Joseph Lemien

2455 karmaJoined Dec 2020Pursuing a graduate degree (e.g. Master's)Working (6-15 years)Seeking work



I have work experience in HR and Operations. I read a lot, I enjoy taking online courses, and I do some yoga and some rock climbing. I enjoy learning languages, and I think that I tend to have a fairly international/cross-cultural focus or awareness in my life. I was born and raised in a monolingual household in the US, but I've lived most of my adult life outside the US, with about ten years in China, two years in Spain, and less than a year in Brazil. 

As far as EA is concerned, I'm fairly cause agnostic/cause neutral. I think that I am a little bit more influenced by virtue ethics and stoicism than the average EA, and I also occasionally find myself thinking about inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in EA. Some parts of the EA community that I've observed in-person seem not very welcoming to outsides, or somewhat gatekept. I tend to care quite a bit about how exclusionary or welcoming communities are.

I was told by a friend in EA that I should brag about how many books I read because it is impressive, but I feel  uncomfortable being boastful, so here is my clunky attempt to brag about that.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, opinions are my own, not my employer's.

How others can help me

I'm looking for interesting and fulfilling work, so if you know of anything that you think might be a good fit for me, please do let me know.

I'm looking for a place to be my home. If you have recommendations for cities, for neighborhoods within cities, or for specific houses/communities, I'd be happy to hear your recommendations.

How I can help others

I'm happy to give advice to people who are job hunting regarding interviews and resumes, and I'm happy to give advice to people who are hiring regarding how to run a hiring round and how to filter/select best fit applicants. I would have no problem running you through a practice interview and then giving you some feedback. I might also be able to recommend books to read if you tell me what kind of book you are looking for.


How to do hiring


I'd also re-focus on effective at what? What is the goal or objective of these free hugs? Once you know that, then you can more easily estimate how effective free hugs are compared to other interventions.

revealing scores useful to candidates for some other reason not covered by that

Honestly, I hadn't even thought of encouraging them to apply for future roles. My main thought regarding feedback is to allow them to improve. If you assess my work and then tell me the ways in which it falls short, that allows me to improve. I know that to work on. An example would be something like "Although your project plan covered a lot of the areas we requested, you didn't explain your reasoning for the assumption you made. You estimated that a [THING] would cost $[AMOUNT], but as the reader I don't know where you got that number. If you had been transparent about your reasoning, then you would have scored a bit higher." or "We were looking for something more detailed, and your proposal was fairly vague. It lacked  many of the specifics that we had requested in the prompt."

Regarding "disheartening people," I once got feedback for a hiring round and the organization shared what scores I got, and even shared scoring info for the other (anonymized) candidates. It was the best and most accurate data I have ever been given as feedback.

I scored very low, much lower than I had expected. Of course I felt sad and frustrated. I wish that I knew more details about their scoring methodology, and part of me says that it was  an unfair process because they weren't clear on what I would be evaluated on. But I draw a analogies to getting rejected from anything else (such as a school application or a romantic partner): it sucks, but you get over it eventually. I felt bad for a day or two, and then the feelings of frustration faded away.

Using the analogy of hunger, here is one way that I am currently thinking about it: giving a willing stranger a hug is like giving a willing stranger a candy bar; they get some nourishment, but if they are chronically food insecure this won't solve that longer-term problem. It won't help them get regular/consistent access to meals that they can afford. So in that sense it is like a band-aid: it is treating the symptom, but it is not addressing the cause.

If someone is suffering from a consistent and pervasive lack of human touch, such as "skinship hunger," a hug might feel nice for a few seconds, but when the hug is finished that person's situation (lacking human touch) remains unchanged. I suppose you could create some kind of program in which they spend 60 minutes with a professional cuddler every week, but I honestly don't see that as being cost competitive if the goal is to get QALYs at the best price.

But if you just want to estimate it then you could put together a simple Fermi estimate: what are the costs to giving free hugs, and what are the benefits, and then figure out how much value do you please on each of those.

Haha. Well, I guess I would first ask effective at what? Effective at giving people additional years of healthy & fulfilling life? Effective at creating new friendships? Effective at making people smile?

I haven't studied it at all, but my hypothesis that it is the kind of intervention that is  similar to "awareness building," but it doesn't have any call to action (such as a donation). So it is probably effective in giving people a nice experience for a few seconds, and maybe improving their mood for a period of time, but it probably doesn't have longer-lasting effects. From a cursory glance at Google Scholar, it looks like there hasn't been much research on free hugs.

Jamie, I've been contemplating writing up a couple of informal "case study"-type reports of different hiring practices. My intention/thought process would be to allow EA orgs to learn about how several different orgs do hiring, to highlight some best practices, and generally to allow/encourage organizations to improve their methods. How would you feel about writing up a summary or having a call with me to allow me to understand how you tried giving feedback and what specific aspects caused challenges?

That actually seems like a really strong signal of something important: can people improve, if given a modest amount of guidance/support. I'd certainly be interested in hiring someone who does rather than someone who doesn't.

But I'm also impressed that you provide feedback to candidates consistently. I've always thought that it would be something fairly time-consuming, even if you set up a system to provide feedback in a fairly standardized way. Would you be willing to share a bit about how you/your team does feedback for rejected job applicants?

It looks like there are two people who voted disagree with this. I'm curious as to what they disagree with. Do they disagree with the claim that some organizations are "very risk-averse when hiring"? Do they disagree with the claim that "reducing false positives often means raising false negatives"? That this has a causal effect with organisations scale slowly? Or perhaps that "the costs of a bad hire are somewhat bounded"? I would love for people who disagree vote to share information regarding what it is they disagree with.

Forgive my rambling. I don't have much to contribute here, but I generally want to say A)I am glad to see other people thinking about this, and B) I sympathize with the difficulty

The "reducing false positives often means raising false negatives" is one of the core challenges in hiring. Even the researchers who investigate the validity of various methods and criteria in hiring don't have a great way to deal with it this problem. Theoretically we could randomly hire 50% of the applicants and reject 50% of them, and then look at how the new hires perform compared to the rejects one year later. But this is (of course) infeasible. And of course, so much of what we care about is situationally specific: If John Doe thrives in Organizational Culture A performing Role X, that doesn't necessarily mean he will thrive in Organizational Culture B performing Role Y.

I do have one suggestion, although it isn't as good of a suggestion as I would like. Ways to "try out" new staff (such as 6-month contacts, 12-month contracts, internships, part-time engagements, and so on) can let you assess with greater confidence how the person will perform in your organization in that particular role much better than a structured interview, a 2-hour work trial test, or a carefully filled out application form. But if you want to have a conversation with some people that are more expert in this stuff I could probably put you in touch with some Industrial Organizational Psychologists who specialize in selection methods. Maybe a 1-hour consultation session would provide some good directions to explore?

I've shared this image[1] with many people, as I think it is a fairly good description of the issue. I generally think of one of the goals of hiring to be "squeezing" this shape to get as much off the area as possible in the upper right and lower left, and to have as little as possible in the upper left and lower right. We can't squeeze it infinitely thin, and there is a cost to any squeezing, but that is the general idea.


  1. ^

I just want to chime in to say how lovely it is to see a disagreement on the internet that doesn't degrade. It was very nice to read each of you describe what you believe to be true, cite sources, explain reasoning without exaggerations or ad hominems, consider context and hypothesize about possibilities, and move a step closer to 'truth.' Bravo.

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