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TLDR: This post is part of a sequence we’ve prepared for the Career Conversations Week on the EA Forum. It highlights alternative methods for early career professionals to demonstrate competence beyond relying solely on academic credentials. As we evaluate applications to our programs, these are the things we consider.

It's not uncommon for early career professionals to rely heavily on academic credentials as their primary means of signaling competence. While formal education undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in shaping one's capabilities, it is not the sole determinant of professional competence. Early career development offers many avenues for signaling professionalism, proactiveness, and overall potential.

Writing Content

Many effective altruists (EAs) have built their reputations through writing, whether on personal blogs or by contributing to platforms like the EA Forum.  High-quality writing demonstrates competence and intelligence and provides the reader insight into the topics that matter to you. Transforming individual pieces of writing into more comprehensive works, such as books, can be a powerful way to showcase your competence. However, it's important to acknowledge that it requires a substantial time investment compared to sporadic writing.

Writing a useful book or blog post contributes something to the world; for example, it can introduce new people to an important cause or develop new frameworks for a movement. Another advantage of writing is its ability to help you connect with the specific group or industry you aspire to work in. For instance, if you aim to work in EA, crafting a series of high-quality blog posts for the EA Forum can significantly enhance your applications. This principle can be applied to many other fields as well.

Bootcamps and Incubation Programs

Completing a bootcamp or an incubation program both teaches you great skills and signals competence on a resume.

Like writing, these programs enable you to tailor your learning and experiences toward specific industries or career goals. Some programs, such as Y Combinator (YC), also possess a broad appeal due to their reputation.

Securing admission to these programs is undeniably challenging, and thriving within them requires dedication and hard work. Still, the investment of time and effort in these intensive programs often yields faster results than pursuing advanced degrees, making them an attractive option for early career professionals seeking a swift path to professional growth.

Working or Interning

Gaining practical experience through employment or internships within the EA movement or related fields like global health, animal advocacy, and existential risk mitigation can be considerably more valuable than pursuing a degree when aspiring to secure a relevant position.

Competition for impactful roles in EA and allied sectors can be fierce, and focusing solely on obtaining a degree can lead to unfulfilled expectations. Employers frequently prioritize recent, hands-on experience as the primary indicator of your competence and commitment.

By investing your energy in working or interning within these movements, you build essential skills and establish a track record of tangible contributions. This experience enhances your understanding of the real-world challenges these fields face and demonstrates your dedication to making a meaningful difference. 

Founding Projects

Running a local chapter, founding a small project (even if unsuccessful), or starting a full-scale organization can strongly amplify your resume. In the EA community, many individuals are recognized more for their impactful projects than their academic degrees.

Founding and successfully running projects showcases your dedication and highlights your capacity for self-motivation. These initiatives require leadership and a hands-on approach – transferable skills that can set you apart in a competitive job market. By taking the initiative to create and manage projects, you demonstrate your ability to identify challenges, devise solutions, and drive meaningful change.

Moreover, the recognition you gain within the EA community and related spheres often stems from your contributions to projects that align with the movement's core principles. This visibility can significantly shape your professional identity, making your projects a defining aspect of your resume and network. As a result, your name becomes synonymous with your work, highlighting your impact and dedication.

Self-Teaching via Online Courses

One thing we love to see on applications, and know other EA organizations look for, is evidence of self-teaching. Enrolling in courses on platforms like Coursera or edX is another powerful indicator of your competence and self-motivation. It showcases your willingness to take initiative, delve into unfamiliar topics, and acquire valuable competencies independently.

When EA organizations review applications, they often seek evidence of a candidate's ability to adapt and learn swiftly, especially given the ever-evolving nature of the movement and its associated challenges. Enrolling in online courses broadens your skill set and demonstrates your commitment to staying informed and continuously improving your capabilities.

Online courses offer a diverse array of subjects, allowing you to tailor your self-teaching experiences to areas that align with your passion and career goals within the EA movement. Whether it's data science, ethics, or any other relevant discipline, the ability to leverage online courses showcases your strategic approach to skill development.

Embracing this path of self-directed learning equips you with valuable knowledge and skills, positioning you as a proactive and well-rounded contributor to the movement.


In your early career journey, remember that competence is not confined to the walls of academia. By exploring these alternative paths and embracing opportunities for self-improvement and impact, you can set yourself on a trajectory of meaningful contributions, professional fulfillment, and success in the fields you are passionate about. Your journey is not just about building a resume but about having a tangible impact on the causes you care about at the earliest opportunity.

This post is based on a blog post previously published on the CE's blog.





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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:56 PM

As an employer, it's particularly helpful to look at small solo projects. With a solo project it's easy to tell how you contributed—you did everything.

My 2 cents:

Good advice but I’ll add that many of these things (solo projects, getting internships, writing, etc.) benefit substantially from attending a school with good training (which correlates somewhat with prestige and cost-of-attending).

Feedback, mentorship, and direction are bottlenecks for executing impressive projects and sometimes the best way (or only way) for someone to access these is through the conventional schooling route.

Conventional education and independent projects complement each other

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