Working (6-15 years of experience)
5Joined Jun 2020


Thanks for this post, Dan. I work in headhunting for EA orgs, so please read these comments with that in mind!

  • I'd echo Ozzie's comment on transparency, and I'd want orgs to push back on me if they think what I'm doing is overstepping the mark into something like 'aggressive persuasion'.
  • (Naturally) I don't see my role like that, and whilst I wouldn't claim that I perfectly calculate the global impact of every potential job switch when considering reaching out to someone, nor is it a simple case of following a short-term financial incentive. Even from a purely selfish headhunter's perspective, I don't think a strategy of heavy convincing in order to fill a role would be productive in anything but the very short term.
  • I certainly consider the downsides for the potential losing employer if that employer's an EA or adjacent org. This is especially so if they haven't been there long, and/or would be making a  sideways move rather than advancing their career.
  • That said, I wouldn't want to rule out approaching employees of EA or adjacent orgs, to include extolling the virtues of the hiring org as I understand them. That sort of 'convincing' seems legitimate to me. As Habryka points out, people are capable of considering offers and incentives hiring organisations and headhunters might have, and host orgs are capable of counter-convincing.
  • So it seems to me that the key issue is what counts as legitimate or otherwise - obviously deception is wrong, but I'm not sure it's easy to draw the line between 'providing information' and 'convincing'. Do you have specific suggestions? I want to make sure I get this right, so would be keen to discuss with you - my email is 
  • FWIW, I agree that it's better to hire from outside of EA where possible, and I'm especially excited about bringing more mid-career talent into the community from 'outside'. What makes this difficult is that hiring managers often want to see evidence of 'value alignment' or 'cultural fit', one proxy for which is often 'working at an EA/adjacent org'.  EA-specific knowledge can also be helpful in a lot of roles. People already connected to this space are also much likelier to understand and be motivated to work on the weird causes that EA orgs pursue.

Thanks again for your post, and I look forward to hearing from you if you'd like to discuss further.

There seem to be some similarities here with how generalist careers go within the UK Civil Service[1].

There, you typically do 2-4 years in a role before moving onto something which is usually unrelated, at least in theme if not in role. For instance, in the FCDO, you might go from 3 years working on trade with India, to a new post working on Brazil's internal politics, before going to work on human rights at the UN. Sometimes people also go from working in policy roles, to comms, to HR etc., but that seems less relevant here. Some stay in a particular thematic area for much longer, or go back to things they've previously worked on - but that's the exception, particularly early in careers.

My sense is it's fairly popular amongst staff because you get to try out lots of things, meet more people, learn more (at least more broadly), move if you don't like a job/team, potentially travel etc. But there are some fairly obvious costs that might also apply to the Tours of Service described above:

  1. You lose subject-matter expertise. That's more obvious if it's 'India trade policy', but in the above jobs, this could be something like 'knowledge of the office contract' for the Office Manager role, or more general knowledge about CEA internal systems.
  2. You lose (other) productivity benefits of working in the same team for a while, like adapting to others' working styles, better communication etc
  3. You lose institutional knowledge e.g. 'we tried this before and it was a disaster for reason x'
  4. You lose the (more vague) value of having spent a lot of time thinking about problems related to the specific job - connected to 1-3, but slightly different
  5. You start again with relationships - external as well as internal ones
  6. You have other costs for onboarding staff, doing handovers to new staff etc.
  7. Some staff find it personally disruptive, so it's not good for their motivation.

Chris Kerr highlights some of the benefits, and includes helpful ways of making it work. You could also take my points 1-7 and see related benefits to each of them. And it sounds like it's also been useful in attracting staff that wouldn't otherwise have taken the job. So I don't mean to be positive or negative overall about EA Tours of Service. I think some of it depends on the employees, and the circumstances of the organisation/team at the time. But I wanted to highlight some of the potential downsides too, based on my somewhat-related experience. Hope that's helpful!

[In case it's not obvious, I'm not talking about the 'concrete outcomes' bit of this model - that seems like it should be the default for most roles anyway, especially within EA.]

  1. ^

    I'm mostly not talking about specialist roles, like lawyers, for example - though they also move between thematic areas quite a bit.