Advice I've Found Helpful as I Apply to EA Jobs

post by Akash · 2022-01-23T18:53:10.605Z · EA · GW · 5 comments

Contents

  Honesty
  Meeting People
  Being Critical
  Other Advice
  Additional Resources
None
5 comments

Epistemic status: I have never had an EA job, and I only recently started applying for EA Jobs. This should not read as “here is gold-standard advice from someone with lots of experience in hiring” but rather “here is some advice that Akash has found helpful recently.”

As I apply to EA jobs (i.e., jobs at organizations that are explicitly aligned with the effective altruism movement), I am finding it helpful to keep in mind the following three pieces of advice:

  1. Be radically honest (don’t present the “best” version of myself– present the most accurate version of myself)
  2. Meet people (don’t assume that EA is a perfect meritocracy– recognize that many jobs result from networking)
  3. Be critical (don’t assume that every EA job is highly impactful– take time to compare the expected impact of different roles/orgs).

Honesty

Alice: My goal is to get a job at Google. In order to do this, I will study up on what Google wants from job applicants. I will prepare some answers and questions that Google wants. I will optimize for presenting the version of Alice that is most attractive to Google, so the recruiter is most likely to hire me.

Bob: My goal is to reduce x-risk. In order to do this, one plausible instrumental goal would be to work at 80,000 Hours. I’m not sure that this is the best instrumental goal; maybe someone else would be a better fit, or maybe my comparative advantage is somewhere else. I will prepare some answers and questions that most accurately reflect my current aptitudes and uncertainties. I will optimize for presenting the version of Bob that is most authentic, so both me and the recruiter can make an informed choice.

I used to think about job applications like Alice. In EA, I now think about job applications like Bob.

The key insight was realizing that getting a job is not my terminal goal. Getting a job is a means to some end (e.g., reducing x-risk, improving the lives of farmed animals). If someone else is a better fit for the job, I want the organization to know that.

I think this differs pretty meaningfully from non-EA settings. 

Overall, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the following: “If I’m not the best person for the role, I don’t want to be hired.” 

(Note that the more precise version of the claim is something like “If joining this organization is not the action that reduces x-risk the most , then I don’t want to join this organization.” This framing is technically more accurate (e.g., sometimes the 2nd-best person for the role should take it because the best person for the role could do something even more impactful). But this version is also a bit clunkier, so I use the simpler version in practice).

Personally, I have also found it easier and less cognitively demanding to be optimizing for “present myself accurately” than “present myself in the way that is most likely to impress X.” 

Meeting People

I used to think that meeting people was fairly important. I now think that it is extremely important. A few reasons I updated:

How to meet people:

Importantly, if you’re being honest when meeting people (i.e., authentically presenting your strengths and weaknesses), they’ll have better recommendations for you.

Being Critical

I used to think that getting a job at any of the well-respected EA orgs constituted a success story, and differences between EA jobs were relatively small. I now think that there are major differences between the expected impact of different EA jobs, and it’s important to spend time critically evaluating each option. A few reasons I updated:

Other Advice

A few other things I’ve been finding helpful (but didn’t make my “Top 3”):

Additional Resources

This post is not thorough. I focused on advice that I, personally, have been finding helpful, and that I think may be helpful to others.

There are many other resources out there. To highlight some:

I'm grateful to Jack Goldberg and George Stiffman for offering feedback on a draft of this post.

5 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by alexrjl · 2022-01-23T20:05:33.417Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really enjoyed this post, especially the explanation about honesty, and the hiring process being collaborative if your goal is aligned with that of the org you're applying for.

Replies from: MichaelA
comment by MichaelA · 2022-01-24T11:08:00.968Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Likewise - I listened to this via the Nonlinear Library but decided to open the Forum version just to leave a comment endorsing this post's advice.

Both this and Six Takeaways from EA Global and EA Retreats [EA · GW] contain a lot of things that I already believed were useful advice that not enough people are aware of and that I wasn't aware of a good concise clear writeup on, so I appreciate you (Akash) producing these posts :) 
 

comment by Vaidehi Agarwalla (vaidehi_agarwalla) · 2022-01-24T02:06:00.815Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

By coincidence I just published a similar post [EA · GW] to this and mentioned being honest / transparent in EA job applications. I think your examples are really helpful (and I've linked them to my post).

Replies from: Akash
comment by Akash · 2022-01-24T11:52:13.578Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, Vaidehi! I think your post is great; I have been encouraging myself & others to lower our bars for applying to things, and I love your points about testing personal fit & gaining information. I've linked your post at the end of mine.

Also, it seems that we posted within the same hour... neat that we were reflecting on similar topics at a similar time! 

comment by Eli Kaufman · 2022-01-27T21:34:03.122Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this useful advice, much appreciated!