AmritSidhu-Brar

Director of Operations @ Center on Long-term Risk
227 karmaJoined Working (0-5 years)Moreton-in-Marsh GL56, UK
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Bio

Director of Operations the Center on Long-Term Risk (CLR). I also do volunteer/consultant operations work for a few EA orgs/groups, am a trustee of EA UK, and co-run the EA Operations Slack workspace. I previously worked in operations at a tech startup, and studied first physics and then medieval history/languages at university. Based in Gloucestershire, UK.

Comments
21

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.

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. 

Agreed; but I'd also add that I think in any role, the default assumption is that if you're selected for the job, you're likely to be at least somewhat better than the next best candidate. Applying for the job is a great way to find this out, and if you're uncertain about the counterfactual, you can also be open with the team about this and ask them how much they prefer you to the next best candidate – I've done this before and got replies that I think are honest and open. (Though some care is needed with this reasoning: if everyone did this, they'd just end up down at the best candidate who doesn't think to ask this.)

But yeah agree that the gap between you and the next best candidate is likely to be bigger for a less conventionally-appealing project.

(Additional musing this made me think of: there's also the consideration that the next-best candidate also has a counterfactual, and if they're aligned will probably themselves end up doing something else impactful if they don't take this job. A bit of a rabbit hole, but I think can still be useful: e.g. you could consider whether you seem more or less dedicated to a high-impact career than the typical applicant for the job. Or could ask the hiring manager whether they had promising community-external candidates, and whether they think you being aligned adds a lot to how well you'll do in the role.)

Fully agree. And a flip side of this: reading this list also seems very valuable for people looking to recruit for early-stage projects. Putting yourself on the more reassuring side of as many of these points as is achievable is likely to aid recruitment, and reduce risks around staff retention, satisfaction and public image. 

Some of the points won't be possible in every situation (e.g. things that cost a lot when you're tight on funding); but others are likely achievable for everyone, e.g. clarifying expectations around the items on this list, having a written agreement (even if informal) detailing what each side is committing to.

Just wanted to echo this point about reducing work hours! In cases where this option is available + financially viable, I think it can be very worth considering. I did this a few years ago when I was in a non-impact-driven job, reducing my work schedule permanently from full-time to 4.5 days per week then later 3.5. I used the other time for small volunteering and consulting opportunities in EA (though finding them involved some luck), which I think really helped me towards eventually moving into a permanent direct work role later.

The Center on Long-term Risk, looking for an Operations Associate / Operations Manager, to work with me on supporting and improving our operational infrastructure in areas such as 💛 HR, 💸 accounting, or 🪑 office management 💡 The application deadline is 11th September. CLR is a research charity based in London, with the goal to address worst-case risks from the development and deployment of advanced AI systems.

→ You can see more details and apply on our website here.

In this role you'd be joining a small (~2.5-person) operations team, so your work will be varied and you'll get to take on responsibility quickly in a wide variety of areas. CLR is in a position to provide mentorship, and you'll be able to get to know existing operational systems in context in a well-functioning organisation, as you take on responsibility for managing them.

This role would be equally suited for a recent graduate looking to gain operations experience in operations quickly, or for candidates who've done some operations work before. No specific experience or qualifications are required.

🌳 We prefer candidates who'll work fully in-person in our London office. Part- or fully-remote considered. 🕐 We're open to full-time and part-time candidates, with a preference for closer to full-time.

Feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions!


 

makes me apprehensive of taking up a 'seat' that could have been taken by someone who'd have worked 80 hour weeks and vastly outperformed me.

As a fellow non-dedicate,  I like to discuss expectations around working hours in the "any questions" section of an interview anyway, since personally I wouldn't want to accept a job where they expect a lot more than a 40-hour week from me. That way, they also get this info about me to use in their decision, so I know if they make me an offer they think I'm the best candidate, having considered these factors.  I think being open like this is probably the best way to treat this area of uncertainty (rather than not applying), since the employer will have the better overview of other candidates.

(EDIT: To be clear, I don't think it's necessary to raise this at this stage: the employer seems unlikely to assume that applicants will work more than a standard working week by default, since many people don't do that. And I don't think it makes sense for the burden to be on people who will only work a standard working week to raise that in the recruitment process. I just mean that if you're concerned about the effect of accepting a job where you'll perform less well because of sticking to standard hours, I think discussing it with the employer before accepting is a good way to handle that.)

 

might my non-dedicate status mean I end up being a net-negative addition to the team?

I think  that having people with clear work/life split around can also be helpful. Partly since it helps make the culture more welcoming to other such people and, as Ozymandias argues, being open to non-dedicates is often helpful. But I also think the added diversity of perspectives can be helpful for everyone: for example it could help dedicates have a better work/life balance, in cases where they're too far towards the "work" end on pure-impact grounds. For example, they might not naturally think of ideas for work/life boundaries that, after they're raised,  they would endorse on impact grounds. (I don't think it's clearly always better to add more non-dedicates to a work environment or anything, but I think there are considerations in both directions.)

(Views my own, not my employer's.)

Yeah it seems accurate that the need for operations folk is significantly less than in 2018. That said, I've seen plenty of operations job postings in the last year or so, and it looks like e.g. CEA and OpenPhil currently have roles on the 80k job board. Combining that with the fact that EA organisations seem to generally be growing, it seems like there's still a need for more ops people in EA orgs overall. I guess the harder question is similar to your second one, namely whether such roles are currently easily filled with  the in-EA people already aiming for them or with non-EA applicants, vs. whether there'd be a benefit to more EAs (with a particular amount or type of experience) doing so. I don't have much of an answer to this, unfortunately.

One random thought on this is that  different kinds of operations experience might can be important as well as different amounts of experience.  I have the impression that EA orgs are getting large enough that operations roles can get fairly specialised in some places. For example, I'm not certain, but I think I've seen roles for people focussing on automation, for a Salesforce admin, for junior accounts people. I could imagine that for these roles, experience in the right specific thing might be an advantage, even if the experience isn't that long. (Though I wouldn't take that too strongly.) Something pointing in the other direction would be that, for more specific roles, value-alignment may be less important and so it may be easier to recruit from outside EA.

+1 to Martin's suggestion of reaching out to EA orgs and asking whether they need any short-term/contractor (or possibly volunteer) work doing.  

Orgs will rarely run full hiring rounds for these, but my impression is that a fair amount of this kind of work exists. (Not saying that I think this strategy is anywhere near certain to work, but I would recommend it.) I never managed to make myself proactively ask people for roles like these, but the roles in this category that I got (which I think happened to me through chance really) mostly ended up being really useful for skill-building.

For point #2, one speculative thing that comes to mind is the legal and governance structure of an incorporated organisation, i.e. being incorporated, and having a board – whether a board of directors/trustees who have legal responsibility for the organisation and whom the team ultimately report to, or an advisory board.  

I know that plenty of larger EA groups, particularly national ones, have these kinds of things already, and I wonder whether it would be beneficial for more large EA groups to do so. (I don't know what the answer to this question is.) Possible advantages that I can think of of such a setup:

  • If you can find board members who are knowledgeable about the area – like maybe some EA community-building funder, or a leader of a larger EA group or something – their input might be great for strategy.
  • Running the legal entity's operations could be good skill-building for the organisers, e.g. if any of them want to work in operations or entrepreneurship.
  • It might be better for longevity and stability of the group – the board would always be responsible for the organisation, so if a dedicated group leadership team moved on before finding good successors, it would be the board's job to try again later.
  • If there are paid organisers, they could be on payroll, which might be nicer experience for them than being paid directly by the funder. If the group ever wanted to rent property, it could do so in its own name.
  • Particularly if it's a charitable structure, having a legal entity might help with outreach due image reasons, particularly if targeting professionals rather han students.
  • If a  charitable structure, it might help get more funding, or funding from more diverse sources.

DIsadvantages I can think of include the effort and administrative complexity (which for a charity, might be very high), the time cost to the board members, the financial cost (e.g. incorporation fees, insurance etc, maybe legal advice or professional fees depending how much you did yourself), and maybe worse consequences if things go wrong (like forgetting to do some legal filing or doing your accounting wrong or something). I also  have no idea whether groups that are student societies are allowed to be incorporated.

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