After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation

(I am writ­ing this post un­der a pseudonym be­cause I don’t want po­ten­tial fu­ture non-EA em­ploy­ers to find this with a quick google search. Ini­tially my name could be found on the CV linked in the text, but af­ter this post was shared much more widely than I had ex­pected, I got cold feet and re­moved it.)

In the past 12 months, I ap­plied for 20 po­si­tions in the EA com­mu­nity. I didn’t get any offer. At the end of this post, I list all those po­si­tions, and how much time I spent in the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess. Be­fore that, I write about why I think more posts like this could be use­ful.

Please note: The po­si­tions were all re­lated to long-ter­mism, EA move­ment build­ing, or meta-ac­tivi­ties (e.g. grant-mak­ing). To stress this again, I did not ap­ply for any po­si­tions in e.g. global health or an­i­mal welfare, so what I’m go­ing to say might not ap­ply to these fields.

Costs of applications

Ap­ply­ing has con­sid­er­able time-costs. Below, I es­ti­mate that I spent 7-8 weeks of full-time work in ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses alone. I guess it would be roughly twice as much if I fac­tored in things like search­ing for po­si­tions, de­cid­ing which po­si­tions to ap­ply for, or re­search­ing visa is­sues. (Edit: Some or­gani­sa­tions re­im­burse for time spent in work tests/​tri­als. I got paid in 4 of the 20 ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses. I might have got­ten paid in more pro­cesses if I had ad­vanced fur­ther).

At least for me, han­dling mul­ti­ple re­jec­tions was men­tally challeng­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, the pro­cess may foster re­sent­ment to­wards the EA com­mu­nity. I am aware the fol­low­ing state­ment is su­per in-ac­cu­rate and no one is liter­ally say­ing that, but some­times this is the mes­sage I felt I was get­ting from the EA com­mu­nity:

“Hey you! You know, all these ideas that you had about mak­ing the world a bet­ter place, like work­ing for Doc­tors with­out Borders? They prob­a­bly aren’t that great. The long-term fu­ture is what mat­ters. And that is not fund­ing con­strained, so earn­ing to give is kind of off the table as well. But the good news is, we re­ally, re­ally need peo­ple work­ing on these things. We are so tal­ent con­straint… (20 ap­pli­ca­tions later) … Yeah, when we said that we need peo­ple, we meant ca­pa­ble peo­ple. Not you. You suck.”

Why I think more posts like this would have been use­ful for me

Over­all, I think it would have helped me to know just how com­pet­i­tive jobs in the EA com­mu­nity (long-ter­mism, move­ment build­ing, meta-stuff) are. I think I would have been more care­ful in se­lect­ing the po­si­tions I ap­plied for and I would prob­a­bly have started ex­plor­ing other ways to have an im­pact­ful ca­reer ear­lier. Or maybe I would have ap­plied to the same po­si­tions, but with less ex­pec­ta­tions and less of a feel­ing of be­ing a to­tal loser that will never con­tribute any­thing to­wards mak­ing the world a bet­ter place af­ter be­ing re­jected once again 😊

Of course, I am just one ex­am­ple, and oth­ers will have differ­ent ex­pe­riences. For ex­am­ple, I could imag­ine that it is eas­ier to get hired by an EA or­gani­sa­tion if you have work ex­pe­rience out­side of re­search and hos­pi­tals (al­though many of the po­si­tions I ap­plied for were in re­search or re­search-re­lated).

How­ever, I don’t think I am a very spe­cial case. I know sev­eral peo­ple who fulfil all of the fol­low­ing crite­ria:

- They stud­ied/​are study­ing at post­grad­u­ate level at a highly com­pet­i­tive uni­ver­sity (like Oxford) or in a highly com­pet­i­tive sub­ject (like med­i­cal school)

- They are within the top 5% of their course

- They have im­pres­sive ex­tracur­ricu­lar ac­tivi­ties (like lead­ing a lo­cal EA chap­ter, hav­ing or­ganised suc­cess­ful big events, peer-re­viewed pub­li­ca­tions while study­ing, …)

- They are very mo­ti­vated and EA aligned

- They ap­plied for at least 5 po­si­tions in the EA com­mu­nity and got re­jected in 100% of the cases.

I think I also fulfil all these crite­ria. Here is my CV roughly at the time when I was do­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions. It sports such fea­tures as rank­ing 16th out of around 6000 Ger­man med­i­cal stu­dents, and 8 peer-re­viewed pub­li­ca­tions while study­ing.

Without fur­ther ado, here are all the …

Po­si­tions I got re­jected from in the last 12 months

I also in­clude the stage that I was re­jected at and how much time I had in­vested in the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess (Mostly work tests, but also re­search­ing or­gani­sa­tions, adapt­ing per­sonal state­ments, prepar­ing for in­ter­views. I am count­ing “lost pro­duc­tivity” here, so I am also count­ing travel time weighted at around 50%).

Po­si­tion – how far I got– how much time I in­vested in the ap­pli­ca­tion

Chief of Staff at Will MacAskill’s Office – stage 2/​2: didn’t get an offer af­ter 2 days work­trial – 32 h

OpenPhil Re­search An­a­lyst – stage 24 (?): re­jected af­ter con­ver­sa­tion notes work test – 22 h

OpenPhil biose­cu­rity early ca­reer re­searcher grant – stage 1/​1: no grant – 40 h

EA grants eval­u­a­tor (CEA) – stage 2/​X: re­jected af­ter first in­ter­view – 7 h

FHI Re­search scholar pro­gramme – stage 2/​3: re­jected af­ter sec­ond work test – 50 h

Effec­tive giv­ing uk re­searcher – Stage 33 (?): no offer af­ter what I think was the fi­nal in­ter­view – 15 h

LEAN man­ager – Stage 2/​?: re­jected af­ter work test – 6 h

CEA op­er­a­tions spe­cial­ist – stage 3/​?: re­jected af­ter in­ter­view – 9 h

CEA lo­cal group spe­cial­ist – stage 2/​?: re­jected af­ter work-test – 12 h

2x FHI aca­demic pro­ject man­ager (GovAI and re­search scholar pro­gramme) – Stage 2/​2: no offer af­ter fi­nal in­ter­view – 10 h each

Toby Ord re­search as­sis­tant – Stage 2/​?: re­jected af­ter work test − 12 h

Cen­ter for Health Se­cu­rity re­search an­a­lyst – ini­ti­a­tive ap­pli­ca­tion and in­ter­view, but they de­cided not to hire at all – 10 h

Nu­clear Threat ini­ti­a­tive re­searcher – ini­ti­a­tive ap­pli­ca­tion, never heard back – 1 h

CSER biose­cu­rity post­doc – stage 1/​? – 3 h

CSER aca­demic pro­ject man­ager – stage 1/​? – 2 h

GPI Head of Re­search Oper­a­tions – Stage 4/​4: No offer af­ter in-per­son work trial – 32 h

And here are ad­di­tional po­si­tions I ap­plied for but then did not com­plete the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess:

COO Ought – stopped fol­low­ing up af­ter first stage be­cause of visa is­sues – 4 h (but much more if you count me re­search­ing said visa is­sues)

Re­searcher Ved­dis – I de­cided not to go on the fi­nal stage work trial – 6 h

Pro­gram Man­ager/​In­ves­ti­ga­tor at BERI– I de­cided not to do the fi­nal stage work test – 15 h