Until yesterday, I was under the impression that aside from EA community-building, getting a job directly working on some of 80,000 Hours' top causes was really difficult and would not be a reasonably likely option for most people. This was because of posts like:

These posts above are about getting a job at an EA organization, but I thought the same applied for non-EA organizations for fields like technical AI safety, or biosecurity, or policy.

My belief of how hard it was to get a direct impact role changed dramatically after speaking with Kuhan Jeyapragasan yesterday. I learned that EA organizations are hiring a lot more compared to two years ago, and he also pointed my attention to some other types of jobs that are more generally accessible, such as operations, communications, and people management. Kuhan mentioned that to it's not easy to get an EA job if you're not willing to work that hard, both working hard during the job and preparing to get the job.

Here's a message I wrote recently to my university EA group, reflecting my current beliefs:

Hey everyone, a couple notes about [the content of Week 8 of the Effective Altruism Fellowship]: If your list of top causes includes a good amount of 80,000 Hours' top causes, especially ones aimed that improving the long-term future, those causes generally aren't as funding-constrained as they are talent-constrained. That's because support from foundations such as Open Philanthropy is generally enough to cover their modest funding needs. For these causes, I recommend considering direct work options, not just earning to give. (In contrast, global poverty and animal welfare are more funding-constrained.) And there are more accessible direct options than I had realized! You don't need to get a PhD in biology or CS or anything. For example:

EA organizations have been hiring a lot more compared to 2019, when it was more difficult to get a job at an EA organization. Apparently they're having a bit of trouble hiring as much as they'd like – one reason is that they generally prefer to hire from within the EA community, rather than people who don't really care about the mission of the organization.

So if you were struggling to find job options that were directly relevant to your list of top causes, hopefully this helps with considering direct work options.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend applying for career advising from 80,000 Hours! https://80000hours.org/speak-with-us/

Was my message here accurate?

Is it the case that if you're hard-working and motivated and aligned with the values of the organizations you're applying for, then it's not that hard to get a job that works on a top cause? Are organizations desperately looking to hire people willing and able to do fill positions, or is it that they're only talent-constrained in the sense that they're looking for top-notch talent rather than second-tier talent?

Another question I have is, if you're say, an industrial engineering major, would it be worth it (in terms of expected impact) to try to get a generalist role in operations at an EA organization, rather than a regular industrial engineering job (maybe something helping with climate change) for earning to give? I'm wondering how seriously longtermist group members should consider options that don't seem to match their specialty, instead of earning to give.

These are some pretty broad questions, and I would appreciate just hearing general thoughts, whether from applicants or people in charge of hiring. It's likely that the answer depends on the role – e.g., maybe EA community-building is less competitive than operations (or vice versa).

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Hi Michael, thanks for writing this up! These are important topics, and I'd love to see more discussion of them. Just want to clarify two potential misconceptions: I don’t think it’s no longer hard to get a direct work job, although I do feel reasonably confident that it isn’t as hard to get funding to do direct work as it was a few years ago (either through employment or grants, though I would probably still stand by this statement if we were only considering employment). Secondly, on this part:
 

Kuhan mentioned that to it's not easy to get an EA job if you're not willing to work that hard, both working hard during the job and preparing to get the job. 

Is it the case that if you're hard-working and motivated and aligned with the values of the organizations you're applying for, then it's not that hard to get a job that works on a top cause?

 

There may have been some miscommunication in our conversation - I didn’t mean to imply that just being willing to work hard is enough to get a direct work job, or that people who aren’t able to get direct work positions aren’t able to due to their work ethic. What I meant to communicate is that I’ve found individuals who have a strong understanding of EA ideas, take actions (especially career planning) based on these ideas, and have a strong work ethic have had a lot of success finding direct work opportunities (through applying to jobs at EA orgs, applying for grants to run projects/do research/etc, and starting new organizations).

It's hard to give a nuanced answer, but I'd mostly say that your update is not directionally correct. In particular, I'd expect the number of "EA jobs" to be in the hundreds to low thousands, but the number of EAs to be in the mid to high thousands.

Per the 2020 EA survey:

Around 135 people out of 1,679 non-students and 2,166 responses mentioned that they were employed at EA organizations. So this is 8.7% of non-students and 6.2% of total EA respondents.

Not that many people respond to surveys, so the total EA population is probably higher than 2k, but it's difficult to say how much higher.

Because I don't get the impression that the  number of "EA jobs" has literally doubled in the past year, I think that the chances of getting accepted into any EA org seem at most something like 10%, but more like 2 to 5%. So I'd say that the mood of your update doesn't seem to be directionally correct.

In particular, just in the case of uni EA groups, I imagine that there might be one organizer for every, say, 20 to 50 people (?? I really have no idea about this), which is also a ratio of 2 to 5%.

One major way in which I could imagine being wrong is if you're at a very prestigious uni, or if your definition of "hard work and dedicated" does convey 2 to 10% to your audience.

Not that many people respond to surveys, so the total EA population is probably higher than 2k, but it's difficult to say how much higher.

We give an estimate of the total population engaged at levels 3-5/5 here, which suggests ~2700 (2300 to 3100) at the highest levels of engagement  (5000-10000 overall).

We then estimate that the numbers of the most engaged have increased by ~15% between 2019 and 2020 (see the thread with Ben Todd here and the discussion in his EA Global talk.

This suggests to me there are likely 3000 or more highly engaged EAs at present (there has likely been further growth since December 2020).

It's also important to note that (in my experience in different hiring rounds) a significant number of people who are successfully hired would not have been at levels 4-5 at the time of their application, which increases the numbers quite substantially.

My impression is Michael's update could easily be directionally correct if we refine that estimate.

  • If we count direct work in non-EA orgs (which Michael seemed interested in), this opens many more options; ~34% of survey respondents (11.7 + 8.7 + 5.6 + 4.2 + 3.9) seem to be doing such work, although it's unclear how many of them are working on causes they see as most pressing.
  • The 2020 survey of the community found that ~20% of respondents self-reported "high engagement" with EA. (And that's likely an overestimate due to survey selection effects.) This k
... (read more)
2NunoSempere2moMakes sense

In particular, just in the case of uni EA groups, I imagine that there might be one organizer for every, say, 20 to 50 people (?? I really have no idea about this), which is also a ratio of 2 to 5%.

Anecdotally, my (potentially skewed) personal impression is that [students who are very dedicated, hard-working, decent fits for university organizing, and apply for grants to do university group organizing] have chances > 50% of getting some grant.

(By "very dedicated," here and in the other comment, I mean to point at something like: has a solid understan... (read more)

EA at Georgia Tech presently has 3 student organizers and ~40 students who have done the Effective Altruism Fellowship within the past year, plus perhaps 15 other people who have attended general meetings, so let's say 50 members. 3 organizers : 50 members is a ratio of 6%. But our acceptance rate for people interested in becoming an organizer is actually 100%. (Theoretically, we would filter for people who generally agree with the content in the introductory fellowship and are reliable, hard-working, and a decent fit for some organizer position, etc. We would accept most if not all applicants who meet those criteria, but we haven't had to do any filtering so far.) For next semester, it looks like we'll have 5–7 new organizers/facilitators for a total of 10 organizers/facilitators. I think most EA university groups are likewise willing to take on most people who are interested in helping organize activities. We're not covered under Community Building Grants, but my understanding is that we should be able to have new organizers covered under funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund.

In the case of EA at Georgia Tech, taking the ratio of filled positions to EAs significantly underestimates the acceptance rate for a position, because most members aren't interested in taking on a position. This might be true for direct work jobs overall. My model of Kuhan would say something like, there are actually relatively few EAs who are longtermist and who seriously want to switch to a career doing direct work.

2NunoSempere2moCheers, thanks for the data.

An important factor is how many people in the EA movement are actively searching for EA jobs and how many applications they write per year. Maybe this would be a good question for the next EA survey.

7David_Moss2moWe have a sense of this from questions we asked before (though only as recently in 2019, so they don't tell us whether there's been a change since then). At that point 36.6% of respondents [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/mzSTiMduHn69KACs4/ea-survey-2019-series-careers-and-skills#Career_plans] included EA non-profit work (i.e. working for an EA org) in their career plans. It was multiple select, so their plans could include multiple things, but it seems plausible that often EA org work is people's most preferred career and other things are backups. At that time 32% of respondents [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/F6PavBeqTah9xu8e4/ea-survey-2019-series-community-information#Barriers_to_EA_Involvement] cited too few job opportunities as a barrier to their involvement in EA. This was the most commonly cited barrier (and the third most cited was it being too hard to get an EA job!). These numbers were higher among more engaged respondents. I think these numbers speak to EA jobs being very hard to get (at least in 2019). Number of applications people are writing could be interesting to some degree, though I think there are a couple of limitations. Firstly, if people find that it is too hard to get a job and drop out of applying , this may make the numbers look better without the number of people who want a job and can't get one decreasing, and even without it becoming appreciably easier for those still applying for jobs. Secondly, if there are fewer (more) jobs for people to apply to this may reduce (increase) the number of applications, but this would be actually be making it harder (easier) for people to get jobs. To assess the main thing that I think these numbers would be useful for (how competitive jobs actually are), I think hiring data from orgs would be most useful (i.e. how many applicants to how many roles). The data could also be useful to assess how much time EAs are spending applying (since this is presumably at some counterfactua

Maybe some orgs who have been hiring consistently could share the trend on number of applicants per position?

Here are roles Rethink Priorities has hired for since 2020. There hasn't been any real trend as far as I can see, except that my subjective impression is that the number of highly qualified applicants for research roles and operations roles is up, suggesting that it is getting harder to get a job at RP.

Our most competitive hiring round was for an Operations Associate a few months ago. Our researcher roles are in specific cause areas, so it's hard to compare directly to when we hired general researchers, but my impression is that they are up. We consistently get far fewer applications for management roles. For non-management roles, we still regularly get 60+ applications per offer we make.

The roles with * are ongoing hiring processes, so this is just my best guess at how many people we might end up hiring for each.

CEA had 183 applicants for a copyeditor position in 2019 (I think I advertised the position too widely and undershot the amount of experience I was looking for).

Only one person got the position; however, I referred several other strong applicants to positions at other organizations, so you could view the "success" rate as 1/61 rather than 1/183.

I think a clearer picture of how easy it is to get jobs would be really useful. Like there could be a job survey people fill out about how many jobs they applied for and what their skills are. Then we could have better expectations.

Strongly agree, EA organizations should post the rejection rates for jobs they’ve posted.

I can only speak for my experience of applying for and being offered funding for independent research by the EA Infrastructure Fund.
I intend to write a full post about this in the near future but my impression is that this is an option more recent graduates (and other people early in their careers) should consider.

I think EA Funds are more open to applications for small grants to people without a large base of experience than I expected before applying. I don't think my application was particularly exceptional on any level and so I think it's reasonable that many other people could find this a viable avenue for building skills and testing out potentially high-impact ideas.

EA Funds is also just way bigger than it used to be https://funds.effectivealtruism.org/stats/overview

This dashboard only gives payout amounts, so I'm not sure what's happened to # of grants or acceptance rate, but the huge increase in sheer cumulative donation from last year to this one is encouraging.

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As a minor point, I'd consider potential publication biases when interpreting articles about how hard it can be to get these jobs. I imagine if someone had an easy time getting one of these jobs, they might be hesitant to write a post about it, to avoid looking self-celebratory or insensitive.

I think this is a major factor. From what I can tell, some people have very easy times getting EA jobs, and some have very hard times getting EA jobs. This in itself really isn't much information; we'd really need many stats to get a better sense of things.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't read this as, "the people who have a hard time... are just bad candidates". It's more that EA needs some pretty specific things, and there are some sorts of people for who it's been very difficult to find a position; even though some of these people are quite brilliant in many ways.