Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Applied theory question in re: junior job market

This question was raised by our junior job candidate yesterday: why do economics departments require junior job candidates to wear suits, when they will not be required to (and, in nearly all cases, will choose not to) once they have a job.

Not requiring a suit for the job talk would seem to provide a possible recruiting advantage for economics departments relative to biz schools as it would make very salient to the candidate the fact that a decent chunk of that higher biz school salary will be spent at clothing stores and, of what is left, at least some is compensating difference for having to play dress up all the time.

I tried to think of a reason why making the candidate wear a suit could be a good idea, and the only thing I could come up with is that it makes them stand out in the department during their visit. If you see a young person standing in the hall looking lost in a suit in January and  February, you know it is a junior job candidate!  But this seems like a thin reed to support such a strongly set behavior.

Perhaps the cheap talkers have an answer?

Hat tip: Herr Stroebel


Michael Ward said...

Um, see Spense on signalling.

BTW, today I will teach in a B-School in jeans.

blink said...

Everyone wearing a suit standardizes wardrobe so that candidates may be evaluated on factors other than clothing. Presumably, departments do not wish clothing choices to influence their hiring decisions and so choose not to observe what the candidate would choose independently. Suits are focal in our society, but any uniform standard of dress would have the same effect.

The same applies to the evaluation of prospective professional baseball umpires. They are instructed to give "safe", "out", and "strike" signals using stilted mechanics never used in actual games so that evaluators are not distracted by style.

econjeff said...

I am not sure that I buy blink's argument. There is plenty of variation in suits, particularly for female candidates, who still face a choice of, for example, pants versus a skirt, even within the "must wear a suit" world. Even among men, there are nice suits and not so nice suits, and conditional on suit quality there are differences in comfort level and familiarity with formal dress.

David Barker said...

Hi Mike - but you are wearing a suit in your picture!

I agree with Jeff - you can tell more about a person from a choice of a suit than from a choice of jeans.

I think this points to the real reason - a department wants to know that the candidate is from the right class. Jeff certainly dresses down, but his score on the Murray test is 2 - if he had to, he would know where to buy a decent suit.