As the junior job market rears it ugly head, there are many deep questions: How good are the candidates’ papers? If the papers are so-so, do the candidates show signs of promise and potential for good work in the future? Is there a forgiving, omniscient God? I digress but you get the picture – I have no easy answers for the deep questions. But I do have trite answers for shallow questions.
So, let us turn to “job market meal,” the mating dance that usually ends the visit.
Let us first consider dinner planning. If I am in charge of organizing the visit, I find it is imperative to have my ducks lined up before hand, i.e. get the dinner party and restaurant fixed ahead of the visit. Otherwise, there can be a nightmare scenario where the candidate visit is a disaster, no-one else wants to go to dinner and you are stuck as a silent, unromantic twosome at a pizza joint close to work.
The now planned-ahead restaurant choice is a delicate matter. Like a date, you are sending a signal about how much you care via the restaurant choice. You might like the pizza joint and the very fact you are going to dinner with a spouse and kids at home is a costly signal of your interest. But the people you are interviewing are young and have no knowledge of spouses and kids. Your signal has to be more obvious so you have to go to an (obviously) good restaurant.
There is another dangerous mistake you can make at this step: choosing a restaurant that is too good. This carries a double risk. First, you are sending a confused signal: Is this dinner really signaling your interest in the candidate or in an expensive meal subsidized by your university? Second, and in my experience more pertinently, you are subject to the wonderful but confusing impact of the melting pot that is the American job market for economists. Students from all over the world get into PhD programs at American universities and if their papers are good, they can get a job anywhere. As one of the melty bits in the pot, I can’t help but celebrate this but it does lead to some confusion at the dinner table. Is some hardworking nerd from a land-locked country really going to appreciate the raw seafood at the Temple to Sushi you decide to go to? Chances are that they have been stuck in front of a computer eating toast and processed cheese for the last five years and, before that, they’d never heard of high or low grade tuna.
Play it safe: a good Italian or French restaurant is the best choice.