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This is a Draft Amnesty Week draft. It may not be polished, up to my usual standards, fully thought through, or fully fact-checked. 

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This is a Forum post that I wouldn't have posted without the nudge of Draft Amnesty Week, and is indeed my first ever forum post. Fire away! (But be nice, as usual)

In Autumn 2016, as a first year undergraduate, I discovered Effective Altruism. Although I don’t remember my inaugural meeting with EA, it must have had a big impact on me, because in a few short months I was all in. At the time, I was a physics student who had grown up with a deep - but not yet concrete - motivation to “make the world a better place”. I had not yet formed any solid career ambitions, as I was barely aware of the kinds of careers that even existed for mathsy people like me - let alone any that would make me feel morally fulfilled. When I encountered EA, it felt like everything was finally slotting together. My nineteen year old brain was buzzing with the possibilities ahead.

But by the following summer, barely a single fraying thread held me to EA. I had severed myself from EA and its community.

Several years on, I have somehow found myself even more involved in EA than I was before (and, once again, I’m not fully sure how this happened). Now, I work in an EA job, engage with EA content, and even have EA friends (!). I genuinely believe that if I had not left EA when I did, then I wouldn’t be able to describe my current relationship with EA in the two ways I do now: sustainable and healthy. Reflecting back on this transition, I have three key takeaways, specifically aimed at EA-aligned grads who are making their entry into the workforce.


  • These reflections probably do not apply in all cases. Most likely, there is variation in applicability by cause area, type of work, person, organisation, etc. This post is from my own perspective. For context, I work in operations.
  • None of my commentary below is intended as a criticism of any specific org or institution. I simply hope to open people’s minds to paths which go against what is seen as the default route to impact for many EAs coming out of university.

(1) Skill building >> impressiveness factor

My reservations with elite private institutions

I often hear career advice in the EA space along the lines of:

“Aim for the most impressive thing that you can get on your CV as quickly as possible, and by impressive we mean something like working somewhere elite in the private sector.”

I disagree with this advice on two levels:

1. Effort pay-off??

Emphasising the impressiveness-factor of a career move shifts focus away from what actually should be the priority: the skills gained.

During my time away from EA, I saw many of my non-EA peers seek extremely prestigious roles at elite institutions - think Google, Goldman Sachs, PwC, and so on. Something that really struck me was how competitive, high-effort, time-consuming, and stressful the hiring rounds for these jobs were. And if they were lucky enough to beat the huge amounts of competition and get the job, yeah it would look great on their LinkedIn - but the tradeoff was often working long hours in a pressure-cooker environment, in a role that sometimes involved a high proportion of donkey work.

The bias towards prestigious-sounding jobs is widespread across society, so it is no surprise that this has also proliferated EA. Among EAs, I suppose, the allure of such jobs is based on the assumption that the more prestigious an establishment, the better they will train you due to having greater resources.

But think about it this way: given how much time, effort and (as you are probabilistically likely to get rejected) heartbreak goes into securing one of these elite jobs, there’s a high bar to guarantee the effort pay-off is worth it. If your prestigious job also has long hours and stressful conditions to boot, then the effort better really be worth it.

My argument here isn’t that working in prestigious institutions will prevent you from developing a good skill set. But there are fantastic opportunities to complete exciting or challenging projects (and thus gain a great set of skills early on in your career) at orgs or companies that most people wouldn’t have heard of. In a small, less established org, it may even be easier to quickly build skills and have a substantial impact on the org because so much low-hanging fruit is still up for grabs. This might look like: winning over a new major client, coding a new game-changing feature for the org’s website, suggesting and then helping to implement new ways of working to improve efficiency, helping the org to expand its activities or grow its team, etc. etc.

So, if you find yourself laser-focused on a role in an elite establishment, I would urge you to list the things that draw you towards this particular job. Are there particular skills you could only develop there, or specific resources you wouldn’t otherwise have access to? Do you believe they offer unique career development opportunities? Or, after honest reflection, are you mostly excited by the prospect of having the word ‘McKinsey’ on your CV?

2. I bargain with the reader

Ok, suppose you read the above and still hold the belief that working for your preferred Elite Institution™ secures you the very best skillset possible that cannot be achieved elsewhere. Even so, I still suspect that you could gain 80-90% of the same skills at somewhere significantly less prestigious that is less competitive to get into and less stressful to work at. I would rather have a world with far more people each achieving a fraction of the impact of the top performing EAs than large numbers of people giving up on high-impact careers after 30 rejections from what they feel is THE best of the best. It’s great to be ambitious, but you need to understand what this means for you as an individual. Maybe it is JP Morgan. Maybe it’s an org that makes people ask “sorry, where?”. It’s ok either way. (I cover the issue of approaching rejections and evaluating your ambitions in more detail shortly.)

My reservations with joining an EA org fresh out of university

Many people in EA see working for any EA org as prestigious, regardless of what their job actually involves. If you are a graduate with little real world work experience, you are a less attractive candidate for a hiring manager no matter how deeply embedded in the EA community you are. Unfortunately, we are not owed jobs in return for years of engagement in EA - knowing the lingo and the lore does not entitle us to an exciting job with high impact.

So what should you do? Just take one of the entry-level grad jobs at an EA org? I recommend thinking twice about this. If you read the job descriptions of many entry-level grad roles at EA orgs, they essentially list the tasks that no one else wants to do at that org because they are too boring.[1] Think: managing an inbox, ordering food for the office, sometimes even doing people’s laundry for them (??). These tasks don’t generally cultivate the impactful, varied skill set that early stage career EAs should be focused on building; they mostly foster task-prioritisation abilities.

I think a more well-rounded skill set could typically be developed much faster at a less prestigious non-EA organisation. Outside of EA, where you will find a much bigger job market, it is often easier to find entry-level roles that don’t centre around mundane tasks.

Taking this into consideration, my opinion is that entry-level EA positions often aren’t the best move in terms of career development, offering less overall career capital than mainstream grad roles on most dimensions (aside from the opportunity to rub shoulders with more senior EAs - which, to be fair, is not to be underestimated as a longer term impact-booster).

To add insult to injury, much like the elite private-sector options described above, they are also often very competitive, with lengthy application processes. Therefore, I see these options as giving you better short term impact, but lower career capital pay-off. I suspect your individual impact over the medium term would be lower in such roles.

The upshot is: I recommend only choosing this career entry route if you are someone for whom working exclusively at EA organisations is incredibly high on your priority list.

(2) What is job seeking? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me (no more)

As I have already highlighted, many of the classic job market entry routes for EA grads have a very large pool of high quality applicants. This makes it incredibly difficult to stand out. If this is your chosen path, your chance of repeated rejection is high.  

Some people have the personality type to brush off this repeated rejection, not take it personally, and move on largely unaffected. Others don’t. It’s ok and completely legitimate if you are someone who finds themselves in that second category.

For those who take rejection really hard, you have two options:

a) You could work on developing a tougher skin and just keep applying to competitive positions. For me, in my most recent round of applications,[2] I managed to shield myself from the emotional impact of rejection by going into the process expecting, by default, to receive a lot of rejections. Rather than seeing a rejection as a poor reflection on my abilities, I was able to shift the narrative: any positive step (like progressing to a second round) was a bonus and a good sign, even if it ultimately ended in rejection. The key to this mindset was acknowledging that I could hold two truths concurrently:  I am a competent worker that people will want to hire, but at the same time, there are other incredible applicants vying for the same positions as me. Accepting that the strengths of other candidates did not diminish my own value made the process a lot more manageable for me.  

 b) If this is not something you feel you can school yourself into thinking - because this is definitely easier said than done(!) - you could accept that rejection is something you find exceptionally difficult, and adjust your ambitions accordingly. I have heard multiple accounts of EAs describing how devastating they have found career rejection [for some written examples, see here, here, here]. It’s ok if you factor your experience of rejection into your decision making process when choosing where to apply. Of course, I get the whole hits-based decision making, probabilistic value judgements etc. etc. thing. But, at the end of the day, we are still people with very real human emotions.[3] And the impact of those emotions is not to be underestimated. Firstly, repairing your self-esteem after multiple difficult rejections would also be time-consuming and painful. Secondly, someone might, after receiving rejection after rejection after rejection, eventually find themselves disheartened enough that they give up entirely on EA forever. Now that’s a sure fire way to tank your potential career impact.

You could also have a hybrid approach - work on improving your ability to process rejection, as in path (a), while applying for less competitive positions in the meantime as in path (b). Once you are ready, raise your ambitions, using your new-found confidence as a shield for rejection.

(3) The outside world is good for you, I promise

I have met many people in the community who rarely interact with non-EAs, professionally and socially. But, based on my rigorous calculations[4], 99.9999% of jobs will require you to communicate with people outside of the community. (Gross, right?[5])  

I cannot state enough how important it is that you know how to do this, without throwing around a bunch of jargon and looking stunned when someone doesn’t know what value lock-in is. It’s especially helpful if you can communicate to non-EAs in a professional context, where you aren’t just trying to casually convince your mate to join EA but are instead wholeheartedly trying to collaborate with another professional from a different background  and respect their own stance whilst doing so. This includes policy makers, company directors, and funders external to EA. You will be relying on getting people like this onside to maximise your org’s impact. It’s important you fully realise the tremendous value they and their own expertise bring, and can work effectively together despite approaching issues with very different sets of prior assumptions and interests.

This is not the only reason you might benefit from expanding your interactions beyond the EA bubble, or stepping outside of it completely. For me, I think the biggest benefit of leaving EA for a few years was how it allowed me to entirely reset the relationship I had with the movement. Without this time away, I doubt I would be as confident, self-assured, well-rounded and energetic as I pride myself on being today. I also believe I would not have as much EA:life balance as I do now, which is essential for the sustainability of the work I do now and what I hope to achieve in the future. Life is short, so stop and smell the utilons once in a while.[6]

There’s plenty more I could say on the benefits of working in non-EA environments and having a flourishing social life outside of EA. However, others have already beaten me to it, and done a great job, too: see here, here and here.

  1. ^

     This even occurs in more senior ops roles: see this post here.

  2. ^

     6/7 different EA org hiring rounds, depending on what you count as a hiring round, and 4 rejections.

  3. ^

     Written before we enter a new era of digital minds.

  4. ^

     My calculation spreadsheet can be viewed here.

  5. ^

     Disclaimer: I love and respect all my non-EA friends.

  6. ^

     Depending on your timelines, life could be VERY short. In that case, maybe you shouldn’t waste time sniffing utilons. Sorry, I guess.





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Case in point on outreach beyond EA. I'm sure 80k hrs and/or CE has thought about this, but it might be a "missing" skillset in EA. I also remember seeing this note on sales people perhaps having a hard time to find work in EA.  My comment here is not thought through at all, but I have a hunch that people good at getting the attention of people and knowing how to network/find their way in corporations and/or governments can be a good skill set in EA, especially paired with someone technical/subject matter expert.

The upshot is: I recommend only choosing this career entry route if you are someone for whom working exclusively at EA organisations is incredibly high on your priority list.

I think taking a role like this early on could also be high-value if you're trying to determine whether working in a particular cause area is for you. Often it's useful to figure that out pretty early on. Of course, the fact that it isn't the exact same job as you might be doing later on might make it less valuable for this.

Executive summary: The author reflects on their experience leaving and returning to the Effective Altruism (EA) community, offering career advice for EA-aligned graduates that emphasizes skill-building over prestige, managing rejection in job seeking, and the importance of engaging with the non-EA world.

Key points:

  1. Focus on skill-building rather than the impressiveness factor of a job or organization. Valuable skills can be gained at less prestigious places with better effort-payoff.
  2. Entry-level positions at EA organizations may not provide the best skill development compared to mainstream grad roles, despite their competitiveness.
  3. Repeated job rejections can be emotionally difficult. Adjust your mindset and/or ambitions to manage this, to avoid becoming disheartened and leaving EA entirely.
  4. Engaging with the non-EA world, both professionally and socially, is crucial for effective communication, collaboration, and personal well-being.
  5. Taking time away from EA can help reset one's relationship with the movement and lead to a more sustainable, balanced engagement.



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