KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
One of the least-efficient things about our economy is the hiring process. It just takes a lot of time and money for companies to find the right people. And on the other side, it's hard for a lot of people to find the perfect job. Economists think they've found a way to make the job market run more smoothly. And as Robert Smith from PLANET MONEY reports, the economics profession is trying it out.
ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: If you were in Chicago in early January, you might have noticed something strange. Out on the streets were hundreds of young people in new suits and stiff new shoes running - graduate students in economics running from hotel to hotel, trying to make their next job interview.
JULIAN SHU: All right, so here, we're, like, four minutes late.
SHU: (Unintelligible) this will get me an extra 30 seconds.
SMITH: I might take a taxi.
Rather than have a hiring process for new economists drag out for months and months, the American Economic Association invites 1,800 job seekers and hundreds of employers to the same city for the same weekend. It is speed dating for economists, hence the running. The interviews are back to back in different hotel rooms scattered all over the city.
SHU: I'm at the right hotel. This is good.
SMITH: I've been trying to keep up with Julian Shu. He spent the last six years getting his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan - labor economics, so you'd think he'd love this process. But he is nervous this morning. It's his first real job interview - brand new suit.
Did you know how to tie a tie?
SHU: Yeah, I've known how to tie a tie for a while. Is it not clear that I don't know how to tie a tie?
SMITH: (Laugher) No, it looks great.
SMITH: You're a little on edge. You're a little sensitive.
SHU: Yeah, I mean it's just my livelihood at stake.
SMITH: And the livelihood of the entire next generation of economists. There are so many job seekers here, they have to wait in line for the elevator to go up to their interviews. So Julian takes this opportunity to check his notes. His first interview is with the University of Oklahoma.
SHU: All right.
SMITH: So what is this?
SHU: This is my crib sheet for University of Oklahoma. So I kind of know who they are. Jaeho Kim is into metrics, so if he asks me...
SMITH: All of a sudden, the line for the elevator clears, and Julian jumps.
SHU: I got to catch that. Bye.
SMITH: Good luck.
SMITH: Having everyone here in Chicago is also convenient for employers. All of the big university programs are hiring professors, but there is all sorts of demand for new economists at government agencies like the Census, at companies like Uber and Amazon. And this gives even small employers a chance to nab the top talent.
GARY HOOVER: This gets us into the conversation.
SMITH: Gary Hoover runs the economics program at the University of Oklahoma.
HOOVER: And if I can ask an intelligent question - and it shows you, wow, these guys are serious economists, and they're serious scholars - that you might have thought, well, you know, they're in a cow town. And we can impress, too.
SMITH: Now, there are some downsides to a profession doing all of its hiring in one weekend. The University of Oklahoma hiring committee will have to spend three days in the same hotel room, interview after interview.
Do they get to do anything else at the conference?
HOOVER: Sleep and no.
SMITH: And if something goes wrong on this weekend, it goes very wrong. John Cawley, a professor from Cornell, remembers when the hiring market was held in Philly.
JOHN CAWLEY: So Philadelphia four or five years ago got hit with this big snowstorm, and people just could not get in. And so, yeah, there's job candidates who just could not interview.
SMITH: OK, the profession survived. And this year, they lucked out in Chicago - no snow. Julian managed to run to just about every interview on time when he didn't get lost.
SHU: Oh, Google Maps doesn't know where I am. So this is Stetson. I actually am not sure where I am going.
SMITH: After his very last interview on Sunday, Julian plops down in a chair and makes the final tally.
SHU: Twenty-two interviews in three and a half days.
SMITH: Plus one bad blister from his new shoes. It is a lifetime of interview experience in just one weekend. And Julian realized something very wise about the process.
SHU: Sometimes it's just you figuring out that you don't want this job or this job doesn't want you because you're just not a good fit for each other.
SMITH: After the economist speed dating in Chicago, Julian got a few second-round interviews. A federal hiring freeze slowed down the whole process a bit. But Julian kept on working it and ended up getting a call from The College Board, the company that runs the SATs.
SHU: Dude, I was like, ah, I have a job offer.
SMITH: But as Julian himself would note, it is better to rely on the data than just one story. Economists have carefully studied their own process and say 97 percent of job seekers that go through the speed dating find a job by the summer. Robert Smith, NPR News.
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