people in this camp being generated from talent pipelines.

However the focus in many community-building organizations often seems to be more focused on number of people (at events, in the program, taking pledges, etc) with few examples of senior hires for EA organizations (or equivalent) coming out of these programs.

I know that organizationally it can be harder and quite a different mindset to aim for fewer but high impact people. Some of my points below tie a bit tighter into ways to change organizational focuses more in this direction.

Focus on endline specific metrics

The second big difference I notice between movement-building organizations and talent-short organizations is how much they are concerned with and value intermediate metrics. If I am looking to start a project like the one I mentioned above (a new possible GiveWell recommended charity), it matters very little to me how many people hit intermediate or more general metrics such as taking the 10% pledge, and although it can be in theory used as a correlative metric, there are plenty of reasons how you can imagine an organization very good at maximizing these intermediate metrics without many of the endline specific metrics being maximized.

Very few talent pipe widening organizations seem to focus on specific gaps instead of just broadly “creating more EAs”. This is on top of the concerns that the term “EA” leaves a lot of room for moving the goalposts. I think by narrowing down to specific areas of focus organizations can a) avoid stepping on each other’s toes/impact and b) focus on fewer but more specifically needed skills.

To give a more specific example of how I could see this being applied would be an organization set up exclusively to find people good at founding high quality organizations in a single specific high impact EA area (poverty, AI, animal rights).

Current trajectory and positive examples

Overall I think the EA movement is moving more in this direction, but I think there is still space to speed up progress on this front. Some positive examples of things I think have had large impact and moved more in the focused/quality direction.

  • EA jobs Facebook group - very focused and very low time cost but has allowed many more applicants to apply to a given specific job than otherwise would without having to contact many different mailing lists/delivery systems.

  • 80,000 Hours narrowing down focus on top cause areas. Being cause neutral is not the same as being cause indifferent and over time 80,000 Hours has clarified and published their list of priorities as well as moved their focus to their assessed higher impact areas. Even if I disagree with their list of which causes are most important, I think this focus is a very important way to greatly improve impact from their perspective.

  • Targeted internships - this program run by Charity Science (my organization) giving specific internships aimed at building capacity for a specific later job seems like a good way of aiming at both quality and specificness that could be replicated in other areas.