Filtering Riff-Raff and Safeties

matches.jpgAs anyone on an academic hiring committee knows, there are two key problems one faces in the process: 1) *everyone* applies, because there’s a low variable cost to submitting applications, and 2) some very desirable people who have little interest in your school may well apply just in order to use it as a stepping stone to get attention from their true targets. Law reviews are facing the same dynamic, as Dan Filler notes:

A larger percentage of law faculty are productive scholars today than even a decade ago. This means that the raw number of submissions is on the rise. [And] the rise of e-submissions has substantially lowered both the cost, and time, involved in mass distribution of articles.

What’s an overloaded selector to do? Leave it to the economists to come up with a solution:

At this past weekend’s annual meeting of the American Economic Association, which hosts a vast job market for aspiring professors, academics tested a technique — borrowed from online dating — to more efficiently match job candidates and potential employers. It is called “signaling,” and it is designed to reduce the time and cost of hiring professors by weeding out those who aren’t serious prospects and homing in on those who are.

Signaling depends on a centralized system through which each job seeker sends signals — essentially electronic pings — to two potential employers. With a limited number of signals to send, the logic goes, candidates will send them only to schools where they really want to work.

Fantastic idea, reminding me of what the best economics is presently doing: pragmatically utilizing ideas from other fields in order to provide simple and elegant solutions to classic problems. But who’d guess Cupid.com would be the muse here?

The AEA system shares an idea and an advisor — Stanford economist Muriel Niederle — with Cupid.com. On that online dating site, [men tend to] send hundreds of messages, it is difficult and time-consuming for women to separate spammers from good prospects. In the summer of 2005 . . . Cupid began allotting each of its male members two electronic roses a month, which they could send along with messages to women whom they wanted to impress. The scarcity of roses motivates the suitors to be selective and serious.

As someone beleaguered by reading hundreds of resumes the past couple of years, I hope AALS considers implementing some version of this “market design economics.”

Photo Credit: Alessisblauw/Flickr.

2 thoughts on “Filtering Riff-Raff and Safeties

  1. Also from the department of “what the best economics is presently doing”: This article from yesterday’s NYT that highlights the work of Emily Oster.

    A short aside: I took introductory macroeconomics from Ray Fair, at Yale, in the Spring of 1980. Toward the end of the semester, Ray Fair brought new baby Emily to class one day and from the podium proclaimed, grinning ear to ear, that he wanted to show us “the output.”

    As Emily herself said in the Times, “It’s an idea only an economist would love.”

  2. Interesting idea. But I wonder whether candidates really have an idea of where they would want to be before going through the process. Certainly some do – I’m always amazed at the number of candidates who will not leave NY, for example. And some probably have a good idea of their market value. But a good number of candiates have no good information about a school other than its US News rank, and if they don’t know their market value, that might not be enough to go on. Indeed, a candiate’s market value often changes during the process – since a lot of schools realize the arbitrariness of their selection criteria, the fact that school X, which may be in the same tier, made an offer to a candidate often makes that candidate more attractive. And so it goes up the chain. I wonder whether the lack of a US News style ranking for economics departments helps them implement this sort of thing.

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