June 07, 2006
Reflections on the Meatmarket
Posted by Gordon Smith

Brian Leiter reprinted an account of the law school hiring process from a successful candidate, who wrote:

While I didn't get much sense at the Marriott as to how each interview went, I did get a general sense that the market had already slotted me into a pretty firm category and was going to do what it could to persuade itself that its ex ante decision was correct.  Under these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to change one's position in a 30-minute interview format.  I seem to have been graded ex ante as steak, perhaps tasty steak, but not veal or filet mignon.  As results of blind/non-blind test tastes tend to show, knowledge in advance of the brand or grade assigned to what one is tasting is the most important factor determining what one ends up thinking about taste.

The author seems to be implying that he was filet mignon, but with only a 30-minute interview, the appointments committees couldn't correct their mistaken evaluation of him as plain old "steak." Having participated in lots of those interviews, on both sides, I think the author is simply wrong about the ability of candidates to change their positions during the interviews. Many candidates hurt themselves badly during the interviews, and some elevate themselves. The meatmarket is full of surprises.

But let me assume that appointments committees sometimes make persistent errors in classification. Is there any reason to think that such errors systematically disadvantage candidates? This reminds me of the occasional student who protests a grade, claiming that he deserved a higher score. Consider this email that I received within the past year:

I am disappointed that you have chosen not to raise my grade to an appropriate level, especially considering the time, expense and hard work that I put into the course, in addition to my more than satisfactory performance on the exam.

Given that grades in most law school classes (including the one at issue in that case) are curved, I usually ask students who make such arguments how they know that they deserved a higher grade when they haven't read the other exam answers. For example, how does this student know what is "appropriate"? And what does "time, expense and hard work" have to do with it, anyway? (By the way, that was the last email in an exchange, which included a detailed explanation by me of the shortcomings of the student's answers.)

Similarly, I wonder why -- given the supposed possibility of persistent errors in classification -- the new professor who wrote to Brian Leiter is so confident that he isn't really a package of ground beef that somehow got mislabeled as steak.

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