How hard is it to get a job in an EA-aligned organisation? CEA can contribute to this conversation by sharing some insights from our recruitment data.

In this post we look at the recruitment process for 12 vacancies, which were recruited for between January 2021 and April 2022.

Summary

The 12 roles were recruited for in two categories: CEA Core roles, which represent the main rounds, and Expressions of Interest (EOIs), which we were open to hiring but not actively focused on.

Background and data used

The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) nearly doubled its headcount in 2021 and continues to make a substantial number of hires each quarter. 

Most roles have a multi-stage recruitment process. First, applications undergo an initial screening. Subsequently there may be trial tasks, interviews, and work trials, finally culminating in an offer of employment. The CEA website gives more information about the hiring process.

Since January 2021, CEA has maintained an internal system to manage recruitment. The analysis in this post concerns data extracted from the system in April 2022, which records information for 34 roles.

From this analysis we have excluded about two-thirds of the roles for which information is recorded:

  • 5 roles within the Operations team, which spun out from CEA Core in 2021[1]
  • 8 roles where teams separately tracked the hiring process
  • 3 roles where recruitment was merged into other roles
  • 1 role where, due to the nature of the role, applicants were each recruited in different ways
  • 10 roles where applications are still open or recruitment is ongoing

The remaining 12 positions are listed in this footnote[2] and broadly fit into one of two categories:

  • CEA Core roles represent the main full recruitment rounds. CEA usually conducts lots of outreach for these roles, and proactively encourages people to apply.
  • Expressions of Interest (EOIs) represent roles which we are interested in eventually hiring for, but are not actively focused on at present. The website signposts that these roles have a higher bar for progression, and that CEA carries out much less outreach for them, but aims to make applying as easy as possible.

In the analysis below, it is worth noting the following:

  • Candidates exited the application process for a variety of reasons, and no distinction is made between those reasons; e.g. some were rejected while others chose to withdraw voluntarily (although the number of voluntary withdrawals is relatively small).
  • Some applicants were fast-tracked through the process and skipped some stages; in these cases the analysis still counts them as if they were virtually present for those stages.
  • Some applicants applied to multiple roles, and are counted in each role they applied for.
  • We only show whether applicants are hired to the role they originally applied for, but there are other outcomes where they may still be hired (e.g. some applicants may be hired to a different team, have a new role created for them, or be referred to another org).

Total number of applications

On average 54 applications were submitted to each position. 

CEA Core roles received an average of 54 applications each; EOIs received an average of 53 applications each.

Figure 1

Proportion of applicants invited to the first stage

The proportion of applications reaching the first stage is the ratio between bars in the Figure 1 above and is shown on its own in Figure 2 below. On average 48% of applicants to CEA Core roles reached at least the first stage, representing an average of 26 people.

Expressions of interest had a lower proportion of applicants reaching the first stage, at 21%, representing an average of 11 people. This is expected, due to the nature of these vacancies and the higher bar needed to progress.

Figure 2

Proportion of candidates who were hired

We can make a naive estimate about how the “probability of success” changes for candidates as they move through stages. In these figures we divide the number of applicants in each stage by the number of candidates who were ultimately hired at the end of the process.

Most roles culminated with one successful hire. In one role, ultimately two candidates were hired (Events Generalist). In a further six roles there were no successful hires at all (including all five EOIs), and these are not shown in this section. Some roles had fewer than two stages in the process, so data for them is only shown up to the first stage.

Figure 3

Weighted by the number of applicants in each stage, for CEA Core roles, we ultimately hired:

  • 2.4% of candidates who applied*
  • 4.7% of candidates who were invited to the first stage
  • 9.5% of candidates who were invited to the second stage

*We encourage caution when interpreting these results. This is especially so for numbers concering candidates who initially applied, as it includes both realistic applications and ones which were obviously below a reasonable bar for consideration (e.g. because they were incomplete; had gratuitous errors in spelling and grammar; or indicated a lack of familiarity with EA). 

Predictably, the rate of success for each applicant is higher when there are fewer people applying.

Expected time spent on the recruitment process

In this section we estimate the expected length of time spent by each applicant on the recruitment process, for those who were invited to at least the first stage. We think this provides a useful reference class for the readers of this post, i.e. people with some familiarity with EA.

We include everything from the first stage onwards. This excludes time spent on submitting an application at the start, since we expect this varies significantly between applicants[3].

We use the following estimates about how long each applicant spends on each stage; the bounds are not precisely defined and intended to be illustrative.

 Stage

Estimated time spent
 by each applicant (hours)

Lower bound

Central estimate

Upper bound

Trial task

0.5

1

3

Screening interview

0.25

0.5

1

Other assessments (skills, culture interviews etc.)

0.5

1

2

People ops interviews

1

2

3

Work trial

4

20

40


 

To get the expected time spent by each applicant, we then multiply these time ranges by the proportions of candidates in each stage. The findings are shown in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4

Weighted by the number of applicants, the average expected time spent by each applicant on the recruitment process is:

  • for CEA Core roles: 1.9 hours (estimated range: 0.8 to 4.6)
  • for EOIs: 1.3 hours (estimated range: 0.7 to 3.6)

It is worth noting that the median time skews towards the shorter end of the range. The application processes are designed to have quick activities at the start for larger numbers of applicants, and reserve the longer tasks for later in the process when there are fewer candidates remaining.

A comparison with non-EA organisations

Some roles at CEA are specialised, but others do have direct comparisons in non-EA organisations. One such role is the Product Manager for EffectiveAltruism.org, which CEA hired for in Q1 of 2021.

The graphic below shows the typical hiring process for a Product Manager in a non-EA tech organisation, based on data from Ashby, a recruiting platform.

Source: How to interview product managers, Lenny’s Newsletter (March 2022)  (archive)

By comparison, these are the figures from the hiring process for the CEA Product Manager.

Product Manager (EffectiveAltruism.org)
Applications submitted

52

Screening interview

28

Trial task

20

People ops interview

7

Work trial

2

Hired

1


 

We can compare the two processes in this table.

CEA recruitment process

 

non-EA tech recruitment process
(via Ashby)

Step

Cumulative drop-off

 Step

Cumulative drop-off[4]

Application submitted
to Screening interview

46%

 Screen
to HM

52%

Screening interview
to People ops interview

87%

 HM
to Onsite

79%

People ops interview
to Hired

98%

 Onsite
to Hired

96%

The drop-off rates are fairly similar between CEA and the non-EA tech companies:

  • Ashby hires 4% of applicants, compared to 2% at CEA
  • At CEA 1 in 7 of those reaching a people ops interview get hired, compared to 1 in 5 at Ashby. This is perhaps a more meaningful reference point as CEA and Ashby might get different numbers of “obviously unqualified” applicants, but the people who get to a people ops interviews/on-site are pretty plausibly qualified.

Overall, CEA might be slightly more selective than Ashby’s customers, but it does not seem like the difference is large[5].

  1. ^

    We use the term “CEA Core” to differentiate from the “CEA Operations” team. Although the Operations team spun out from CEA Core, it remains a part of the CEA legal entity.

  2. ^

    The positions covered in this post are:

    • CEA Core roles
      • CBG Programme Manager
      • Community Events Manager
      • EA Strategy Coordinator
      • Events Generalist
      • Product Manager (EffectiveAltruism.org)
      • Executive Assistant and Groups Support
      • EA Virtual Programs Operations Specialist
    • Expressions of Interest
      • Community Liaison
      • Early Field-Building Specialist
      • Epistemics Project Manager
      • External Communications Specialist
      • Groups Associate (Scalable University Support)
  3. ^

    We do try to make submitting an application as simple as possible. For most roles we only ask two free text questions, and encourage applicants to not spend a lengthy amount of time on them.

  4. ^

    In Ashby's graph the percentages and numerical values differ; here we use the percentages.

  5. ^

    It is of course possible that the applicant pools differ (perhaps everyone who applied to CEA would have received an offer from Ashby, or vice versa). These figures just tell us the average applicant's likelihood of success.

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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:16 AM
New Comment

I’m glad CEA is sharing this data, but I wish the post focused more on the important question posed in the title: Is it still hard to get a job in EA? I think the data suggests quite strongly that the answer is “yes”, but the authors don’t seem to take an explicit stance on the issue and the Summary of the post arguably suggests the opposite conclusion. 

Here’s why I think the data implies EA jobs are still hard to get:

  • Only a (very?) small percentage of applications led to a job. The report describes a 2.4% hiring rate for Core jobs (itself a low figure), but I think a more accurate number would be 1.85% = (7 hires/ (54 applications per role * 7 roles)). The 2.4% figure is “Weighted by the number of applicants in each stage” but I’m not actually sure what that means, and in any case the raw number of hires/applicants makes the most sense to me. I also think it’s important to include the EOI numbers; these roles received just as many applicants as Core jobs, but led to no hires. (For the same reason, I’d find it valuable to include data from Operations and other roles that were excluded from this analysis, as they all help inform the question of whether EA jobs are hard to get.) Including EOI applications, we get a hiring rate of 1.1% of total applications. 
  • If “Ashby hires 4% of applicants, compared to 2% at CEA”, it seems like quite a stretch for the Summary to say “the probability of an applicant receiving an offer was similar to industry averages.” At the very least, I’d like to see the figures included in the Summary so readers could draw their own conclusion. Also, while Ashby hired 4% of applicants they gave job offers to 8% of applicants; the latter figure is more relevant to the question at hand. CEA’s analysis implies that their offer rate and hire rate were the same (please correct me if I’m misinterpreting), which itself is a suggestion that EA jobs are hard to get. If the offer rate in the Ashby survey is 4x CEA’s offer rate (8% vs 2%), that’s a very sizeable difference.
  • The Product Manager jobs included in the Ashby survey were all jobs at “high-growth tech companies”, which are probably more competitive than the same role at “all tech companies” or “all industries”. So I’d interpret the benchmarking data as saying that CEA’s Product Manager role was more competitive (much more competitive if CEA’s offer rate equals its hire rate) than an unusually competitive subset of private sector Product Manager jobs.
  • I agree with the comments from Vaidehi and Denkenberger about why this analysis may understate the availability of EA jobs.

Hey, thanks for your comment.

  • There are a few different ways to look at the probability of being hired. As you suggest, one would be to take the total number of hires and divide it by the total number of applicants, across all recruitment. We chose not do to this here because the EOIs are substantially different from the Core roles (in having a higher bar for progression, etc.), which would make an overall figure less useful. (The CEA website does emphasise the difference between main roles and EOIs, so it is something prospective applicants are made aware of when applying.)
  • When we "weight by the numbers of applicants in each stage", this just means that we're taking the average across applicants, and not across roles. (Worked example: two Roles A and B each hired one person. Role A has 100 people in stage 1, with probability of success 1/100=1%; Role B has 10 people in stage 2, with probability of success 1/10=10%. The probability of success when weighting is (1%*100 + 10%*10)/110 = 2/110 = 1.8%; but when averaging across roles it is (1%+10%)/2 = 5.5%)
  • Regarding the industry comparison, as you mention there are ways in which CEA might be more selective than industry and other ways in which CEA might be less selective. As Ben mentions in an earlier comment, we probably don't have solid enough evidence to call it in one direction or another.

EOIs are substantially different from the Core roles (in having a higher bar for progression, etc.), which would make an overall figure less useful. 

If EOIs are hard to get, that seems relevant to the question of whether EA jobs are hard to get since EOIs are quite sought after (as many applicants as core jobs despite less chance of getting hired). But since AFAIK CEA is the only EA org that has EOIs, I can certainly see the case for excluding them from the sample.

we're taking the average across applicants, and not across roles.

100% agree this is the right methodology. But I still think 1.85% is the relevant number (number of hires/number of applicants). From your answer to Khorton, it sounds like your 2.4% figure excludes the Core job you didn’t hire for (which seems to have gotten more applicants than the average core job). I don’t understand that decision, and think it makes it harder to answer the question of whether EA jobs are hard to get.

Regarding the industry comparison, as you mention there are ways in which CEA might be more selective than industry and other ways in which CEA might be less selective. As Ben mentions in an earlier comment, we probably don't have solid enough evidence to call it in one direction or another.

Can you provide CEA’s offer rate, for the PM role and for core jobs overall? Hire rate really isn’t the best measure for determining whether jobs are hard to get. 

FWIW, I’m not sure why Ben thinks hires as a “percent of applicants who get to the people ops interview stage” (the only stage where CEA is more likely to hire, and not an apples-to-apples comparison since CEA has a work trial before it and Ashby doesn’t) is the right metric. He suggests he likes that metric as a way to exclude low-quality applicants,  but the better way to do that is to look at hires (or ideally offers) as a percent of people who make it past the initial screen (which is more restrictive for Ashby than CEA). CEA hires 1 in 28 people who make it past the first screen; the Ashby sample hires 1 in 12 (and makes offers to 2 in 12). 

This is helpful, but there is a key difference between the EA job market and the general one: there are a limited number of positions in EA. I think a valuable metric that perhaps could be explored on the next EA survey is the level of EA “unemployment.” This could mean the number of EAs who would prefer to have a job at an EA aligned organization, but have not gotten one. I suspect this will be far higher than the general level of unemployment. As an example, say there are 50 EAs with a particular skill, and five EA jobs requiring that skill. Then if they all apply to those five jobs, 2% of the applicants will get a job in each case, but that is only 10% of the EAs getting a job, so there would be 90% “unemployment.” Whereas outside of EA, they could all apply to 50 jobs and all get jobs. This could be analogous to underemployment, such as PhDs who want a job such as academia that requires a PhD, but have not gotten one.

At least in theory we could track EA job Openings, Hires, Quits and Layoffs, similar to the JOLTS data. This has the advantage of not needing to estimate the denominator of 'total EA labour force'. In practice this is probably not worth the effort of collecting though.

Thanks for writing this up and making it public. Couple comments:

On average 45 applications were submitted to each position.

CEA Core roles received an average of 54 applications each; EOIs received an average of 53 applications each.

Is the first number a typo? Shouldn't it be ~54

 

Ashby hires 4% of applicants, compared to 2% at CEA

...

Overall, CEA might be slightly more selective than Ashby’s customers, but it does not seem like the difference is large

Whether this is "large" is obviously subjective. When I read this, I see 'CEA is twice as selective as industry over the last couple years'. Therefore my conclusion is something like: Yes, it is still hard to get a job in EA, as evident from CEA being around twice as selective as industry for some roles; there are about 54 applicants per role at CEA. I think the summary of this post should be updated to say something like "CEA is more competitive but in the same ballpark as industry"

Is the first number a typo? Shouldn't it be ~54

Fixed, thanks!

I think the summary of this post should be updated to say something like "CEA is more competitive but in the same ballpark as industry"

I agree we hire a smaller percent of total applicants, but we hire a substantially greater percent of applicants who get to the people ops interview stage.

I think the latter number is probably the more interesting one because the former is affected a bunch by e.g. if your job posting gets put onto a random job board which gives you a ton of low-quality applicants.

But in any case: in some ways CEA is more selective, and in other ways we are less; I think the methodology we used isn't precise enough to make a stronger statement than "we are about the same".
 

Thanks for posting this! This was actually a slight update for me (lower average # of applications than I expected), although I do expect at least some of this is the fact that many of these roles were open simaltaneously. I would expect, had they been released in 2 or 3 batches, the average number of applications could be between 60-100. 

For CEA Core roles, we ultimately hired 4.7% of candidates who reached the first stage

Does this include applicants to the role you didn't end up hiring for?

No, this doesn't include applicants to the roles which we didn't end up hiring for.

Thanks for clarifying :)