Working at EA organizations series: Why work at an EA organization?

This is the first post in a series about working at organizations in the effective altruism community. I’m interviewing members of many organizations in the community about their talent needs, ways to get involved, and how they hire. This seemed useful to me given that we increasingly hear about the community being talent constrained. The question of if and how to find a job at an EA organization is also bugging me personally. The interviews have given me a clearer view of how EA organizations think about hiring.

Since the posts and interviews are in the making, I appreciate ideas on how to make them as useful as possible.

Throughout these posts I’ll assume that you already have an idea of what the organizations are working on. This information is easy to get elsewhere.

I’ll start the series off with some quick thoughts about why one might want to work at an EA organization.

Why work at an EA organization?

Over the course of the summer and especially around EA Global I’ve heard some people present arguments for why they think EAs are sometimes biased against working at EA organizations. Here are some points I encountered:

  • People tend to underestimate how much career capital work at EA organizations brings you. The organization can be prestigious (think of 80000 Hours—one of the only non-profits funded by Y Combinator) or become very successful later on. Given the current growth of the EA movement, it may be quite impressive to have worked at an EA organization when they were still small. The work itself can be impressive as well: You’ll often have high levels of autonomy and perhaps even exceptional achievements. Lastly, EA organizations can give you access to a network of amazing people—talented EAs, high-net-worth individuals, policy makers, researchers etc.

  • High in exploration value and skill-building: Oftentimes you’ll be working on a diverse set of challenging tasks with high autonomy. Essentially, this is similar to working at a startup. Many EA organizations also have a strong focus on self-improvement and mentorship.

  • The replaceability argument may be overstated: The best candidate often turns out to be a significantly better fit than the next best. This also applies to the network and career capital you get, since these too depend on your skill at the job. Additionally, the positions can usually only be filled with EAs to make sure there’s a fit with the team, which makes you less replaceable. The replaceability argument also cuts both ways: If you earning to give for an organization instead of working for them, they will employ some EA who could otherwise do other useful things with their time. This favors working where your comparative advantage is, rather than trying to estimate how replaceable you are without considering all the complex knock on effects.

Work at an EA organization is also a great way to learn about EA and your future career. In terms of role impact, EA organizations can often make a particularly strong case, such as multiplying your impact by going meta. This question has to be answered for each organization separately.