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Most recruiters aren’t likely to give candidates feedback, partially due to the volume of candidates, and many people repeatedly get rejected from jobs and do not know why. 

Below I list some common reasons I expect candidates might get rejected from (generally junior) ops-type jobs.[1] Similar principles might apply to other role types, though I can’t really speak to these. I’m listing these reasons in no particular order.[2]

1. Quality of writing

The writing quality in your application materials should be extremely high. This is partially because you’re competing against candidates with strong writing skills, but also because:

  • Good writing quality is often a strong signal of conscientiousness, attention to detail, and other traits that are important in most ops jobs.
  • Many ops roles simply require you to write a lot, often to important stakeholders or to large audiences—clear and concise writing quality will be important in these cases.

I expect a lot of people overrate their professional writing skills (I certainly used to). This isn’t something people tend to get explicitly trained on and it requires different skills than you might learn in a literature class—a focus on language being clear and concise rather than emotive or descriptive.

2. Quality of work tests

This is perhaps obvious and unhelpful, but your work tests should be completed to a very high standard. The strongest candidates will be paying attention to the smallest details, so you’ll need to as well.

In many ops roles you’ll need to present polished work every now and then—to senior stakeholders, colleagues, or the wider public. Work tests are often a way to see if you can perform at this level, even if less-than-perfect work would be good enough for your day-to-day tasks.

You should probably be intensely checking your work tests before you submit them, perhaps by aiming to finish in 80–90% of the allotted time, and using the remainder to go over your work. If the work test is writing-based, you may even want to consider reading it aloud and seeing if it flows well and makes sense.

3. Quality of application materials

I think this generally matters less than the two points above, but I’d make sure your CV, LinkedIn, and cover letters are as polished as possible and clearly outline experience that’s relevant for the role you’re applying for. Again, this includes things like writing and formatting quality. You should also probably be asking someone to review your CV—I’ve asked family members to do this in the past.

This is a more specific point, but I also notice that a lot of people’s CVs are too vague. “I am the president of my EA group” can mean anything, the bar for founding an EA group is ~zero, and I expect many EA groups to be inactive. But being president of your EA group can also mean a lot: perhaps you run lots of workshops (give quantities and details) and get large amounts of funding. But if you don’t tell the hiring manager this they won’t know, and they’re unlikely to spend extra time investigating. 

In a similar vein, I’ve noticed that some people’s EA Global applications (a process similar-ish to hiring) mention that they’ve founded Organisation X, only for its website to contain minimal information. To be clear, Organisation X may be a very impressive and accomplished project! But you should assume that the hiring manager is not familiar with it and will not spend much time investigating. It’s often best to briefly explain what your organisation does, how many people work there, and what your responsibilities are.

4. Unclearly relevant experience or interests

Hiring managers are often looking for certain types of candidates. Even if you’re very smart, dedicated, and hard-working, you still need some way to show the hiring manager that you’re the right fit for the role. This is especially tricky in a career environment with few options—EA is a young movement with only a few types of high-absorbency career paths. Many people may apply for operations roles despite it not being something they’re super excited about (to be clear I’m not faulting these people at all, this is just an unfortunate situation to be in).

If for example you’re a mechanical engineering student applying for an entry-level recruiting position, you need some way to show that you’re familiar, excited, and suitable for the role. This could involve discussing the relevant experience you do have, but might also involve explicitly acknowledging your non-relevant experience. That is, you need to tell a convincing story: “I worked in X for two years and didn’t enjoy it, and I know it’s not relevant to Y but I do have the relevant skills Z”.

Without sufficient explanation, hiring managers might be confused by the above candidates—and they have other options to choose from (people who are just as talented but have clear and relevant credentials or experience).

5. Weak references or reputation

I expect this doesn’t apply to most candidates, but your reputation matters! It can really help if you perform well in previous roles, even if they're short ones or volunteering positions. Conversely, if you drop balls or don't show up for these things, people notice and that can reasonably be taken as evidence for how you work with others.

  1. ^

     Here I’m generally thinking of generalist operations roles (which might include things like working on office management, events, onboarding, and so on), rather than specialist roles like accounting (which I’m less able to talk about).

  2. ^

    Caveat: I’ve only been deeply involved in one hiring round (though I’ve been lightly involved in a few others and I’ve been in this ecosystem for some time), so I don’t consider myself a strong authority on this subject.





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Thanks, Eli! This seems great to me and I'm glad to have things like this out there.

I wanted to provide another perspective on a couple of points. 

(For context, I've recruited for a junior ops role once, and for a senior ops role once. Unsure how much the below applies to other hiring managers.) 

On writing skills and quality of work tests: 

  • I agree that people probably underrate how important writing skills are for success in an ops role.  However, that said, when recruiting I only pay attention to writing quality in some contexts, mainly because there are times when I’m more interested in candidates being able to spend their time/effort on other parts of the application, or on minimising time. 
  • In application form answers, I usually don’t pay attention to the writing quality ~at all, since I expect candidates will vary a lot in how much time they had available to do the form, and at the first stage I much prefer a sketchy application to no application at all. (I’ll usually include a note in the form to say that.) 
  • In work tests, I’ve usually tried to indicate cases where writing or polished-ness is something I’m looking at or not. 
    • E.g. in a recent senior ops hiring test, I had a strategy task which was to sketch out a plan for a major organisational decision. I was most interested in testing good judgement – like seeing how candidates generate and prioritise relevant considerations for a complex decision like this – and didn’t want them to spend time making the writing pretty rather than producing more/better content. So I said something about how I’m interested in the content and clarity-to-me over style and polish.
    • Whereas for test components that, e.g. to write an email, message or policy; then I definitely will be looking at the writing quality and polishedness.
    • (That said, I do agree that spending 10-20% of time checking seems widely good.)

On quality of application materials, I agree that a CV/LinkedIn etc. that clearly aims at the role requirements is likely to be strongest; however I'd also add that a non-personalised CV is a lot better than no application at all! At stage 1 ensuring that as many good people apply as possible is one of my top goals.

On unclearly relevant experience, one tangential point. Here is an extract from the generalised feedback I sent to applicants rejected at stage 1 of my junior ops hiring round in 2022.[1] 

Among very early-career candidates, e.g. those just out of university, the strongest candidates were those who could show some signal of their operations ability. For example, organisational work for student projects/societies or local charities, or personal-life things like setting up a task management system, organising a group trip or helping a friend with a visa application.

Relatedly, among people with work experience that is not closely related to this role, at times I felt it would be beneficial for them to put less emphasis on their most impressive but less related experience, and more emphasis on their most relevant experience, even if it seems less impressive. There was a group of candidates with substantial experience in roles such as communications, consulting or people management, whose application concentrated on how that experience transfers to this role.[2] If these candidates had more directly relevant, but less impressive experience, such as those I mentioned for recent graduates in the previous point, I think they would have benefited from mentioning it, even if it was a long time ago.

(This role was more about fairly “nitty gritty” logistics, finance, HR, things like that; rather than e.g. a lot of project management or comms where I’d probably weight broader kinds of experience higher.)

  1. ^

    I.e. a document outlining the most common reasons I did/didn't advance people to the second stage; I didn't give personalised feedback at this stage. (I planned to give personalised feedback for later stages, but unfortunately didn't get around to it. If you're one of the applicants from this 2022 hiring round who asked for feedback but I didn't get back to, my apologies for that.)

  2. ^

    To be clear I do think broader experience adds something! But it only speaks to certain parts of what I'm looking for. 

This is awesome. If every recruiter gave feedback like that, it would help so much. Thanks for setting such a great example!

This is a great article. It is really unfortunate when a good candidate puts a lot of work into an application and it is rejected for a reason that doesn't reflect their ability to do the job. 

That said, we all need to accept that we live in a bizarre world in which we say we want engaged, motivated, qualified people working on impactful areas, but then, when they choose to do so, it can be extremely difficult for those engaged, motivated people to actually find impactful roles

It seems like many EA roles get 100's of applications (literally). And because hirers are open-minded, they encourage everyone to apply, even if they're not sure they're a good fit. 

One result of this is that a vast amount of the energy and commitment of EA's is invested into the task of searching for work (on one side) or in evaluating and selecting applicants on the other side. 

It just feels unfortunate, in the sense that if this energy could be invested in something impactful, it would be better. Ultimately a great CV and cover-letter doesn't help any humans or animals. 

I don't have a solution. Obviously there are just not so many roles out there, and we can't just create roles without funding and organisations and managers and so on. And we don't want to discourage people from applying for roles they think they could do well. 

This has been a pet peeve of mine since my pre-EA days. I wrote about it from the perspective of a recruiter on Quora, and more than 1000 people upvoted my answer. So it's definitely not an EA-specific problem. 

In fact, I would go further and say that EA organisations do a lot of things far better than most organisations:

  1. They often put a lot of emphasis on work-tests, which are far better than interviews at assessing a person's fit for a role - and which are also a great learning experience even for the people who don't get hired. 
  2. Many recruiters do give feedback. Useful, tangible feedback. Often this only happens after the initial screening. 
  3. Some recruiters even go out of their way to help applicants find an impactful role, because, unlike corporations, we're all rooting for each other to succeed. 

But even still, it would be great if there were a better way to get more people into roles (even if initially low-paid roles, with the potential for upgrading) in which they learn and get experience they can put on their CV's, rather than have them desperately trying to find a role.

I kind of imagine that in some EA-hub locations, this is what happens. That lots of people know each other and can recommend roles for each other. I see something like this in the Brussels EU bubble, where once you're part of the community, it seems like there are always roles opening up for people who need to or want to move. So maybe what I'm writing refers more to people living away from EA hubs, who would like to switch to more impactful roles, but struggle to find one. Unfortunately, if we don't find a way to include these people, the potential growth of EA will be limited. 

For now, all I can do is strongly encourage any recruiter to provide any critical feedback they can. Maybe not to everyone, but if there is someone who is clearly doing something wrong (several typos on their CV for example), please tell them. I've reviewed a lot of CV's and job applications, and I can say that I've never had a negative reaction when I sent someone a quick note to explain how they could improve their chances to get other roles (always phrased this way to avoid suggesting that was the reason they weren't hired by us). 

I am also very curiously and closely following the new Moral Circles created by Rutger Bregman in the Netherlands to try to convince highly experienced professionals to move to more impactful roles, to see if they have a good solution to this. There seems to be a lot of people hearing his message, I want to see how they manage the challenge of making sure that all the very capable people who want to do something more impactful actually find a role where they can do so. 


Could you say more about what counts as high quality for writing or a work test? 

For another perspective: personally I feel like the most important aspect of “good ops writing” is something like “making it really easy for the other person to do exactly the thing they need to do and get the info they need, even if they're just quickly skimming[1]”. I'm thinking of things like:

  • Good use of formatting, e.g. bold, bullet points, etc; so that someone who's skimming it at a glance will easily identify the parts relevant to them or where they need to engage further.
    • The opposite of this: important facts being hidden in the middle of long plain blocks of text, meaning people will only notice them if they're reading carefully
  • General clarity, e.g. wording and sentence structure not being confusing
  • For messages: clearly identifying what actions are required vs. optional; or if the message is just an FYI with no action needed
  • Having anticipated questions the reader will have and provided what they'd want. But also balancing this with not making the action-relevant parts too long.
  1. ^

    I don't think this is only important because of readers who are busy / not very engaged. I think even for a really engaged reader, it's useful to be able to identify the most relevant parts at a glance before going deep.

Especially for ops roles, I've been surprised by people not actually following the instructions correctly (especially related to re-naming the work test document in a specific way, or making sure you're using the correct view settings).

Another extreme example would be for candidates to just copy and paste LLM answers and only slightly formatting them - oftentimes the answers are way too long and not relevant for the specific task. 

As Eli said, making sure you have few typos, consistent formatting and answering the questions correctly, being clear on your uncertainties and making comments how you made a decision or what you'd do if you had more time etc.

For strong writing I'm thinking of things like: a near complete lack of typos, incorrect word choices, or writing-related formatting issues. I'm also thinking of whether the writing flows well, i.e., if I read it aloud (or in my head) does it make sense and sound good. In certain cases tone or register might matter too, for example whether the writing is too formal/informal for the required context. In many cases I expect applicants can actually write quite well but underperform, perhaps because they're stressed, tired, or don't realize how high the bar will be.

For strong work tests in general: this will depend on the work test, but I'm thinking of things like whether they wrote a sufficient amount of copy for the allotted time, whether they answered all parts of the question, and whether they provided sufficient reasoning if required. There's also naturally a quality aspect, for example if a work test is asking them to investigate conference venues I might want to see that the applicant was thinking about the right sorts of trade-offs and whether they'd explained these trade-offs clearly.

In both these cases I expect it'd be easier if I could point to examples of strong vs weak work test responses, which I can't easily do without making them up myself.

I thought this was great. Thank you for writing this, Eli!

make sure your CV, LinkedIn, and cover letters are as polished as possible and clearly outline experience that’s relevant for the role you’re applying for


AskAManager has a great guide to writing resumes. The most useful thing I got from it is how to write specific accomplishments, not just list job duties.

Eli, can you say more about what counts as relevant experience, for junior generalist roles? 

Relevant experience might include: organizing some kind of student group (EA or otherwise), volunteering at a conference, working part time as someone's assistant, supporting or running a project where there would have been ops-type work (like running a cake delivery business), or doing any kind of service-related job like working in a coffee shop or restaurant.

As counterexamples, things that are not relevant experience might include: working on a challenging EA research project, academic credentials, building something technical where technical skills are not really part of the job.

Having this non-relevant experience is unlikely to harm someone's chances of getting a junior generalist ops role, but it might not help much either, and an application might be seen as weak overall if this is all they're putting forward.

Executive summary: There are several common reasons why candidates may be rejected from junior operations jobs, including poor writing quality, subpar work tests, inadequate application materials, unclear relevant experience or interests, and weak references or reputation.

Key points:

  1. Writing quality in application materials should be extremely high, as it signals important traits and is often a key part of ops roles.
  2. Work tests should be completed to a very high standard, as they demonstrate the ability to present polished work to stakeholders.
  3. Application materials (CV, LinkedIn, cover letters) should be polished, clearly outline relevant experience, and provide specific details rather than vague statements.
  4. Candidates need to clearly demonstrate their fit and excitement for the role, especially if their experience is not directly relevant.
  5. Reputation and references matter; performing well in previous roles (even short-term or volunteer positions) can help, while dropping the ball can hurt chances.



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