Hiring? Avoid the Candidate Bystander Effect

This post is for orgs that have the common problem of not getting enough candidates to apply.

What I observe

About once a week, I talk to an EA who says “I won’t apply to this org, better fit people will probably apply” or “I won’t apply to this org, I’m probably only slightly better than the alternative so it’s a tiny counterfactual”.

I hypothesize the “next best” is often also not applying

Since I hear this so often.

I hypothesize job ads often make this worse

Job ads often seem to forget that many EAs have impostor syndrome. They write things like “we only hire the best, even getting the 80th percentile instead of the 90th percentile would be so much less good for our org, which is why we aim so high!..” [this is not an actual quote]

What do I recommend employers do?

  • Look at your own job ad or hiring pitch and ask yourself how a candidate with impostor syndrome would read it.

  • Share this problem with your candidates, they probably don’t know about it.

  • Encourage candidates to apply regardless of very subjective assessments of their own skill. Here’s an example of a CEA job ad which tries hard to avoid this whole problem.

Does this happen with people who I think would get the job?

Yes, totally. It doesn’t seem correlated with skill as far as I can tell.

Is this the only reason EAs don’t apply?

No, but it’s one of the big ones.

Candidates who are reading this: Am I saying you should apply even if you think you’re not a good fit?

Long story. I hope this or this can help.


I hope this post uncovers a situation that is hard to see from the perspective of any individual employer or candidate, and that it lets you improve your hiring.

Have a low bar for reaching out