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American Sociological Review 2012 Rivera 999 1022

American Sociological Review 2012 Rivera 999 1022

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AmericanSociological Review
American Sociological Review 
Lauren A. Rivera
Hiring as Cultural Matching : The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms
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by guest on April 29, 2013asr.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
American Sociological Review77(6) 999–1022© American SociologicalAssociation 2012DOI: 10.1177/0003122412463213http://asr.sagepub.com
Over the past 40 years, there has been consid-erable debate about the role that culture playsin labor market stratification. On the onehand, status attainment and labor marketscholars have portrayed culture as peripheralto occupational sorting (Blau and Duncan1967; Tilly and Tilly 1998). On the other hand, cultural sociologists contend that cul-ture is an important basis on which valuedmaterial and symbolic rewards—includingaccess to desirable jobs and occupations—aredistributed (Lareau and Weininger 2003).Yet, little empirical scholarship investi-gates the role that culture plays in occupa-tional attainment. One of the most crucialmoments in labor market stratification is thedecision to hire. As Bills (2003:442) notes,“Ultimately . . . both attaining an occupa-tional status and securing an income are con-tingent on a hiring transaction.” Althoughscholars often hypothesize that cultural simi-larities between employers and job candidatesmatter for employers’ decisions (Lamont1992), systematic empirical research on therole of culture in hiring is virtually nonexist-ent (Huffcutt 2011; Stainback, Tomaskovic-Devey, and Skaggs 2010).
463213
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10.1177/0003122412463213American Sociological ReviewRivera
 
2012
a
Northwestern University
Crresp Athr:
Lauren A. Rivera, Northwestern University,Management & Organizations Department,2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208E-mail: l-rivera@kellogg.northwestern.edu
Hr as Cltral Match:The Case f Elte PrfessalSerce Frms
Lare A. Rera
a
Abstract
This article presents culture as a vehicle of labor market sorting. Providing a case study of hiringin elite professional service firms, I investigate the often suggested but heretofore empiricallyunexamined hypothesis that cultural similarities between employers and job candidatesmatter for employers’ hiring decisions. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers as wellas participant observation of a hiring committee, I argue that hiring is more than just a processof skills sorting; it is also a process of 
cultural matching 
between candidates, evaluators, andfirms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar tothemselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns aboutshared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absoluteproductivity. I unpack the interpersonal processes through which cultural similarities affectedcandidate evaluation in elite firms and provide the first empirical demonstration that sharedculture—particularly in the form of lifestyle markers—matters for employer hiring. I conclude bydiscussing the implications for scholarship on culture, inequality, and labor markets.
Kers
cultural capital, culture, hiring, homophily, inequality, interpersonal evaluation, labor markets
 by guest on April 29, 2013asr.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
1000
American Sociological Review 
 
77(6)
Providing a case study of elite professionalservice firms, I investigate the often sug-gested but previously untested hypothesis thatcultural similarities—defined here as sharedtastes, experiences, leisure pursuits, and self- presentation styles (Bourdieu 1984)—betweenemployers and job candidates matter for employers’ hiring decisions. I find that hiringis more than just a process of skills sorting; itis also a process of 
cultural matching 
betweencandidates, evaluators, and firms. Employerssought candidates who were not only compe-tent but also culturally similar to themselves.Concerns about shared culture were highlysalient to employers and often outweighedconcerns about productivity alone. I intro-duce three interpersonal processes throughwhich cultural similarities affected candidateevaluation and provide the first empiricaldemonstration that shared culture—particu-larly in the form of lifestyle markers—mat-ters for employer hiring.
How EMPLoyERS HiRE
Hiring is a powerful way in which employersshape labor market outcomes. Hiring practicesare gatekeeping mechanisms that facilitatecareer opportunities for some groups, while blocking entry for others. As an entry point tooccupations and income brackets, hiring is acritical site of economic stratification andsocial closure (Elliot and Smith 2004).Sociologists typically depict employer hir-ing as a matching process between organiza-tional characteristics, job demands, andapplicants’ skills (Tilly and Tilly 1998).Although too voluminous to review here (andexcellently summarized elsewhere), research-ers commonly portray employers’ hiring deci-sions as stemming from estimates of candidates’ human capital (i.e., hard and softskills), social capital (i.e., social connections),and demographic characteristics; residualvariance is typically attributed to a combina-tion of discrimination and error (for a review,see Pager and Shepherd 2008). However,despite a surge of research on employers over the past 30 years, our knowledge of hiringremains incomplete. Even after accountingfor measures of applicants’ human capital,social capital, and demographic traits, modelsof employer hiring still exhibit significantunexplained variance. Consequently, much of what drives employer decision-making is stilla mystery to scholars (Heckman and Siegel-man 1993).I argue that much of this gap can be attrib-uted to methodological and data limitations.The bulk of sociological research on hiringuses quantitative data on either (1) individu-als who enter an organization or (2) pre-hire/ post-hire comparisons that are unable toexplore how hiring decisions are actuallymade (Fernandez and Weinberg 1997). Addi-tionally, research is often constrained to eas-ily observable individual-, organizational-, or industry-level information derived fromemployment records or public data. However,to fully understand how employers hire, it isnecessary to study the
 process
of decision-making itself, analyzing how employers eval-uate, compare, and select new hires. Doing socan reveal more subtle factors that contributeto employers’ decisions and can illuminatenew mechanisms (Gross 2009) that producehiring outcomes.
BRinging CuLTuRE BACK in
When studying employer hiring, scholarstypically analyze individual, organizational,or institutional factors (Pager and Shepherd2008). However, hiring involves more than just candidates, companies, and contexts; it isalso a fundamentally interpersonal process.Job interviews are crucial components of hir-ing in many industries; subjective impres-sions of candidates that employers developthrough interviews are strong drivers of hir-ing decisions, often carrying more weightthan candidates’ résumé qualifications(Graves and Powell 1995). Still, sociologiststypically analyze pre- or post-interviewaspects of hiring. In light of this, severalscholars have called for more attention to theinterpersonal dimensions of hiring (Roscigno2007; Stainback et al. 2010).
 by guest on April 29, 2013asr.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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