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The Economic Job Market: Media Versus Reality…

January 9th, 2017 · 6 Comments
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This is cute because it makes the process seem kind of badass…

Economics Conference Tests Job Seekers’ Mettle
Grad students face grueling rounds of interviews in NFL-combine-style recruiting event
by Shayndi Raice

CHICAGO—In one corner of the U.S. job market, the first weekend in January is the most important of the year.

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association this weekend, thousands of economics graduate students were interviewed by universities, private firms and institutions like the Federal Reserve and International Monetary Fund hunting new talent.

Source: WSJ

Ok, here’s the thing- the WSJ has to be, well, the WSJ, so this description is both accurate and completely misleading. As such, allow me to provide my less sanitized but more representative account:

Yes, there is a big economics conference- the annual meeting of the “Allied Social Sciences Association,” which is the parent organization of the American Economic Association- held the first weekend in January each year, approximately speaking. It rotates among among a number of different cities- Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, if my recent memory is correct- and is held at this time both because most universities aren’t in session and because it’s usually an otherwise dead weekend so everything is cheap. (I’m old enough to remember when I got a room at the Chicago Hyatt for $109. Also, it’s no real secret that economists are cheap- for example, I was a party to more than one conversation about free food strategy during this event.)

At this conference, there are many paper presentations/lectures/panel discussions- you can see this year’s program here, and you can get a feel for the action via the #ASSA2017 Twitter hashtag- but many professors don’t get to attend any of this because their time is taken up by the interview process. Economists like efficiency, so it’s not surprising that they’ve figured out to hold their first-round interviews in a centralized location rather than have graduating Ph.D. students flying all over the place to talk to prospective employers.

This is where the reality starts to differ from what is presented in the article, however. While it is true that there is a big room with tables where some employers hold interviews, most interviews are held in rooms in one of the many hotels reserved for the conference. Yes, you read that right, and it gets better- either due to availability constraints or funding constraints, we’re often talking regular hotel rooms rather than suites. Now, I am apparently more resourceful than many economists because I would at least use my Amazon Prime to get some folding chairs sent to the hotel rather than have people sit on the beds when necessary, but apparently that is too much to ask.

It gets even better in a number of ways- for one thing, there is theoretically a shuttle that goes around to the hotels, but it’s notoriously unreliable and job candidates often have interviews pretty much one right after the other in different locations. Also, there are sometimes multiple hotels of the same brand, and interviewers are not always great at pointing this out or specifying which location they are at. Fun, right? Now do all this while wearing an awkwardly fitting suit (the article was right on that front but left out the part about the “spot the job-market candidate” game that we all play), new shoes, plus coat, scarf, gloves, hat, since did I mention it was 4 degrees out? (As I was typing this, Rachel Maddow pointed out that it was negative 11 with wind chill in Chicago on Saturday.) Now walk your anxious job interview self through the lobby of the main hotel where seemingly everyone else is drinking and meeting up with friends, as a conference should be IMHO.

Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with most of this directly, but I do get the follow-on awkwardness of seeing the benches next to the elevator bank being used as makeshift waiting areas and running around to meet up with friends for a 30-minute break they get in a 12-hour day of interviews. (I honestly don’t know whether the process is more exhausting for the candidates or the interviewers.)

Even given all this, the process is probably still more efficient than the alternatives for a number of reasons. At the very least, it enables universities to cast a wider net in deciding who to talk to in the first round, which gives more people the opportunity to prove themselves rather than have to rely on how fancy their CVs look. On the other hand…

We talk a lot about the gender disparity in many STEM fields, and economics is no exception. While there are a number of identifiable trends, it seems in some ways that the drivers of this disparity are field-specific and fairly nuanced, which makes them hard to identify without visibility into the specific logistics of various industries. (Claudia Goldin has gained a lot of insight by looking into the logistics of lawyers, pharmacists, and so on, for example.) In the case of economics, I’d have to imagine that part of the disparity comes back to the aforementioned hotel room situation- I heard a number of (male) interviewers say that they shouldn’t be expected to be in a hotel room alone with a female interviewee without an HR rep present, so I find it hard to believe that they are managing the same comfort and concentration level with female and male candidates, even if they’re trying to be fair (which I do believe they generally are).

Personally, I feel pretty strongly that we need to get over our own shit rather than fake solve the problem with HR babysitting, forcing the door to stay open, only talking to members of the opposite gender while walking around, or whatever other strategies to maintain “appropriateness” that I’ve heard thrown around. (Meanwhile, male faculty members have been known to hang out in the sauna with their male grad students, so the awkwardness is not universal.) As an interviewee, I would not want to be reminded that you need a babysitter, nor would I want to be reminded that my interviewer thinks I need a babysitter. (I get the impression that the male interviewers want the babysitting so they can’t get accused of anything, which implies that they think female candidates will cry harassment if they don’t get what they want. This is obviously insulting.) My initial suggestion: have sex in more places so that a bed has less of a salient connotation for you. 🙂

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark // Jan 10, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Your last sentence alone was worth reading the WSJ article so that I could see what the fuss was about.

  • 2 Warren // Jan 10, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I would imagine that hesitency to be alone in a hotel room with a young female has more to do with risk aversion pounded into them by institution lawyers than any personal shortcoming. The sad reality is that too many people are sue-happy these days, and according to our sexual harassment training when I was with the U, juries usually favor the testimony of young females this situation. Legally, it’s the same as a male gynacologist having to have a female assistant in the room during an exam.

  • 3 ed martin // Mar 7, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    I do not think any of the women I went to MPA
    or PHD school would be put off by doing an interview at a hotel. Because its a norm, At a
    convention! The women I know are not so delicate! I think your article is just silly!
    The cause of lack of diversity is discrimination
    in graduate SCHOOL ADMISSIONS: FEW WOMEN, NO BLACKS, NO HISPANICS!
    TRY TELLING IT AS IT IS!
    BILL

  • 4 ponemusic // Jun 7, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Nice Article, Thank You For Sharing…

  • 5 top engineering college of india // Jun 9, 2017 at 5:45 am

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  • 6 A better economist // Jun 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Attack an 11 year old again. You’re pure slime, and your analysis is garbage also.

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