Joseph Lemien

I am an American based in Beijing, with work experience in HR and Operations. I read a lot, I enjoy taking online courses, and I do some yoga and some rock climbing. I enjoy learning languages, and I think that I tend to have a fairly international/cross-cultural focus/awareness in my life that I don't observe in many other people.

As far as EA is concerned, I'm fairly cause agnostic but I often think about improving organizations/institutions, so sooner or later I'll probably get connected with the Improving Institutional Decision-Making people. I think that I am more influenced by virtue ethics and stoicism than the average EA, and I also occasionally find myself thinking about inclusion and accessibility in EA.

I'm probably in the minority of EAs in terms of knowledge of Chinese labor law and in terms of juggling skills (I can juggle a Boston mess, and I led a workshop on hip hop dance at the 2011 European Juggling Convention).

My partner told me that I should brag about how many books I read, but I feel awkward bringing that up in conversation, so here is my clunky attempt to brag about that:


How to do hiring

Topic Contributions


Native languages in the EA community (and issues with assessing promisingness)

not being fluent (or being less-than-native) in the language of the community with which you are conversing makes everything harder

I've felt this a lot. This is nothing shocking of revolutionary, but communicating well in a foreign language is hard. I'm an American who grew up speaking English, and I've spent most of my adult life outside of the US in places where English is not widely spoken. I was a monolingual anglophone at age 18, and I've learned three non-English languages as an adult. I've often wanted to express "college level ideas" but I've had "toddler grammar." I remember talking about an app ecosystem in Spanish, but I didn't express the idea well and the other person thought I was talking about ecology. I have had dozens of attempts to express nuance in Chinese, but I simply didn't know how to express it in that language. To be clear, I am comfortably conversational in both of these languages,[1] but being able to talk about your weekend plans or explain why you liked a movie is far more simple than describing a pipeline of community building or being able to talk about how universal basic income would work.

While I haven't attended in-person EA events, I could easily see people being evaluated heavily on accent and word choice, to the detriment of the content of their message.

Shamefully, I also find myself regularly judging other people based on this exact thing: they don't express their ideas well, so I assume that they aren't particularly intelligent. Shame on me. I am trying to do this less. It is an obvious bias, but we often aren't aware of it. It is kind of a halo effect, where we judge one thing based on another thing being impressive/unimpressive.

  1. ^

    Or at least I was when I was at my peak. It has been about 8 years since I've lived in Spain, and because I've used Spanish very little since then I assume that it has degraded a lot.

Hiring: How to do it better

Thanks for mentioning Tyler Cowen / Daniel Gross's Talent.

I'm upvoting this and commenting so that it gets high in the comments and so that there is an increased possibility of readers seeing it. While I haven't yet read the book Talent, it is on my to read list and it seems very relevant. (it is now a few ranks higher up on my to read list as a result of more than one person mentioning it in the comments on this post!) I also want to read it so that I can evaluate their arguments myself and judge how much I should update my opinions on hiring as a result. At face value, I do think that a lot of the research on hiring has been done on roles that are fairly standardized. That makes it hard to apply some of this research if you are hiring one operations manager at a small company, and the nature of the operations manager job is also very fluid.

As a more general thought, one of the challenges/frustrations I feel with a lot of social science, and especially a lot of evidence-based management is that there seems to be so much variation depending on context, such as one thing working well for low-skill jobs and another thing working well for more complex jobs. I really wish that there were fewer complicating and confounding factors in this kind of stuff. 🤦‍♂️

Hiring: How to do it better

As far as interviewing training and a bank of questions go, I strongly recommend training interviewers. One relevant anecdote is that the author of Work Rules! mentioning how at Google they created a bank of interview questions for interviewers to use, with each question intended to inquire about a particular trait. Interviewer compliance with the structure is hard, as interviewers tend to want to do their own thing, but at Google they designed a system in which the interviewer could choose questions from a set presented to them, and thus the interviewer still felt as if they were choosing which of the questions to ask the applicant. While they had a computer programmed system with lots of automation, it wouldn't be too hard  to put together a spreadsheet like this with a bunch of questions corresponding to different traits.[1]

Regarding sorting the "okay" from the "exceptional," I found the idea of this Programmer Competency Matrix helpful (I think it is originally from Sijin Joseph). While I've never run a hiring campaign for a programmer, I think that this template/format provides a good example of a fairly simple version for how you could differentiate the different levels of programmers, personal assistants, or any other role. If you want to get a bit more granular than a binary accept or reject, then building a little matrix like this could be quite helpful for differentiating between applicants for granularly.

I'd be happy to lend a hand or share my perspectives on hiring-related efforts at any point. 

  1. ^

    I copied and adapted these questions a few years ago, but I don't remember clearly where I got them from. I think it was some kind of a US government "office of personnel" type resource, but I don't recall the specific details.

Hiring: How to do it better

I think you are right. Like many things related to organizational behavior, I often think "in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king." So many organizations do such a poor job with hiring, even if we choose to merely adopt some evidence-based practices it can seem very impressive in comparison.

Hiring: How to do it better

I think that "dismissal" is a bit of a mischaracterization. I can try to explain my current stance on GMA tests a little more. All of the research I've read that link GMA to work performance uses data from 1950s to 1980s, and I haven't seen what tool/test the use to measure GMA. So I think that my concerns are mainly two factors: First, I haven't yet read anything to suggest that the tools/tests used really do measure GMA. They might end up measuring household wealth, or knowledge of particular arithmetic conventions, as GMAT seems to do. I don't know, because I haven't looked at the details of these older studies. Second, my rough rough impression is that psychological tests/tools from that era were mainly implemented by and tested on a sample of people. This sample doesn't seem particularly representative of humanity as a whole, or even of the USA as a whole.

My current stance isn't that GMA is useless, but that there are a few obstacles that I'd like to see overcome before I recommend it. I also have only a vague awareness of the legal risks, thus I want to encourage caution for any organization trying to implement GMA as part of hiring criteria.

If you have recommended readings that you would be willing to share, especially ones that could help me clarify the current concerns, I'd be happy to see them.

Hiring: How to do it better

TLDR: I agree with you. It is complicated and ambiguous and I wish it was more clear-cut.

Regarding GMA Tests, my loosely help opinion at the moment is that I  think there is a big difference between 1) GMA being a valid predictor, and 2) having a practical way to use GMA in a hiring process. All the journal articles seem to point toward 1, but what I really want is 2. I suppose we could simply require that all applicants do a test from Wonderlic/GMAT/SAT, but I'm wary of the legal risks and the biases, two topics about which I lack the knowledge to give any confident recommendations. That is roughly why my advice is "only use these if you have really done your research to make sure it works in your situation."

I'm still exploring the area, and haven't yet found anything that gives me confidence, but I'm assuming there has to be solutions that exist other than "just pay Wonderlic to do it."

reality just is very complicated. But I do think this means that the average hiring manager – or even the average hiring manager who is statistically literate – can't really get much useful information from these kinds of academic reviews.

I strongly agree with you. I'll echo a previous idea I wrote about: the gap between this is valid  and here are the details of how to implement this seem fairly large. If I was a researcher I assume I'd have mentors and more senior researchers that I could bounce ideas off of, or who could point me in the right direction, but learning about these topics as an individual without that kind of structure is strange: I mostly just search on Google Scholar and use forums to ask more experienced people.

Hiring: How to do it better

Regarding structured versus unstructured interviews, I was just introduced to the 2016 update  yesterday and I skimmed through it. I, too, was very surprised to see that there was so little difference. While I want to be wary of over-updating from a single paper, I do want to read the Rethinking the validity of interviews for employment decision making paper so that I can look at the details. Thanks for sharing this info.

I'm maximizing good, not my contribution to good

I like that you shared this thought. It parallels with my understanding of servant leadership, and the humility of it appeals to me. I do think that all of us (myself included) can get easily caught up in the ego of accomplishing things, of wanting others to respect us, of wanting to be admired. But I agree with you: if our goal is to make the world a better place, it doesn't really matter if I make it better place or if I spend my time allowing/enabling/supporting someone else to make it a better place.


Instead of "I'm trying to maximize the amount of good I accomplish" I'd love to see more people adopt the mindset of "I'm trying to maximize the amount of good accomplished."

Hiring: How to do it better

I'd be keen to collaborate on future posts you're thinking of writing or even putting together some resources for the EA community on some of the above

I'd be open to that. I don't have any posts like that on my docket at the moment, but I'll keep it in mind. If nothing else, I'd be happy for you to share a Google Doc link with me and I can use suggesting mode to  make edits on a draft of yours.

Hiring: How to do it better

I assume you've come across Schmidt's 2016 update to his '85 years' paper?

I haven't come across it, but this is just the kind of thing I was hoping someone would refer me to! Thank you very much. I've had many concerns about The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings, mainly about the data used, and I am very happy to see an update.

Load More