Preface: This job post is directed to people in the EA community who have a messier professional background than might be ideal for a career that is aligned with EA-values, but still want to do their best to contribute. Since I found EA I knew I really wanted to implement the ideas and values of it into my own life, but often found it hard since I felt that my skills weren’t very valued. So this post shows how I got out of a situation with low-value education and unpleasant work that undermined my self-confidence to be able to get a good high-impact EA-aligned job. My ambition with this post is therefore to provide whoever needs it with some hope if they are currently in a similar situation.
My professional background is a mess.
But somehow, for the first time in my life, I have a job that I both really like and that is aligned with my EA-values. I am Communications Director at Foresight Institute, a non-profit organization focused on advancing technologies of fundamental importance for the future of life. In this job I get to work with amazing colleagues, do work that I find equally both challenging and rewarding, and contribute to the output of an organization whose work I believe in. But it hasn’t always been this way for me, and that’s why I thought I’d share my job story.
So as I mentioned, my professional background is a mess. There was never a clear path for me in terms of career.
I was the first person in my family to go to university, and all I knew was that I liked reading and writing. Hence, when I chose what to study at university there was no rational analysis behind it. The only thinking process behind it was “What would be the most fun?”. Which led me to spend a year studying fashion design. Talk about impact..! ;)
After changing my mind about fashion design, since it felt a bit too whimsy for me, I just went with what sounded like something I’d be good at: Reading. Hence I started to study Comparative Literature. Then I moved on to get a master’s degree in History of Science and Ideas.
I don't recommend studying literature or history for your degree. Studying and reading literature and history is great – but if I got the chance to re-do my life I would study something where I learn a lot but that also better “signals” that I’m a serious and competent person when entering the workforce, such as law (Maybe it’s different in other parts of the world, but where I’m based in Sweden, saying you’ve studied literature or history at university is basically like admitting you’re a slacker and/or a very unworldly person).
After graduating I found that it was hard to get a job with my degrees, but I started to work at a non-fiction publishing house as an Editorial Coordinator/Web Editor.
At first, I loved it. Then I hated it. Then I loved it. Then I hated it again. You get it.
The job was exciting in many ways because I got to work with really cool people and hang out in exciting environments. But it was also a very hierarchical world, and the role was not very stimulating for me. Plus, the working conditions were terrible as they often are within the cultural fields. Meaning no full-time work, poor salary, no social security, and so on.
I’m very happy to be out of that position, but I am also very grateful for having had that job. I did learn and mature A LOT during the two years I worked there, and I could not have gotten to my current role without it. I also believe the lessons I learned in my past role will help me do better, both as a manager and as an employee for the rest of my career.
What I learned from my previous job:
- I learned how to do the grind-work. This is the kind of work that includes routine administration stuff and managing all the boring things that just need to work in an organization. My experience in this type of grind-work is really useful in my current role since it gives me an understanding of how I should manage someone else in this position. Primarily, I need to make sure they understand and feel that their part in the organization is a crucial one, because it is.
- I learned what I don’t want from a job. For example, I don’t want financial stress. I don’t want to not have any say over my own tasks. I don’t want to do the same tasks every day. (I mean you can just read 80000hours.com and learn all of this, but if you want to learn the hard way get one of these jobs...)
- I learned what I do want from a job: I want a job where I get to do some deep work (writing a longer text, solving problems, thinking about the organization’s direction as a whole). But I don’t just want to sit up in my chambers doing deep work all day, I also want to meet people and break off the day with a few meetings and collaborations with other people.
- I want to work with something where I get to practice my judgement, and where my input is valued. I lost my confidence working in a job where I did not get listened to very well. When you lose your confidence like this it makes it hard to believe that you can contribute to the ideas of EA. How can you have an impact if you think you’re useless? So I also learned that it is important to take care of myself.
But as I mentioned, I now have a job that I love and in the next sections I will tell you all about it!
How I got my job:
I saw an ad on “Effective Altruism Job Postings”- Facebook group. They were looking for a part-time social media manager. I applied, got the job, and worked part-time as a social media manager for a few months.
After having worked in that position for a few months, they were looking for someone to help out more with operations. I told them I was interested in the role - and all of a sudden I had a full-time position at the organization. (So currently I have more operations responsibilities included in my Communications-role than might be normal in a larger organization where the roles are more divided.)
Since then, I have only been enjoying my job more and more. I love that I feel empowered by my colleagues to bring my ideas to the table, to be part of the discussions, and to feel included in the outcomes and direction of our work. What I do during my workdays matters and makes a difference for the organization and I love that.
What I learned in the process of getting hired:
- First of all, it’s a numbers game and it takes a lot of patience. I applied for many new jobs during a very long period, and even though it took me a long time to get a new job I continued to aim for jobs that I really wanted, rather than jobs that were easy to get. This was a tough time but in retrospect it was definitely worth it.
- Doing part-time work is a great way to get your foot in the door, and increase your chances of getting the dream job eventually (direction over speed!).
- Explain your reasoning for applying to this job. How you reason will help both you and the organization understand if you are a good fit for each other. And it shows you’ve thought this through further than just needing a job.
- Show the people hiring you how much you want it and help them see why you would be a good fit (if you are a good fit!).
What it's like to work at my job, day-to-day:
There is no typical day really, anything can happen in a small organization, so be ready to jump on any task that comes your way. But a few things that return on a daily basis include:
- Inbox-work: Sending and responding to emails is a big thing in this type of role.
- Meetings: Internal meetings to sync within the organization, and external meetings for whatever ongoing projects are currently taking place.
- Random tasks: This might include researching something you discussed in a meeting yesterday, posting something on social media, or proofreading a White Paper for a new project. Looking at my to-do list for today (a regular Tuesday) for example it includes sending out emails for a marketing campaign, organizing travel arrangements for an upcoming conference we’re arranging, and preparing for a board meeting.
To sum it up:
I think if I have any recommendations for anyone who wants to work in a similar position to this I would say:
- Show you’ve done the work before. Running social media accounts for a non-profit voluntarily is a great way to do it.
- Learn to organize. Being someone who keeps track of things, doesn’t drop the ball, and follows through on any task given to them is inestimable in a small organization. For example, I organized an independent side-project in my free time as a way to gain more of the type of experience I knew I needed to be able to move ahead, but couldn’t get in my day-job.
- Be familiar with the ideas of the organization. You don’t have to be an expert in the field, but having a genuine interest and caring about the output of your organization will help along every step of the way.
- Have a learning mind. You should enjoy taking on new challenges and be good at solving problems if you want to work in a position like this.