A guide to improving your odds at getting a job in EA

How to get a job at an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion

A lot of peo­ple want a job at an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion but it can be a frus­trat­ing and difficult pro­cess. This is in part due to harder to change fac­tors, such as very high num­bers of ap­pli­cants ap­ply­ing for the jobs, but I think it’s also in part due to can­di­dates max­i­miz­ing fac­tors differ­ently than what or­ga­ni­za­tions are look­ing for. This post, similarly to my pre­vi­ously writ­ten post on how to get a cause area into EA, is a guide to help peo­ple who want to get a job within an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion. There­fore, it echoes some points that have been made in other posts or com­ments be­fore. Of course, ev­ery EA or­ga­ni­za­tion will have differ­ent spe­cific hiring crite­ria, but I do think there are some gen­eral trends that, if fo­cused on, would help can­di­dates get more EA jobs (and spend less time ap­ply­ing for ones that are not a good fit). The in­for­ma­tion comes from speak­ing to EA or­ga­ni­za­tion staff in hiring po­si­tions and can­di­dates who have got­ten job offers at mul­ti­ple EA or­ga­ni­za­tions (~6 EA differ­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions). I am not say­ing these should be the nec­es­sary steps or the hiring crite­ria the EA move­ment should ap­ply. Rather, I am just try­ing to in­form peo­ple as to how it cur­rently works from an in­sider’s per­spec­tive. All of these steps take time, are not nec­es­sar­ily pos­si­ble for ev­ery­one, and hav­ing these fac­tors down does not guaran­tee a job. Nor does hav­ing them mean you will definitely not get a job—they just help to im­prove your odds over­all.

This post also fo­cuses on things that are more spe­cific to EA as op­posed to more gen­eral ad­vice that would ap­ply to any job.

Prin­ci­ples

  1. Prove you work abil­ity in the most similar con­text pos­si­ble.

  2. Know the or­ga­ni­za­tion, its area, and your pos­si­ble role within in it.

  3. Ap­ply for the jobs you think are the most im­pact­ful.

  4. Know how to do any kind of work to a high stan­dard.

  5. Be pre­pared to make com­pro­mises.

Prove you work abil­ity in the most similar con­text pos­si­ble

I think this is a huge fac­tor in many hiring pro­cesses. EA jobs, un­like many other jobs, do not com­pare very well to other kinds of work ex­pe­rience, and do not tie into any spe­cific aca­demic de­gree. How­ever, this does not mean that you can­not prove your work abil­ity the same way you would through your work ex­pe­rience for any other job. There are a few differ­ent ways for prov­ing this that or­di­nar­ily seem to work.

Internships

Many EAs are hired out of in­tern­ships (both paid and un­paid). You might have 10 years of ex­pe­rience in other non­prof­its and a PhD from Har­vard, and would never need an in­tern­ship in a differ­ent field, but in the EA field an in­tern­ship is a great way to start to prove you are great at work and it sets a much lower bar to hiring. I of­ten see can­di­dates who are ex­tremely im­pres­sive ap­ply for in­tern­ships and have offered jobs di­rectly af­ter the in­tern­ship to in­terns who have demon­strated a high level of work abil­ity. An in­tern­ship also gives you a much bet­ter sense of whether this sort of work is the work you want to do in the long term and if it feels like a good fit to you per­son­ally.

Volunteering

Not ev­ery­one has the time for a full time in­tern­ship, but vol­un­teer­ing is an­other big fac­tor that can put you on an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s radar. Per­son­ally, my first two EA job offers came from vol­un­teer­ing. If you vol­un­teer, you can show you abil­ity to work in a role very similar to what many jobs are ac­tu­ally like, but in a more limited con­text in terms of hours. Many or­ga­ni­za­tions, both nor­mal non­prof­its and EA or­gani­sa­tions, be­come more ex­cited to hire some­one af­ter they do some high qual­ity vol­un­teer work. If you are the best vol­un­teer an or­ga­ni­za­tion has had this year, it will of­ten re­sult in a job offer. Vol­un­teer­ing and in­tern­ships can also help your odds with EA or­ga­ni­za­tions other than the one you are vol­un­teer­ing at. Although it is still best to vol­un­teer/​in­tern for the or­ga­ni­za­tions you are most ex­cited to work for, as it will count for the most with the or­ga­ni­za­tion you are work­ing with.

In­de­pen­dent research

There is a lot of use­ful work that can be done out­side of spe­cific EA or­ga­ni­za­tions. Some­times, the hiring staff at an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion will know of some­one be­cause of a post they made on the EA fo­rum or due to a pre­sen­ta­tion they gave at an EA con­fer­ence. If you want an op­er­a­tions job and you wrote a blog post about the com­par­i­son of top on­line op­er­a­tional re­source courses then you are a per­son EA or­gani­sa­tions are in­ter­ested in talk­ing to. In­de­pen­dent re­search can work much like a port­fo­lio does in that it gives a sense of both your work abil­ity and the way you com­mu­ni­cate. Even if you took 6 months to write up a re­search post part-time, it will still show off a lot about the kind of work you might be able to do when hired full-time. Writ­ing an im­pres­sive EA fo­rum post is a good way to start and gives a hiring team a lot of in­for­ma­tion that a cover-let­ter, re­sume or in­ter­view would not provide.

Re­lated jobs ad­ja­cent to the di­rect EA move­ment

Have you worked for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that stands rel­a­tively close to the EA move­ment? For ex­am­ple, you may have worked for an ACE-recom­mended char­ity be­fore ap­ply­ing for a po­si­tion at ACE. Or you could have worked on in­no­va­tion for poverty ac­tion be­fore ap­ply­ing for a re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. Re­lated ex­pe­rience out­side the EA move­ment, par­tic­u­larly if there is con­crete work you can show­case based on it,will carry a lot more weight than strong grades or non-re­lated work ex­pe­rience. A de­cent heuris­tic to fol­low might be that any job posted on the EA face­book jobs board would be a step to­wards more “di­rect” and solely EA-fo­cused work.

Other

Have you been to a Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship or CFAR work­shop? Have you done a fel­low­ship at any of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that offer it? All of these op­tions are more like ex­am­ples rather than an ex­haus­tive list of how to prove your work abil­ity.

Know the or­ga­ni­za­tion, its area, and your role within in it

For many EA jobs and for an ex­tremely high per­centage of meta-EA or­ga­ni­za­tions you need to know a lot about both the EA move­ment, the spe­cific or­ga­ni­za­tion you are com­par­ing it to, and about your role within it.

EA movement

The EA move­ment is a large space and it takes a lot of time to get a sense of it all by read­ing the EA fo­rum, newslet­ter, and the var­i­ous blogs of re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions. Very few peo­ple who have only read Do­ing Good Bet­ter and seen the EA TED talks are hired by meta-EA or­ga­ni­za­tions. The bar re­gard­ing knowl­edge about EA is just set a lot higher. A de­cent heuris­tic for know­ing whether you are well-in­formed is whether you can write up the EA wikipe­dia page (from a knowl­edge per­spec­tive, not from a writ­ing abil­ity per­spec­tive). For an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is fo­cused on a spe­cific cause area, you will just need to fo­cus your own at­ten­tion also on that area, but for cross-cut­ting and meta-or­ga­ni­za­tions you will of­ten need to have a sense of each of their pri­or­ity cause ar­eas. Dur­ing our in­ter­views, we ex­plic­itly ask about cause se­lec­tion and why ap­pli­cants are pri­ori­tiz­ing that cause area. Hav­ing a strong an­swer to these ques­tions demon­strates that you are well-in­formed about Effec­tive Altru­ism, and that is truly a must for many roles.

The EA organization

How does this EA or­ga­ni­za­tion fit into the EA move­ment? What does it do well and what does it not do so well? What are the three or­ga­ni­za­tions most like it and how does this or­ga­ni­za­tion differ from them? What cause area does this or­ga­ni­za­tion think is the most im­por­tant?

All of these are ques­tions that strong ap­pli­cants have a sense of and weaker ones do not. It’s not ex­pected that an ap­pli­cant will know the in­ter­nal work­ings of an or­ga­ni­za­tion, but any­thing that is out there pub­li­cly, such as an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s blog, some can­di­dates will know well and oth­ers will have looked at only briefly. This is not to say that you need to have read ev­ery post ever pro­duced by ev­ery EA or­ga­ni­za­tion, but for the ones you are ap­ply­ing for I would gen­er­ally sug­gest read­ing and un­der­stand­ing their most re­cent 5 pieces of pub­lic con­tent at min­i­mum. Know­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion will also give you a sense of what they care about and are look­ing for. Do they do ex­tremely deep re­search into a small num­ber of top­ics? Or are they broader and work across a lot of ar­eas, putting out less pol­ished ideas ear­lier? What the or­ga­ni­za­tion does will give you a sense of what it’s look­ing for and if you are a good fit for it.

Know your role

Even more speci­fi­cally, know your role! If you’re ap­ply­ing for an op­er­a­tions role, what coun­try is that char­ity reg­istered in? If you are ap­ply­ing for a so­cial me­dia role, what does the char­ity’s cur­rent so­cial me­dia pro­file look like? What would be your plan if you were hired for this role? Of course, with­out in­sider in­for­ma­tion your plan will not nec­es­sar­ily be op­ti­mal (in fact, it is al­most guaran­teed it will not be, so don’t get at­tached to it), but know­ing how you would hit the ground run­ning is a huge benefit and will help an or­ga­ni­za­tion see how you could con­tribute right away.

Ap­ply for the jobs you think are most impactful

Few or­ga­ni­za­tions are in­ter­ested in be­ing some­one’s sec­ond choice. I gen­er­ally recom­mend ap­ply­ing for three EA or­ga­ni­za­tions that you think are of the high­est im­pact. Pick the three jobs you would be gen­uinely most ex­cited about. This will al­low you to get a deeper un­der­stand­ing of those three or­ga­ni­za­tions speci­fi­cally and al­lows you to fo­cus your time and at­ten­tion on build­ing to­wards these sorts of jobs. Or­ga­ni­za­tions do not gen­er­ally have a strict policy on this but they do gen­er­ally need you to be quite ex­cited about their work and have stronger un­der­stand­ing of their area than would be pos­si­ble to do with 20 differ­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions. The suc­cess­ful can­di­dates I spoke to of­ten ap­plied for a sin­gle job at the or­ga­ni­za­tion they were most ex­cited about.

Know how to do work to a high stan­dard

Task management

Most or­ga­ni­za­tions are look­ing for some­one who can put out work fast and at high level. Have you mas­tered a task man­age­ment sys­tem? Do you have a con­sis­tent pro­cess for get­ting work done? Or­ga­ni­za­tions will teach and re­fine these tech­niques, but the jobs are of­ten too com­pet­i­tive for some­one who has never con­sid­ered how to break down tasks into man­age­able parts and they will have a tough time com­pet­ing with some­one who has an ad­vanced and prac­ticed method.

Man­age­ment overhead

A re­source a lot of EA or­ga­ni­za­tions strug­gle with is man­age­ment time, so a big ques­tion arises re­gard­ing how good are you at get­ting tasks done to a high qual­ity in­de­pen­dent of heavy man­age­ment. How many times a week do you need to meet with a man­ager to get your work done? Once a week or 5 times a week? How of­ten do you get stuck on tasks and need some­one to help you come up with a solu­tion? If a can­di­date could be an em­ployee who can do great work with min­i­mal man­age­ment, the de­ci­sion to hire them be­comes a lot eas­ier, even with a stretched man­age­ment team.

Be pre­pared to make compromises

This fi­nal point might be the most im­por­tant one while be­ing one of the least talked about ones. With com­pet­i­tive jobs it will very of­ten will re­quire com­pro­mises. How im­por­tant is an EA job vs other fac­tors you are look­ing for in a job? Would you pre­fer to work from a spe­cific city rather than move? That is go­ing to greatly limit your job op­tions, and that is fine if that is the trade-off you are mak­ing, but it’s good to know what will be the re­sult. You might have to choose if you want a pres­ti­gious job at a nor­mal or­ga­ni­za­tion or an en­try level one at an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion. Or you might need to make a trade-off on the ex­act role you get (tip: tons of EAs want to be a highly paid pres­ti­gious re­searcher at an or­ga­ni­za­tion with a great work-life bal­ance). Broadly speak­ing, if you want an EA job, it is likely you are go­ing to have to make some other trade-offs to make that job hap­pen, and while the spe­cific trade-off will de­pend on the job, for most of them there still will be one or more.

Summary

Th­ese 5 prin­ci­ples will not guaran­tee you an EA job, nor do they perfectly re­flect ev­ery (or even any) spe­cific EA or­ga­ni­za­tion. Go­ing through this list like a check­list misses the spirit of it. It’s not so much a list of ques­tions that needs to be mem­o­rized as rather a num­ber of ques­tions a strong ap­pli­cant could an­swer well to. It also aims to give a broad sense of what kind of ac­tivi­ties to spend time on. It is always also worth not­ing what is not men­tioned here and how much time you are spend­ing on those sorts of things.

I also think that even with this ad­vice be­ing fol­lowed perfectly there will be cases where a lot of time will be spent on a dis­ap­point­ing out­come, as is true in many com­pet­i­tive job fields. How­ever, at least this out­line can help give a soft sense of what ar­eas might be looked at dur­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess that is more unique to Effec­tive Altru­ism.

Prin­ci­ples

  1. Prove you work abil­ity in the most similar con­text pos­si­ble.

  2. Know the or­ga­ni­za­tion, its area, and your pos­si­ble role within in it.

  3. Ap­ply for the jobs you think are the most im­pact­ful.

  4. Know how to do any kind of work to a high stan­dard.

  5. Be pre­pared to make com­pro­mises.