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  • Don’t spend too long thinking about the pros and cons of applying to an opportunity (e.g., a job, grant, degree program, or internship). Assuming the initial application wouldn’t take you long, if it seems worth thinking hard about, you should probably just apply instead.

Key Points

  • It’s very easy to end up spending a similar or greater amount of time figuring out whether to apply than it’d take just to actually apply, given that it often takes just 30-120 mins to fill out the initial application form. You should probably just apply instead!
  • It’s very hard to predict what you’ll get offers for, so it’s usually better to just apply and find out what actually happens.
  • When you apply, or when you do each later stage of the process, you’re not deciding whether you’d want to accept the opportunity if offered - you’re just deciding whether to spend the time on whatever the first/next stage of the application process is.
  • And given that most applicants to most opportunities get rejected anyway and that it’s often hard to work out whether you’d want to accept the opportunity, you should probably not bother thinking much about that till you actually have an offer (or perhaps a many-hour work-trial task)..
  • You’ll also often get some benefits even from the application process alone (e.g., learning about your personal fit for the role, improving your career capital).
  • I suggest a heuristic of applying for ~20 things a year if you are looking for work and ~5 things a year even if you think you probably don’t want to / can’t take a new opportunity.

Epistemic status and authorship: This was drafted quickly by Michael and then edited and expanded by Akash and Michael. It mostly reflects Michael’s thinking, and parts of that thinking might be off. 

Apply to things!

If someone wants to test their fit for a given line of work or build their career capital, my key recommendation is usually to apply for lots of "actual" jobs, grants, degree programs, internships, or other such things. (See the final section for collections of opportunities to apply to.)

I think this is more useful than focusing on reading up on an area, doing independent projects, taking little courses, etc. It can make sense to also do the latter things, but that’s probably less good than just making loads of applications. So you should probably only do the other things on top of making many applications and if you happen to have extra time, rather than instead of making many applications.

Why am I such a fan of applying to things?

Applying to things often has good expected value, because: 

  1. You might actually get one of these opportunities, which could allow for a lot of testing of fit, building of career capital, and direct impact.
  2. You’ll get at least some evidence about your fit for that opportunity and for similar opportunities/paths
    1. The evidence comes from seeing what the work tests or interviews involve, seeing how you feel you did in the work tests / interviews and how much you enjoyed them, and seeing how far through the selection processes you get.
      1. To be clear, getting a single rejection provides only a small amount of data, since rejection is essentially the default outcome. But lots of rejections for a given type of role eventually provides a decent bit of evidence, as does getting far in one work test or getting an offer.
  3. You may build career capital from the selection process, even if you don't get or accept an offer. This career capital comes from:
    1. building your skills and knowledge during the work tests
    2. the hirers recommending you for other roles or connecting you with other people, even if they don’t make you an offer for their role at this time or even if you don’t accept it
    3. the hirers reaching out to you for other opportunities later (perhaps ones that are more entry-level, or after you’ve had time to build your skills more)

And the EV doesn’t have to be very high to make applying worthwhile, given that:

  • Early stages of selection processes tend to not take up much time
  • For most jobs, by the time you get to more time-consuming stages, the EV is probably higher, since now your odds of actually getting the job are better, the work test may be more useful for testing fit, etc.

How many things should I apply to, and how much time should I spend thinking?

My rough suggestion, essentially just based on what I did/do rather than lots of reasoning, is to:

  1. Apply for something like 20 opportunities per year when actively seeking work
  2. Apply for something like 5 opportunities per year even when planning to not leave your current role
    • Since those 5 things might turn out, on further reflection, to be worth changing your plans for, and/or you might learn a lot from applying or be able to defer an offer
  3. Have heuristics that help you quickly determine whether an opportunity probably meets the “top 20” or “top 5” criteria. Some examples include taking into account how likely you are to want the role, how good the role would be if so, how likely you are to get it, how time consuming the application process is in expectation, and maybe other factors.
  4. Then simply apply without any further thought whenever the answer seems to probably be “yes”, rather than trying to carefully consider each of those factors in any detail.
    • You don’t need to end up confident about whether an opportunity is worth applying for - you just need to make it fairly likely that you apply to most of the things you should apply for, that you won’t spend even longer on applications than you should (e.g., applying for 50 things is probably too much), and that you won’t spend too long deciding whether to make each application.
  5. Think harder (only if and when when you get either to long work tests or to an actual offer.

"20" and "5" feel pretty made up, but I feel pretty confident that the overall procedure is a good one.

What, specifically, am I suggesting not spending much time on?

I’m suggesting not usually spending much time on the following things unless either (a) you’ve gotten up to a many-hour work test or a job offer or (b) you’re doing these things mostly like “case studies” to learn about career paths rather than this individual role (see the following section):

  • Reading a lot about a given opportunity
  • Going to Q&As about the role
  • Talking to people about the role (e.g., people who work at the relevant org)
  • Thinking about your odds of getting the role, thinking about whether they’d want to accept the role (e.g., would they have to move and are they willing to? Would they enjoy the job?)

Spending lots of time on that before applying to an opportunity would essentially be spending lots of time: 

  • armchair reasoning about something you can more cheaply just gather actual data on
  • trying to inform a decision you probably won't end up getting/having to make anyway (whether to accept a role you currently have a low-ish chance of being offered)

What is worth spending time thinking about?

To be clear, there are some activities that look like “spending lots of time deciding whether to make each application” but that I do think are often worthwhile. These include:

  • Spending time working out what types of opportunities to focus one’s search on
    • E.g., should you in general be looking for roles at EA orgs, corporations, gov, academia, or elsewhere? In research or ops? In AI governance or animal welfare?
    • Thinking and learning about specific roles can be useful for this, as something like concrete case studies.
  • Spending time working out what hirers are looking for in cases where hirers do have things in mind that they aren’t telling people. Or spending time ingratiating yourself in cases where - unfortunately! - that will work on hirers.
    • Thankfully, both of those things will rarely be relevant for EA orgs, since they generally try to (a) make it as clear as possible what they’re after and (b) just see whether people can actually do well in work tests and things like that, rather than having their selection process confounded by “Who put the most effort into / had the most success with guessing our secret selection criteria and quirks?”
    • But it’s relevant for some other orgs, unfortunately.
  • Spending time thinking about which skills and aptitudes you want to develop (see e.g. here and here).

Miscellaneous additional points

  • One way to frame much of this advice is “Be more empirical and less theoretical - go and gather data rather than focusing on armchair reasoning”.
    • E.g., 80,000 Hours write “Many people try to figure out their career from the armchair, but it’s often more useful to go and test things in the real world.”
  • My guess is that hirers would generally be actively happy to get more applicants who are at least (say) 2% likely to be great fits and at least 10% likely to take the role if offered, rather than wanting such people to screen themselves out.
    • This is because such applications can be high EV from the hirer’s perspective, given how valuable it is when a person is a great fit and joins the org, and because evaluating each individual applicant at each individual stage tends to be quite quick for hirers (e.g., ~10 mins per 2 hour work test evaluated).
  • Don’t screen yourself out just because the org says they need you to start in a given month but you want a new job by 2 months earlier or could only start 2 months later, or something like that!
    • If you end up getting an offer, there’s a decent chance you’ll realize you actually can rearrange things to start earlier or later. There’s also a decent chance the org will turn out to be willing to rearrange things or wait for you so you can start earlier or later.
      • Again, this comes from how high value getting a good job and getting a good hire are for an applicant and an org, respectively.
      • Note that the “decent chance” need only be high enough to justify the small time cost of you applying and the org evaluating you.
    • You might even be able to defer the offer for much longer.
    • You might also end up politely declining an offer while also expressing appreciation and enthusiasm and asking if the org can reach out to you again after whatever time you might be available again.
  • Don’t screen yourself out just because you don’t have every single qualification. If you would be a good fit for some parts of the role, but not others, you might still be the best candidate for that precise role, or the org might end up wanting to shape the role somewhat to suit you. Let the application process help you figure out if you’d be a good fit.
  • Consider a wide action space. The space of possible career options is large—often much larger than people initially think. Don’t limit yourself to the first two or three job ideas that come to mind. The most impactful thing you can do is often not intuitive.
  • When in doubt, apply* provides advice that I mostly agree with and that overlaps with this post’s advice
  • People who find this post interesting might also be interested in the following notes and recommendations I collected previously:

You have hereby convinced me, O Wise One - but to what shall I apply?

Hard to say, as I don’t know you at all!

But some things you might want to check out are:

My thanks to Janique Behman and Sean Engelhart for feedback on earlier drafts of this post.

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Huge +1 to this post! A few reflections:

  • As someone who has led or been involved in many hiring rounds in the last decade, I'd like to affirm most of the points above, e.g.: it's very hard to predict what you'll get offers for, you'll sometimes learn about personal fit and improve your career capital, stated role "requirements" are often actually fairly flexible, etc.
  • Applicants who get the job, or make it to the final stage, often comment that they're surprised they got so far and didn't think they were a strong fit but applied because a friend told them they should apply anyway.
  • Apply to some roles even if you're not sure you'd leave your current role anytime soon. Hiring managers often don't reach out to some of their top prospects for a role because they have limited time and just assume that the prospect probably won't leave their current role.
  • If you apply to a role on a whim and then make it past the first stage, you might find that your interest in the role grows as a result, e.g. because it "feels more real" and then you think about what that role would be like in a more concrete way, and because you've gotten a positive signal that the employer thinks you might be a fit.
  • Just getting your up-to-date information in an employers CRM can be valuable. I am constantly trying to help grantees and other contacts fill various open roles, and one of the main things I do is run filters on past Open Phil applicants to identify candidates matching particular criteria. I've helped connect several "unsuccessful" Open Phil applicants to other jobs, including e.g. to a think tank role which shortly thereafter led to a very influential role in the White House, and things like that. Of course we also check our lists of past applicants when trying to fill new roles at Open Phil, and in some cases we've hired people who we previously rejected for the first role they applied to.
  • That said, it's helpful if you keep applying even if your info is already in a particular employer's CRM, both to indicate interest in a particular role and because your situation may have changed. I often think a prospect won't be interested in a role because, last I heard, only wanted to do roles like X and Y, or only in domain Z, or only after they finish their PhD, or whatever, and then sometimes I learn that 9mo later they changed their mind about some of that stuff so now they're open to the role I was trying to fill but I didn't learn that until after the hiring round was closed.
  • To support people in following this post's advice, employers (including Open Phil?) need to make it even quicker for applicants to submit the initial application materials, perhaps by holding off on collecting some even fairly basic information until an applicant passes the initial screen.

To support people in following this post's advice, employers (including Open Phil?) need to make it even quicker for applicants to submit the initial application materials

From my perspective as an applicant, fwiw, I would urge employers to reduce the scope of questions in the initial application materials, more so than the time commitment. EA orgs have a tendency to ask insanely big questions of their early-stage job applicants, like "How would you reason about the moral value of humans vs. animals?" or "What are the three most important ways our research could be improved?" Obviously these are important questions, but to my mind they have the perverse effect that the more an applicant has previously thought about EA ideas, the more daunting it seems to answer a question like that in 45 minutes. Case in point, I'm probably not going to get around to applying for some positions at this post's main author's organization, because I'm not sure how best to spend $10M to improve the long-term future and I have other stuff to do this week. 

Open Phil scores great on this metric by the way - in my recent experience, the initial screening was mostly an elaborate word problem and a prompt to explain your reasoning. I'd happily do as many of those as anyone wants me to.

Some quickly written scattered remarks on how some of these points have played out for me personally:

  • In 2019 I applied for ~20 roles of a very wide range of types and ambition levels. 
  • I ended up getting 2 offers, both for things that seemed really not like what I expected I’d be a good fit for, and both of which I wouldn’t have applied to if I had been screening myself out of things that seemed not clearly “me-shaped” or that I wasn’t confident I’d want to accept offers for. 
  • In one case, I got the offer because the org decided they should change what they’re after to suit me. 
  • Upon reflection, I realized both of the things I got offered were things I’d be happy to accept.
  • So my predictions about which jobs I was most likely to be offered were wrong, and trying to predict what I’d want to accept would’ve been mostly a waste of time (since I didn’t get most offers) and may have misguided me (since my first impressions about these two roles were off).  
  • The role I took helped me ultimately progress to roles more like what I’d originally been aiming at.
  • Via many of these ~20 selection processes, I also learned things about my skills and interests, about various roles, and about various topics, and “got on people’s radars”, in ways that paid off later.
  • I have also now repeatedly been asked to apply to more senior roles at some orgs that turned me down quickly, or even evaluated grant applications from them. This is illustrative of the point that each rejection provides only a small amount of data, and that one should be wary of giving up too early on a particular career path.
  • I got to the end of one selection process around July but was ~unwilling to leave my current job till the end of the year, which contributed to me not getting an offer for that role. But I'm pretty sure the org wasn't upset about this and didn't feel I'd wasted their time, and then a related org with an overlapping hiring committee invited me to apply to a similar role with a later start date, and that was one of the 2 things I ended up being offered. This is illustrative of the point that it can be worthwhile to apply to things even when you probably can't / don't want to take a new role early enough.

I had a decision and someone sent me this. Thanks for writing it.

One pretty mild but countervailing consideration that a friend raised to me is that it can be psychologically taxing to drop out of an application process, & this might skew your decision-making.

I know myself and know that I don't like disappointing people (or, doing things that I imagine will disappoint people); so much so that I might end up dropping out later than is optimal, or not drop out at all until the final stage.

It's hard to tell people no (more so for some personality types than others!), and if you know this to be true about yourself that's a (weak) reason in favour of not putting yourself in situations where you'll need to say no if you later decide the job isn't right for you.

Overall, very much agree with the direction & message of the post!

Yeah, that seems a fair point. 

One thing I'd say in response is that, as a person who's been on multiple hiring committees and evaluated many grant applications, I'm pretty confident hirers and grantmakers would be excited for people to apply even if there's a decent chance they'll ultimately pull out or decline an offer! 

E.g., even if someone has a 75% chance of pulling our or declining, that just reduces the EV for the hirer/grantmaker of the person applying by a factor of 4. And that probably isn't a very big deal, given that hirers and grantmakers typically don't have to spend long on each application unless someone has a pretty good shot of being worth hiring/funding (in which case the EV is then fairly good). 

I'm aware that feelings of aversion are not always easily dispelled by logical arguments, so I'm not expecting this comment to totally fix the point you raise. But I'd guess it'd be somewhat helpful to make it more widely known/salient that (I think) hirers and grantmakers are often quite happy to have someone make somewhat speculative applications and then see what happens, and will be fine with just the fact that ex ante this was a good move.

Thanks for sharing your perspective from the hiring & evaluation side!

FWIW I already had some belief of this shape, which is why I added the caveat 'things that I imagine will disappoint people' - some part of me knows that the hirers are very unlikely to actually care, but another part worries & feels aversion to this.

I was somewhat prepared to disagree with you, because applying for jobs does take a lot of time, but when I saw your concrete recommendations (20 applications a year if you're looking, 5 if you're not) I've changed my mind.

I think I'm fairly selective about which jobs I apply for but I would totally agree with those numbers! Perhaps this is one of those situations where some people (like me) need to reverse the headline advice that's given.

And having read through the whole thing, including your comment, I think this article is really useful - thanks!

MichaelA gave me the TL;DR of this advice in a 1 on 1 session at EA Global Reconnect last year and it has been quite valuable. I haven't applied to quite so many roles as recommended (mostly due to the demands of my PhD), however, I applied for more than I otherwise would have and got a couple of interviews that I was surprised by and got some valuable information out of the process.

Some additional points:

  • Getting to the interview stage and asking something along the lines of "was there an element of my experience/skillset that was particularly important in me progressing in the hiring process" can give you surprising and/or valuable information about the value of your experience/skills in the context of that role/area of work.
  • I've found keeping a single document with all of my application responses to be an efficient way to reuse or repurpose past responses and cut down the application time and effort. It also helps me short-circuit my propensity to aim for perfection in a response (and get stuck iterating on it for diminishing returns) because I can look at a past response and say 'well it was good enough for that application so it will do here' (even more so if I progressed in the hiring process for that application). This has saved me a lot of time.

Thanks for this post! It is exactly what I needed to read. However, isn't risky to make an application, receiving an offer and then rejecting it? Would the hiring committee give an offer to someone who re-applied to the opportunity he/she previously declined? I would really like to know more about this. 

Two more things came to mind that have been or would’ve been helpful for me:

  1. Talking with (many!) friends about applications and rejections can be very reassuring. I was afraid that if I get a rejection, friends would look down on me and would not want to associate with me anymore. But it turned out that they, too, had gotten rejections before and that it won’t change anything about our friendship if I get a rejection.
  2. I once prepared for several months for an interview that I didn’t even end up having at all. That was a big waste of time, and I imagine failing an interview after having prepared for it so hard probably poses a greater risk of harmful psychological long-term effects too.

I like this advice and plan to follow it myself. 

I'd like to note though, that one part of my brain insists that this approach increases "false positive hires", where there is some probability for every application of the employer selecting me for a role someone else would be more suitable for, reducing counterfactual impact.

Spending time to figure out if I consider myself suitable instead of just applying would reduce this probability. 

"Just applying" is likely still be the optimum default for the community as a whole by reducing false negatives (people not applying for roles they end up being a superior fit for compared to others) and accepting the false positives. Additionally, the false positives seem to have less downsides as they can be ideally identified quickly, with the false negatives not having a feedback loop to identify this counterfactual loss.

I think this is the right advice for most people here. However, I think a small percentage of people may over update on this advice in the following dimension. Particularly if we are applying for a job with an impactful/EA employer, we don’t want to waste their time and flood their applications process.

I suggest it’s worth doing at least 15 minutes of research about each employer, check their basic About Us page et cetera, before you apply or do an informational interview.

That said, I think most people here already do far more than this, so the above ‘steer’ is in the right direction.

I basically just think it's a bad idea to say "we don't want to waste [evaluators'] time and flood their applications process" (even with your caveats). I think there's only a small kernel of truth to this in practice, and that the statement is far more likely to mislead than enlighten people. 

To elaborate:

  • If an application is clearly bad, then it costs very little time from the hirer or grantmaker or whatever, if they have a good process. 
  • If the application is good but the person might pull out of the role or decline an offer later, I think that's probably still a good bet ex ante too; if the person is willing to put the time into each application stage, then that probably means there's a high enough chance they would accept the role that evaluating them at that stage is worth the hirer/grantmaker's time. 
  • I do think it will often make sense to spend at least 15 minutes on basic research, at least if you don't have "background knowledge" on the org/funder/opportunity. 
    • E.g., I think some EA Funds applicants clearly haven't done that and don't have "background knowledge" on what kind of thing EA Funds is probably are, and that combo is a problem. 
    • But that's hardly a "wasting evaluators time" problem because such applications tend to be easy to quickly reject; it's more so a problem of the applicant wasting their own time, or being much less likely to get funding than they could've. 
    • And I think that particular problem matters less for job applications because those have far fewer "degrees of freedom"; you're just seeing how you do in a crafted selection process for a given role, not proposing any project you want and responding to some very open prompts.

I basically just think it's a bad idea to say "we don't want to waste [evaluators'] time and flood their applications process" (even with your caveats). I think there's only a small kernel of truth to this in practice, and that the statement is far more likely to mislead than enlighten people.

I'm not saying we telegraph "don't waste our time", and this should not be conveyed in broad communications obviously. But here in the EA forum we can afford to be nuanced and subtle, and think about the whole ecosystem ... I said "we don’t want to waste their time and flood their applications process." ... (emphasis added). And maybe "waste" is 40% too strong a word; just consider 'it is a potential cost.'

I also think that ‘self filtering’ (for the right reasons) is sometimes useful to the ecosystem, as we know vetting is hard. Often it goes too far.

But I don’t want us to throw the baby out with the bathwater and move to a heuristic of ‘just apply to everything and let the other side sort it out’.

Because there are real costs on the other side;

  • perhaps not mainly the actual time spent on the ‘don’t think’ (DT) applications,
  • but because a large volume of applications makes it harder to spend time on the high-value applications
    • ... and ‘filtering out the DT applications’ will usually lead to some good applications being mistakenly filtered out. This type-1 error can be minimized by good processes, but there is always some tradeoff (see 'precision versus recall' in classification problems/ML)

I think the self filtering is particularly useful where

  • You have strong information about yourself that is not easy to see on a CV or even in work tasks
  • Particularly where this is of the nature “I could almost surely not be able to accept a job in X field/Y org because of a strong overriding reason”

In such situations it may be very hard for the employer/funder to detect these things through your application and work tasks. Furthermore, if they are fully compensating you for the work-tasks, and encouraging you, this may not cause you to want to self-filter along the way.

This falls closely to my thoughts on not overcorrecting on ‘imposter syndrome’ (IS).

This may be an info hazard, so consider only reading it when others have had a chance to reply and correct my mistakes.

But I don’t think it is an info hazard. My intuition is rather that it’s a very common consideration that already leads many people not to apply to EA jobs in the current environment. Also note that it only applies to EA jobs. I suppose that this article is not only about jobs at EAish organizations.

Tl;dr: A slightly adapted version of the replaceability argument that has gone out of fashion ~ 5 years ago. The quick version of my algorithm goes: If you’re unusually likely to survive, stay motivated, do something impactful without the job, don’t apply; otherwise apply.

I’ve been doing charity stuff for about 12 years now and don’t feel a decrease in motivation even though there’ve been stretches when I was almost alone in my mission. (Though I have become more chill, but I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.) I don’t plan to have kids; I’m sort of financially secure; I have health insurance; I don’t have any debilitating psychological problems; etc. Most of the psychological and environmental factors that lead or force people to turn away from EA are well-aligned in my case.

That seems rare to me. Financial problems are a big reason among my friends to turn away from EA or at least to take a few years break to earn money. (Health and psychological problems are also very common among my friends, but those don’t influence this argument.)

At the same time I have a really high opinion of all these friends. Maybe half of them are probably smarter than me or otherwise more qualified or better suited for various jobs.

So if I applied for EA jobs, I guess the probability that I’d get rejected is high, but  that’s really the only upside of applying. The worst thing that could happen is that I get an offer, because if I take it, one other person (or a bit less than one person in expectation) is not getting the job. And that person is more likely than me to depend on the structure and the social environment of the workplace for their psychological health and motivation, and more likely than me to depend on the salary to be able to maintain their altruistic lifestyle.

So the person I would replace at an EA job is more likely than me to either give up on EA or be forced back into the industry for money reasons. Worse: If I apply for jobs in the AI safety space, I’m likely to replace people who have a high risk of going to AI capabilities labs to have a vastly negative impact.

Then there’s also the problem that interview processes are said to be fairly unreliable. So even if the person I replace goes on to find another high-impact job where they don’t replace anyone in a bad way, maybe the interview process was wrong and I’m actually worse at the job than they would’ve been. So I’d be spending a lot of my lifetime on this job while having a negative impact. Even if the interview process was correct and I was the best applicant, maybe I was the best applicant by a margin of 5%. So even with all these rosy assumptions, I’m still just generating a minimal positive impact. (But really I can’t imagine that I’d be in the 95th percentile or so among the sorts of awesome people who apply for EA jobs. I would assume such an extreme evaluation to be a fluke just on the basis of its extremeness.)

Conversely, I can look at all the awesome people who are doing AI safety research. I can wonder who of them would be honing some potentially dangerous AI if I had applied to enough jobs to have replaced them so that they reached the end of their runway and had to fall back on their career plan Z to pay the bills.

But there are also jobs that create capacity. I imagine ops people, including CEOs and other managers, create more capacity than they absorb. So that’s probably more robustly good. Hence why I’m excited about charity entrepreneurship.

A simpler version of this replaceability argument used to be very common. But then 80k put out some articles that argued against it in the context of harmful jobs, replacing people who go on to do even greater things, etc., and it was forgotten about. But I never considered working for a tobacco company anyway, and the people I see being replaced don’t go on to do great things elsewhere but rather run out of money and end up in dead-end industry jobs. So in my mind, the old argument still applies as it always did.

What am I not getting here?

Personal note: I have a ton of anxiety around rejection. The job rejections I’ve gotten 5+ years ago still fill me with shame and I wish I could hide them from the world, make everyone forget about them, or erase them from the timelines. (Though I don’t endorse that impulse.) So it’s easily imaginable I’m biased about this. Then again I did manage to power through at the time and applied for jobs because they were ETG jobs where I don’t run into the above risks. If I had the conviction that it’s the right thing to do, I think I could’ve pushed through that barrier again. So I think the key question really is, What am I not getting here?

The last 18 months I have applied to 9+- roles at a company I am very interested in and received rejections for 6 roles. 4 roles are under review. I reached out to a recruiter and he said the hiring managers expressed no interest to interview me. Should I stop applying at that company? I am afraid I may be annoying the recruiters if continue to apply to their jobs after so many rejections. What do you think?

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Hi Richard, quick reactions without having much context:

  • If you mean this is all one company, this sounds like putting too many eggs in one basket, and insufficiently exploring. 
    • I think it's generally good to apply to many different types of roles and organizations
    • Sometimes it makes sense to focus in mostly on one role type or one org. But probably not entirely. And not once one has already gotten some evidence that that's not the right fit. (Receiving a few rejections isn't much negative info, but if it's >5 for one particular org or type of thing then that's probably at least enough evidence that one should also apply to lots of other things and not spend lots of further time on this one thing.)
  • I'd be much less focused on "am I annoying them?" than "Am I spending too much of my valuable time on this one type of thing, and also potentially missing lots of other better-fitting things elsewhere?"

One company. You are right about too many eggs in one basket. I'm expanding my search to more companies and focusing on operations roles.

I learned recently my resume is too generic, not targeted enough to the roles and needs quantifiable accomplishments.  

I'm updating...Thank you.

I think that this isn't a useful way of looking at the situation and doesn't match the reality well. I don't have time to fully elaborate on why I think that, but here are brief points:

  • The difference between the first and second choice applicant in terms of their fit for the role can often be quite large (in expectation)
  • The person who would've been picked if the top ranked person didn't apply or turned the job down can still probably go do something else.
    • This in fact very much happens; quite often the people who nearly get an offer also get another cool offer at a similar time, and that other offer is probably a better fit for them. 
    • Also sometimes an org will help "near-miss candidates" find other opportunities (e.g., recommending them for things)
    • People should probably be applying to many things, which helps with this
  • A decent fraction of the time, an org just won't hire someone at all if no applicant meets some high bar, or will hire an extra person if an extra person meets the high bar
    • I've observed both
  • My understanding is that unstructured interviews don't have much validity or reliability, but structured interviews are better, and that will almost always be only one step of a multi-step process anyway (maybe alongside 2-3 work tests, a bit of weight on a CV, and reference checks). The process as a whole still has noise and probably bias (e.g., maybe screening harder than is ideal for people with prior EA or cause-area knowledge), but it's probably far more reliable and valid than guesswork, and reliable and valid enough to still create substantial expected differences between the impact of the top ranked people taking the role and the impact of the next ranked people taking the role. 
  • Even "individual contributor" roles like researcher, as opposed to ops or manager type roles, can still help scale up an org or field and help new people get in. E.g., researchers could do distillation or disentanglement work that makes it easier for other people to get up to speed or find out where to contribute.

An alternative decision algorithm:

  1. If you’re otherwise unusually likely to turn away from EAish stuff – i.e. reach the end of your runway or burn out – just apply. Probably even if you’re just at an average level of risk.
  2. If you can see yourself turning down an awesome offer because you disagree with the result of the interview process, apply a bit more liberally than otherwise.
  3. When prioritizing between positions, assign:
    1. 1000x weight to completely idiosyncratic high-impact projects (regardless of whether they’re your ideas or someone else’s) that no one else would otherwise pursue for a long time,
    2. 100x weight to relatively neglected roles in the community (say, because they require a rare combination of skills or because the org is new and fairly unknown),
    3. 10x to any capacity-creating kind of role to reduce the risk that they may not find anyone, and
    4. 1x to any other role.

Thank you for taking the time to write up the summary!

  1. Possibly. I’ve only hired for two roles so far (using a structured process). In one case there were clear candidates 1, 2, and 3+, and while 2 might’ve just had a bad day, we made offers to 1 and 2 anyway. In another case, though, we had two, or possibly three, candidates tied for the top spot. Two, we thought, would be more pleasant to work with while the third one seemed to have the stronger technical skill. We didn’t know how to trade that off and ended up making the offer to the one with the stronger technical skill. I have no idea whether that was the right call.
  2. Yes, that’s helpful for mitigating the worst-case risks. We also did that in the second case. It still seems weak though. I imagine that in most cases they’re not able to help the other candidates very much. We weren’t either afaik.
  3. Yes, that’s also a system I’ve encountered, and I love it! That’s a strong reason in my mind to apply somewhere after all. But I don’t fully trust it.
    1. Even if an organization has enough funding for this system, they may not have enough management capacity.
    2. They may still have a hiring goal, and upon reaching it will wind down the effort they put into hiring. That frees up resources at the org at the expense of missing out on an even better candidate. The hiring process is hopefully short in comparison to the time that the person will stay at the org, so the second probably has more leverage.
    3.  I’d be replacing .5 or .2 people, which is much better, but no where near an ops job that creates capacity.
  4. Okay, that’s reassuring, but see my point 1. Then again most EA interview processes (e.g., the CLR one that Stefan described in detail a few years back) are more sophisticated than ours was. A good interview process is another minor but valuable mitigation in my mind.
  5. Good point, but these jobs are probably in higher demand than ops jobs in EA, so the counterfactual effect is milder.

I think one crux might be that if I want to dedicate the next 5–10 years of my life to something, I have a higher bar than just “We’ve taken several precautions to make it less likely that you’ll have a vastly negative effect with your work.” Those precautions are invaluable of course, but there are better alternatives for applicants.

It also take a very particular kind of mental fortitude to apply for 20+ roles, and when eventually you do get an offer, to turn it down because you think you’re likely not the best candidate. That seems like such a hard decision to make, especially if the job is really awesome, fun, and high status.

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