Saturday, December 18, 2010

Job market advice

Yesterday I heard what struck me as some of the worst economics job market advice ever. That advice is to not tell the faculty members on your committee what schools and organizations you have interviews with at the meetings. The idea seems to be that if your committee knows your interview list as it builds up, they may be tempted to tell some schools that have no chance of hiring you that they should not interview you, thus reducing the total number of interviews you achieve.

Here are some reasons why this is bad advice:

1. The number of interviews is not a performance measure to be compared in some sort of sad contest.

2. At some number of interviews, quality starts to decline due to exhaustion, lack of food, and inability to be on time. A reasonable number of well-matched interviews is optimal.

3. You should not want to interview at places that have no chance of hiring you. You are wasting their time and your own. Your career is a repeated game with all of the other economists you interact with. People remember things. Plus you are taking the interview slot away from someone who might be a good match to the place that you are not a good match for. That's not very nice.

4. Your committee can give you valuable advice on the people who will be interviewing you at particular departments, but they can only do this if you let them know where you are interviewing.

5. It may be that there are particular places that people on your committee think would be a good match for you. If they do not schedule you right away, it may be time to shake the tree a bit, but the tree can only be shaken if people on your committee know your interview schedule. More broadly, if your initial interviews seem to not be as good as they should be, there is a window during which faculty can try to do something about that, but only if they are informed about what is going on.

My advice is to keep your committee informed and to be completely honest with the people you are interviewing with about both interviews and flyouts. More information makes the system work better and partially informed attempts to extract some strategic gain through withholding information are at least as likely to make your worse off, in the short run or the long run or both, as to make you better off.

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