This post is adapted from a question anonymously asked in the Effective Altruism Careers Discussion Facebook group. There are a couple of main questions:
- How do employers not affiliated with effective altruism regard experience at EA-affiliated organizations (or at other non-profit organizations and think tanks, to the extent they’re interchangeable)?
- Other than skills learned and other forms of professional development, how much signalling potential, prestige, etc., does working at an EA-affiliated organization afford one outside the EA ecosystem?
The main text of the post with the full context is below.
I’m an early-stage career researcher approaching something of a crossroads soon. I’m faced with that classic EA decision. I can try either to get hired for a job that will potentially earn me way more money, to improve my own standard of living and donate more, or apply to positions at various EA-affiliated organizations. I see a lot of stories of individuals transitioning from a career path like earning to give to direct EA work but I don’t see as many about the inverse.
There are of course several biases acting to structure these observations. People are less likely to publicize departures from pro-EA organizations. Many organizations are also new enough that there isn’t enough time for someone who has worked there to establish oneself, and then leave.
There is a lot of discourse about building career capital, most of it focused on skills-building outside of the EA ecosystem. Other than skills learned and other forms of professional development, how much signalling potential, prestige, etc., does working at an EA-affiliated organization afford one outside the EA ecosystem?
That’s not to say that one can’t spend one’s entire career working only in the EA ecosystem, but in case of changes--new priorities, more impactful opportunities outside the EA ecosystem presenting themselves, the entire EA movement collapsing, or something else--it’s nice to have some flexibility!
To elaborate with a brief hypothetical: suppose I get hired for a role at a mid-sized EA-affiliated organization, with a moderately fancy title, maybe at a ‘senior researcher’ or ‘research manager’ level. My performance meets or exceeds expectations. After a few years, circumstances conspired to enact my departure. I apply to work outside the EA ecosystem. Will my previously held title seem credible to, e.g., an industry hiring manager? Will it “count” as experience in that role, or will they think, “what is this wacky company they worked for? Some small, fringe organization pushing preposterous ideas? This is a classic case of title inflation, so I’m calling this 3 years of junior experience at best.”
I’ve heard this play out in the startup sphere--you’re the third employee, so you get to call yourself CTO for a time, alongside the CEO/Founder and COO, working out of your friend’s garage, but the startup goes belly up. You apply for jobs at mid-sized companies but nobody takes your “CTO” experience seriously, and rightfully so. What’s the risk of this being the case for EA-affiliated organizations?
Nothing much more to add except for that I'll be using "pepperoni airplane" a lot from now on. I agree with your take on nontraditional paths.