What is parkour?

Parkour is a training discipline where practitioners move from one place to another .. in the fastest and most efficient way possible.[1]

The mainstream approach to getting from A to B is to walk. To use public sidewalks, to not cut across the grass. To walk past obstacles and stay on level ground.

Parkour imagines many faster options, including:

  1. running,
  2. climbing,
  3. swinging,
  4. vaulting,
  5. jumping, etc.

What is career parkour?

Career parkour is the practice of getting to your ultimate ideal job the fastest, often by gaining career capital in unconventional ways.

The mainstream approach to getting a job is scrolling through public job application sites and sending your CV to those you find interesting. If that doesn’t work you maybe consider asking a few friends for references.

Career parkour imagines many faster options, including:

  1. get relevant people* to know you
  2. show relevant people how you work (and you make sure you work well)
  3. show relevant people how you have worked (and show that your work is good)
  4. broadcast what you're looking for via your network
  5. show initiative

*relevant people = people that are able to influence your chances of getting employed in the organization you want to be employed in

But why?

I like using the metaphor of "parkour" because it might help people intuit what it means to use non-conventional ways to boost your career. It also might give you a sense of how people should respond when you have done it correctly. Might be something like: "Whoa, how did you make that happen?" or "That's so cool!"

Furthermore, it seems important still to remind many EAs struggling to get hired, that just sending CVs might not be enough. Other group leads have also noted how many people in EA do not network enough when looking for jobs. This might be because they don't want to "waste" others' time or maybe because they feel underconfident.

So let's practice parkouring more.

Some real-life examples

Using pseudonyms for anonymity.

Julia's example

Julia (a machine learning Master's student) heard Chris, a well-known figure in AI safety, talk about his website. She wrote to Chris: "I really like your website, but I think I could make it load 200% faster. Can I do it for free?" Chris said: "Go right ahead!". 

A while later, Julia had an assignment at school that had to involve partners outside the university. So she again wrote to Chris and asked: "Do you want me to work on your website’s machine learning for 2 months?" And again, Chris said yes. 

This project first led to a paid full-time summer job, then a recommendation letter to top 10 universities, then introductions to several top AI safety professors.

Joseph's example

As an undergraduate, Joseph participated in a self-development program organized by an Organization. He volunteered there for two more years. 

Some time passes, Joseph does some work with various local NGOs and works at an NGO consultancy. A year later, the same people from that Organization directly contact Joseph and want him to start and run a new and influential branch of their organization. Leading this branch would involve directing the flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund researchers. Joseph barely has an undergraduate degree.

Rainer's example

Rainer had an idea of how a hardware startup could do things better. He wrote to them: "Here's how you could make things better". The company responded: "We have been thinking about the same thing for a while! Do you wanna help?" 

Rainer got a job with zero competition.

My own example

Richard asked his LinkedIn network for jobs. He got 10 suggestions and three people who could vouch for him if he applied. Most importantly, he found two new job categories he didn't consider before: IT project management and management consultancies.


Disclaimers

A core reason some of these techniques work well is that they are not overused. Take Rainer’s examples - imagine if the hardware startup already received 10+ emails every day from undergraduates with “great ideas” on how to “improve their company”. Best case scenario - Rainer would’ve had much higher competition getting into the organization. Worst case - his email might have gotten ignored.

Another thing my friend wanted to point out is - be sincere. If you write to an organization “can I help you for free”, your focus should be to actually provide value to that organization, not to be hyperfixated on getting hired. If you provide them value, the rest will follow naturally.

Postface

After writing this post, I was informed that the 80,000 Hours article “All the best advice we could find on how to get a job” is basically everything I wanted to say here, but better. So I highly suggest you read that as well.

And, I would be very happy to hear about your career parkour examples in the comments!

  1. ^

    "Parkour."Wikipedia, 18 January 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkour

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Re: your point on sincerity:

I think this is quite important in making networking less "icky". It's much easier for me to talk to people when I'm not constantly thinking about how to get something from them.

Some of the more valuable or meaningful networking I have done (with non-EAs) has been when I can just talk about my interests and career goals honestly. I think people respect and appreciate genuine passion and commitment when they see it. (That doesn't mean you should talk their ear off with EA stuff, you just need to tell them enough so they have context)

For what it's worth I like the term career parkour! It definitely sounds more fun than "actively network", and it's nice to see some examples!

Small, but maybe important note: it's good to do this kind of technique in conjunction with others / have backup plans so that you're well positioned even if you fail.