Hiring and Inequality in Elite Professional Service Firms

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Harvard University, 2009 - Employee selection - 400 pages
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Hiring is a powerful yet understudied way through which employers shape labor market inequalities. Although a number of recent studies have demonstrated that hiring practices systematically disadvantage certain groups of applicants, such as women, ethnic minorities, and individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, existing research does not adequately explore why such outcomes occur. In the following dissertation, I seek to remedy this gap by opening up the "black box" of employer hiring decisions. Specifically, I examine how employers in three economically elite professions--investment banking, management consulting, and law--recruit and select new hires. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers and ethnographic observation of one hiring committee, I explore the criteria of evaluation employers use to assess the merit of job applicants and how processes of evaluation vary by profession. The dissertation brings together developments in economics, economic sociology, and applied management with the literature in cultural sociology to illuminate how micro-level processes of interpersonal evaluation contribute to macro-level labor market inequalities. Each empirical chapter unpacks one micro-level mechanism of labor market sorting: signaling, homophily, and emotion. These three mechanisms worked in tandem to produce new hire classes that largely mirrored a firm's existing employee base in terms of educational, occupational, and extracurricular experiences and socio-economic status. Consequently, I argue that the ways elite employers evaluate job candidates contributes to a cultural reproduction (Bourdieu 1984) and social closure (Weber 1958) of high prestige professions at the point of hire.

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