I'm reading this 80k article that recommends sending a pre-interview project to folks who have hiring power for a position you're aiming for. 

Wondering if anyone has actually tried this and what came of it? 
Do you have higher conversion rate through this job search strategy vs applying online? Were folks receptive or resistant to it? 


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I got a four month work trial at AI Impacts after spending ~20 hours on an unsolicited pre-interview project, parts of which were later published on their website. I’m not sure if I would’ve gotten the interview otherwise; I was an undergraduate with no experience in AI at the time.

20 hours is definitely overkill, but in general, my goal in interviews and work trials is to ask lots of specific questions about what the employer needs and figure out how I can provide it. You can describe their problem and your specific skills in a PowerPoint or simply in your conversation. This is particularly important for smaller and less organized employers that are hiring to solve specific problems, rather than for general cookie-cutter roles.

Perhaps most important is your very first message to a potential employer, where it is extremely helpful to show a specific demonstrated interest in their organization and provide potential solutions for them. Even if the ideas are not new to them, the fact that you arrived at them will show your ability and interest. Off the top of my head, I would guess than the response rate to my job applications has been at least 2x and up to 8x higher when I wrote specific emails rather than just submitting my resume. (But, I only write specific emails when I believe I have unusually good fit for the role, so this number is probably biased upwards.)

Thanks for sharing your experience! 

A couple of follow-up questions:

  • Did you send this unsolicited pre-interview project without talking to anyone  at these companies? What were the responses like?
  • How did the results change between targeting small companies vs larger companies?
  • To clarify, you only sent an email with your pre-interview project without submitting an application? 
Of course Warren, hope it’s helpful! I had a strong sense of what each company was looking for before investing time in a project. Usually this was from talking with them first, though in the case of AI Impacts it came from a public call for collaborators on the 80K podcast. I also always submit a normal job application, and usually I would only do a work project after speaking with someone and learning what they’re looking for, which usually comes from the application. (When I have a dream job that I know a ton about, then I’m more inclined to take the time to build a project before sending an application that would be otherwise unimpressive.) I have only ever successfully applied to organizations of <100 people. My best guess is that large organizations get far more applications per role, have more general purpose hiring needs, and look for more traditional skills and credentials in their applications. Smaller organizations are instead often hiring to fill a very particular need, far more specific than the job title would let on, and will be very impressed by direct proof that you can do exactly what they need you to do. (Also, I’ve mainly applied for part-time remote work, and several large organizations have told me that this was a dealbreaker for them.) But, an important counterpoint! I would also recommend sending out a bunch of really quick applications to places you’re not even sure you’d like to work. I’d say make these resume-only, no cover letter necessary. Over the course of a few hours you could send low effort applications to a dozen or more job postings, which could realistically lead to an interview. Perhaps you’d then want to invest more time learning about the organization and demonstrating your interest, but in general, EAs seem to be too averse to applying quickly rather than the opposite. Here’s a great recent post on the topic: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Fahv9knHhPi6pWPEB/don-t-think-just-apply-usually [https://forum.effective
Thanks for expanding! I know that some hiring processes in tech involve take home projects so I’m wondering how that played out if you had any of those despite doing a non-solicited project for them already?
Take-home projects are a great opportunity to show your skills. If possible, I would ask if there's a work trial before inventing your own non-solicited project.