Joseph Lemien

2454 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


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.

a lot of the attitudes around career planning in EA sort of assume that you are formidable within a particular, rather narrow mould

This idea is something I've contemplated previously, but I really like that you put it into words.

If you will indulge me in rambling/ranting a little, I remember looking at 80k's guidance on careers in the area of Improving China-Western coordination a few years ago. China is an area that I know a bit about and wanted to make a core of my career.[1] I was disappointed that most of their recommendations were not realistic for someone who wasn't an 'elite.'[2]  I came away with the general impression that the authors didn't really grasp the realities and challenges involved in a non-Chinese person building a career in China, but in retrospect it could have simply been written with Ivy League grads in mind in which case I was not the target audience. Many of the options listed that struck me as unavailable/unrealistic would be much more feasible if I had an undergraduate degree from Princeton or Yale or Stanford. So as a person who already had a decent amount of China-relevant knowledge and experience, I basically came away understanding that "there isn't any way for me to contribute to this area" and that I would have to have some sort of an in with a professional network in order to contribute professionally.

  1. ^

    China was the main focus of my bachelor's degree, which included learning the language. I had lived in Beijing for about eight years at that point.

  2. ^

    Examples of these include recommendations to work as a foreign journalist (which is very competitive and prestigious in China), apply for top scholarships for special master's degrees in China (one scholarship require applicants to be younger than 29, the other prefers candidates younger than 25), work at a think tank, work for the Ford Foundation, work for the Gates Foundation, work at top Chinese companies, and so on.

Hi. I don't think my explanation would take 45 minutes to explore, but I can share the basics of my thought process: I'd feel pretty dumb if I donate a few thousand dollars, and then a year later I don't have enough money to pay for basic necessities. I've never had both A) a feeling of financial stability, and B) the confidence that such stability would continue in the future. Thus, I've wanted to build up a 'nest egg' for myself so that I won't starve or be homeless.

A is pretty easy to explain and understand. That covers times when I've been employed on short-term contracts, or when life has been in flux because I was moving from one place to another, or simply when I earned money that wasn't enough to cover both my basics and my financial goals. B is simply times when I've had a good job, I've known it wouldn't last forever, and I've known that I would eventually need my savings to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. One doesn't know how long it will take to find new employment. If it takes two weeks that isn't a big issue, but if it takes months and months that is something I want to be financially prepared for.

If I had a skillset that was highly in-demand in the job market or if I had tenure at a famous university, then I wouldn't be as concerned about income and supporting myself financially. As much as I admire the Oxford professors who donate a large chunk of their income each year, being tenured means more-or-less guaranteed income, making the decision to donate relatively low risk. If I had a big chunk of guaranteed income, I would certainly donate. Or if I had a life more like some of the earn to give folks I've read about, then I would do the same (attending a well-known and well-reputed school, studying a field that gives good career prospects, meeting a life partner relatively early in life and sharing expenses, living near a supportive family, earning a strong salary for many years, having family and network in a place with plenty of professional opportunities, living in the same city for the whole career and thus building a long-lasting network of professional contacts, working for well-known and well-reputed companies, etc.). But through a combination of circumstances external to me (such as where I grew up and what fields I was introduced to early on) and of my own choices (such as being drawn to fields that tend to not earn much or be highly respected), I don't have those resources and that stability.

EDIT: My current perspective feels a bit extreme or outrageous, but I'd like to save up and have enough money so that I am financially stable/secure/independent, and then donate. But if I had some kind of foreknowledge that I would always be able to secure employment within a month and the employment would always be at least moderately enjoyable and pay me at decently good amounts, then I would probably be comfortable to start donating now.

One of the best experiences I've had at a conference was when I went out to dinner with three people that I had never met before. Seeing the popularity of matching systems like Donut in Slack workspaces, I wonder if something analogous could be useful for conferences. I'm imagining a system in which you sign up for a timeslot (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), and are put into a group with between two and four other people. You are assigned a location/restaurant that is within walking distance of the conference venue, so the administrative work of figuring out where to go is more-or-less handled for you. I'm no sociologist, but I think that having a small group is better for conversation than a large group, and better than a two-person group. An MVP version of this could  perhaps just be a Google Sheet with some RANDBETWEEN formulas.

The topics of conversation were pretty much what you would expect for people attending an EA conference: we spoke about interpersonal relationships, careers, moral philosophy, miscellaneous interests, general life advice, and so on. None of us were taking any notes. None of us sent any follow up emails. We weren't seeking advice on projects. We were simply eating dinner and conversing.

When I claim this was one of the best experiences, I don't mean "best" in the sense of "most impactful," but rather as as 1) fairly enjoyable/comfortable, 2) distinct from the talks and the one-on-ones (which often tend to blur together in memory), and 3) I felt like I was actually interacting with people rather than engaging in "the EA game."[1] I think that third aspect felt like the most important for me.

Of course, if could simply be that this particular group of individuals just happened to mesh well, and that this specific situation it isn't something which can be easily replicated.

  1. ^

    "The EA game" is very poorly conceptualized on my part. I apologize for the sloppiness of it, but I'll emphasize that this is a loose concept that I've just started thinking about, rather than something more rigorous. I think of it as something along the lines of "trying to extract value or trying to produce value." Exploring job opportunities, sensing if someone is open to a collaboration of some type, getting advice on career plans, picking someone's brain on their area of expertise, getting intel on new funders and grants, and so on. It is a certain type of professional and para-professional networking. You have your game face on, because there is some outcome that is dependent on your actions and on how people perceive you. This is in contrast to something like interacting without an agenda, or being authentic and present

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