American Sociological Review
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
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
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).