The market for EA jobs is weird. The EA movement attracts some of the most talented, well-educated people from top universities. Yet the niche skills required for many roles mean even these incredibly talented people are often unable to get roles at EA organizations. It’s also strange in that people with skills that are highly or lowly valued in the free market may have completely different values to EA organizations. These are typically good people to hire as an EA org as their skills are massively undervalued by the market. Such as young university students working as group organizers, academics with a research background in a niche area, or philosophers.
A way to visualize this is each EA as having both an earning potential on the general market and impact earning potential in different roles. The typical EA org staff member typically has a high impact potential in the role they are offered and a higher variance in the market earning potential. With some EAs having huge general market earning potential and others closer to the average graduate.
On the EA job market, you are hired for your impact potential, not your market value. The value that provides to the world is the impact of that role minus the salary and organizational overhead involved. Thus at market rates, these roles can create huge social value.
Unfortunately, there is an incentive for EA organizations to compete for candidates based on their impact value rather than market value. Each organization can increase its impact by offering better incentives or salaries to attract the most talented EAs. So it is a good strategy to offer higher salaries and benefits to attract and retain staff that other similar organizations might hire. However, this almost inevitably leads to all organizations in a sector competing on this metric leading them to pay far higher wages for each staff member than they would have had had they corporated and not paid above market rate.
This situation is made even worse when we account for the non-monetary benefits that already exist at EA organizations. Such as a job that is inherently meaningful, working with like-minded colleagues, or status in the community. Many people are willing to take salaries well below market rates to acquire these and thus even paying the market rate at EA organizations would be overpaying for staff.
Beyond the obvious waste of the movement's financial resources, this dynamic also distorts the job market towards large better-funded organizations. So new organizations are put at a disadvantage, at a time when talented staff can make a huge difference to their long-term trajectory. Or even across cause areas where better-funded causes thus attract more talent and encourage motivated reasoning about which career paths are likely to be more impactful.
The original solution to this problem was first low levels of funding so that this sort of competition was not possible. Although this obviously comes at other severe costs to the movement! Secondly a social norm of high demandingness with roles at non-profits.
With increasing levels of funding for some causes or organizations in EA, the first constraint is mostly gone leaving us to rely on strong social norms to maintain value alignment. From my general observations, this seems to have failed in the EA job market at the moment. Many EA organizations offer entry-level salaries significantly higher than what candidates could earn elsewhere while also providing many non-monetary benefits (and what some have reported they would be willing to accept). This also occurs in more experienced positions where competition for some candidates with scarce in-demand skills leads organizations to inflate benefits. Although I should obviously note that this is only my own observation and may not be emblematic of the rest of the movement. I'd like to see actual research to test this concern. For example, conduct an anonymous survey about the job offers people accept at EA organizations, what they would have accepted and why they chose to work there over other organizations.
For those individuals that are most altruistic aligned, these higher salaries serve as a useful signal on which roles may be most impactful (given they trust the funder's evaluations and will donate most of their income anyway). However, most people are not so altruistic as to donate all their income above a certain threshold. So instead most of these higher salaries will be spent on personal goals or wasted entirely.
Clearly, this will not be universal, it will occur to different degrees for organizations, skill sets, and causes areas. Still, it is a worrying dynamic that I have seen emerging in the EA community particularly as more funding becomes available.
Finally, a few possible solutions to this problem based on how promising I think they are intuitively (I've done no formal evaluation of these):
- Grantmakers coordinate to set salaries formula for organizations. This would be ideal and allow grantmakers to research and set salaries across an area depending on cause area trade-offs of money to talent and productivity.
- EA organizations cooperate to offer salaries based on the same formula using the same idea above.
- Everyone working at EA organization takes The Further Pledge (already failed)