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Job Market in Economics

Interview with a former MWF in ECO/HEC, now with a position as Assistant Professor in the Netherlands (2016)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a position as Assistant Professor in Switzerland (2016)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a position in one of the European central banks (2014)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in Greece (2014)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in Sweden (2014)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in the US (2014)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a research position in Italy (2014)


From an interview with a former MWF in ECO/HEC, now with a position as Assistant Professor in the Netherlands (2016)

What are your general impressions of trends/characteristics of the job market in your discipline?

I am rather special within my discipline, because I am an economic historian (so not a normal historian) so I am actually closer to Eco than to History – in fact my job is in an economics department. So being an economic historian is natural to being interdisciplinary by nature and so I don’t think I am competent to talk about the history market properly because I have never been in that market proper. I have been in the economics market.

So there are certainly a lot more jobs in the economics market than in history – and the selections is made according to clear criteria (there is a general agreement on what these criteria are) and people are selected following those rules.

In Eco the European market is quickly becoming similar to the American market.

How many positions have you held between your PhD and the Max Weber Fellowship?

None, MWP was the first position I had – although at the same time I also started a faculty position in the Netherlands, and this was agreed with the Director of the Programme (it’s in my contract). One was the MWP and the other is the one I will continue next year as well.

How did you find out about this particular position?

It was an open call – I applied I went through the interview and I got the position.

Did you have a special strategy in the job market i.e. have you worked on networking or adjusted your publishing to a job market in a particular country?

What you should do is to do a good job and publish in international journals – if you do that the merit based positions will open up.

What was the main reason you applied for this particular position? What did your application include? On which parts of the application did you focus the most?

Basically that position for me was good because different universities, departments have different expertise. This university has a long tradition in economic history so it is known to be good in that – a long time before I applied, I already knew very well about what was going on in that department. And The Netherlands is a good place to work because wages are high, working conditions is good, there is a lot of support for travelling. So that was what attracted me to the position. As far as the application itself, they wanted my cv (I was mostly evaluated on that) and unusually I was never asked for a recommendation letter (in fact I went to the interview and at the end I asked ‘do you want them’? because I thought that was the standard, and it is in general the standard) but they gave me the job on the spot so I was never asked for them. I gave a seminar, and I guess they liked the seminar, and then we had lunch together (to understand if I was a normal person!). The process of applying is pretty standard in economics – people sending an application, then they make a preselection (3 to 6 candidates) they call these people in, they pay for the trip there, and then these candidates give a seminar there: you present your research so that they can evaluate you. They usually call in people in order of preference (from who they like the most to the least) because if they like you and wanted to hire you, they do not need to spend money calling the others. So the seminar was first and then I was about to leave, but they asked me to come to lunch with them, and after the lunch they offered me the position. I didn’t accept it on the spot because I already had the MW Fellowship.

Was there any negotiation going on?

At the end of the seminar, I told them that I already had the MW Fellowship – so I told them ‘in case you would like to give me an offer, I would prefer not to give up the MW’ and they say ‘it could be possible to squeeze the teaching in half of the year’ which would give me the possibility to spend the other half of the year here – which was in fact the case.

How long did it take from the interview until the offer?

Not long but I think it is unusual – usually it doesn’t take too long, but I think my process was shorter than normal.

What was the interview format? How long did it take? Were there any unexpected questions? Before answering I should say that people worry too much about these things (ultimately this doesn’t matter much). What matters the most is what you have done before that. If you are there, it means that you are already liked to some degree and then you have to convince them about your good quality. In a meritocratic system all the rest matters marginally – how you are dressed, how you talk…people worry about this way too much, I was not worried about this at all. Concentrate on doing good work before. The interview itself was very normal: you get there, you greet people, you present your work in a way to show your passion about it.

Did they focus the most in your research or were they interested also in course designing, administrative duties...

It depends on the job – there are jobs that entail more administrative duties, or more teaching. Good departments right now are more focused on research than in teaching; they care 75% research and 25% teaching. You should have something to talk about your teaching (and they did ask me) – they had already seen in my cv my teaching experiences but they wanted to know in more details about which course I might be interested or willing to teach. They were quite straight-forward to me: these are the teaching needs we have, are you feeling comfortable in teaching these courses? Right now my contract is 60% research 40% teaching, in theory which is a good contract. So my teaching is relatively light. 

In your opinion, what would be the don’ts

I do think that even in the meritocratic departments, when people are interviewed and they know if they will hire you, they have to live with you for the next years – so it should not come across to somebody that will be annoying to have around, so too much arrogance is not good though. Your personality counts, because people want to hire someone that will not create problems and that it is nice to work with.

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a position as Assistant Professor in Switzerland (2016)

What are your general impressions of trends/characteristics of the job market in your discipline?

The main thing is that everybody finds a job. They might not find it in the best place. It’s not super easy to go and get one in your dream country so lots of people end up very far from where they would like to go. But almost everybody finds something. The system is centralized so what happens is that you have 2 to 3 weeks where you apply to maybe 200 positions. It starts on the 15th of October until the end of November. That’s the whole thing. This trend is worldwide. There are some countries that do strange stuff like in Italy where you might have calls in different parts of the year. There’s the UK, where you might always have calls. But the most important universities in the world, they all have calls in the fall and then they all meet in the US and in Spain and in the UK to give interviews. So if you are accepted for an interview you go to one of these big conferences and then you try to get a fly-out. So the first interview during these big conferences is just to screen you. And then they invite you to campus depending on the positions they have open, from 3 to 9 people. Therefore if you get a fly-out you have a reasonably good chance to be accepted. So you go to the campus, you talk to all the faculty, you present your paper and then… the rule of thumb is that if you get 3 fly-outs then you get at least 1 job.

How many jobs have you held between your PHD and the Max Weber Programme?

This was the first.

Did you have a special strategy in the job market?

To be honest I didn’t know where to go. When you apply, you can do your applications on these platforms where you can apply for several positions. It turns out to be just clicking ‘’yes I want to apply, this is my CV, this is my paper’’. You just have to shape the cover letter and that’s it. It’s all the same. This means that you can apply in big numbers. I applied to more than 150 places. My strategy was to apply as much as possible, but also to think about where I really would like to go (and then to signal a maximum of two of these places). When the signals come from other professors (you have talked or worked with) they take you more seriously. My idea was to give a signal to 2 places so I put this in the cover letter. I wrote something like ‘’ this is particularly important for me’’ and I said ‘’because my partner would be very willing to move in the area because he would probably find a job in the area…so this is my preference”. It can happen that some Universities didn’t give me a job fly-out because they thought I was too good for them. For instance, with Norway. I would have gone to Norway, but they maybe thought I would be happier in Spain because I am Italian. People have all sorts of stereotypes and things. Therefore, when there is a preference that is not obvious, my suggestion is to make it transparent such as saying ‘’I really like Norway etc.” This is because in these jobs, conditions vary very much. How much teaching you have to do, the money you get… So in my experience  depending on what it is important to you, you might have preferences for certain countries/working conditions..

What was the main reason you applied for this particular position?

The university where I will work is a good university, there are a lot of people who are excellent that are working in my field. So for me it was perfect and I pointed this out. And it was good for my personal life as well.

What did your application include? On which parts of the application did you focus the most?

The job market paper and the CV as for any job I would say. I don’t know if they read the other stuff. Maybe some, but not all, because many of the people I talked to didn’t have a clear picture of what I was doing.

How competitive was the selection process?

There are thousands of applications for every place… so once you get an interview you compete with maybe 50 people. And out of these 50 people, you can get a fly-out.  It really depends a lot on how big the institution is and how many positions they have open. For the fly-out there could be 10 people, or 5. 5 to 10 people. So I had 20 interviews, or maybe a bit less, 15, and then I got 8 fly-outs. The thing is that you need to work on your strengths. So many people that were with me were really good candidates, but were not as strong in the interview, which is complex because you have to show that you are good in 10 minutes. So you should work a lot on what your weaknesses are. During the fly-out, you give a presentation and you talk to between 10 and 20 faculty members, for 30 minutes’ conversation. So it can last for 1 to 2 days, and then you have a dinner and a lunch. It’s always the same format and they really try to see whether you are a good candidate or not but also if you are a nice person because in some places, people also want to have a friend (for example, if they are alone in a city, and they would like a new department member to be someone with whom they can spend time with, and get along well with) so that was important to me. This is actually very important, but I don’t know really what you can do about it, it’s not like you can train to…So I was stressed sometimes because I had to talk to maybe 20 people in a day and I would get tired talking to people and I didn’t have much to say to the majority of them because a few were in my field but many were in other disciplines and I didn’t have anything in common with them. So it was hard to think about stuff to talk about. Usually they were very interesting. Sometimes you can talk about how expensive it is to rent a flat but it can get exhausting.

How long did it take altogether from the initial application until the final offer?

I started the application on the 15th of October. The last application I did was on the 5th of December. Then I went to the US and to Spain, at the end of December/beginning of January, and then I did the fly-outs mid-January/mid-February. I then got the offers and made my decision, so it lasted until the end of February. The offer was after 2 days, 1 week from the fly-out.

Do you remember which kind of questions you were asked during the second interview? And what were the main subjects that you discussed? Were there any unexpected questions?

So the main two questions were what do you do, what is your research and what do you plan to do in the future, so you need to have a good answer for that. So, I work on development and economic history and there was an open position on development and they wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing only economic history. You need to understand their fears a bit. Nothing out of the blue.

Was there any negotiation going on?

I had three offers on paper so I didn’t negotiate because the last one that I received was my favourite place so I didn’t know how to negotiate because I really wanted to go there, no matter what. But people do, you can get a lot of money on top of the basic offer.

Your new position - What does it entail? How much time are you expected to dedicate to research/teaching/administrative responsibilities?

I don’t think I will have a lot of administrative responsibilities, I will not have too much teaching duties. It will be 70 hours a year so about 40% teaching, 60% research, with administrative duties within that.

What is your perception of prospect for career development?

It’s a tenure track, so if things go well I can get tenure there. It’s a 6 years’ contract (so it’s 2+2+2), and if you meet certain standards you become a full professor in 6 years. The big assessment is in 5 years from now (so this is 6 years overall, but the process will start 5 years from now). In my case, you have to have 5 top field publications which, since I’m hired as a development economist is going to be at least 5 journal development economic journal articles. If I manage to publish 5, I become a full professor.

What would be your main tip for the job search in your discipline? What would be your tips for the interview?

I think the first tip is to be realistic about what you can get. It’s a very competitive market so it’s very likely that you won’t go to a place that you dream of. Everybody wants to be in a cool city but there are a lot of other characteristics that make a job nice, like whether they give you a lot of teaching or not. There is a lot of heterogeneity so trying to understand what you need is very important. Do you want to apply for somewhere you can really settle down? Do you want to go for a short spell? So being realistic and understanding what’s important. And then just don’t be obsessed about it, everyone finds a job!

What do you think was the most helpful element of the job market training of the MWP that you used when applying for a job?

The most useful part of the programme was the help in drafting with the Academic Communication  staff. I took advantage of them, maybe even too much: I was always with them - you have to write a lot of things very fast and they helped a lot. And also seeing the filming of the micro-teaching has been helpful. I didn’t know I had such a strong accent and so then I started to speak more slowly. 


From an interview with a former MWF, now with a research position in one of the European central banks (2014)

On trends and characteristics of the job market in Economics

Job marketing in economics is very standardized. There are a certain number of things that you have to do. The American job market centralized everything. At the same time, the fact that there is heavy competition makes it important that you give clean and sharp information so that the search can be more effective. The most important thing is to define your profile so that you are a particular economist. Are you macro, micro, and what are your skills in terms of technique and topics?


In my application process, I focused mostly on Europe but I applied in a large-scale way. There weren’t many restrictions. I applied to the Bank of […] and of […], and I was interviewed by the Bank of […], which hired me. In general, do not undervalue the impact that your work can have in the job market. Apply on a large-scale, as you have nothing to lose. Also, it could be a bit annoying when you are in the job market and people ask you, for example, how many interviews you have.  An interviewer asked me that. Even you have interviews in places where it’s obvious that you will not work there, it is better that you give the impression that more people want you. The Bank of […] asked me how many other interviews I had. They were trying to evaluate how likely it would be that I would accept an offer from them. When you offer a job, you give the potential employee a set amount of time (for example, 2 weeks) to evaluate the offer.  In the meantime, it is very likely that you will lose the second, the third, and the fourth candidates to positions at other institutions. So if an offer is made to another person afterwards, it may have to be to someone with a lower ranking. So with the first offer, the employer seeks to evaluate how likely it is that the candidate will accept.

As a candidate, I think the best thing to say is that you want to work there because it is a good opportunity. Before going to the interview you should think about the pros for you working there, and stress these at the interview. At the same time, stress that there are other interesting opportunities that you are considering. People want to hire someone who is interesting for other people. The best thing from the point of view of the interviewer is having a candidate who sees him/herself working at the institution; that allows the interviewer to imagine a match between the institution and the candidate.

I had around 14, 15 interviews, mainly for central banks, and some average universities. I had a reference letter from […], who is like a god in monetary policy and this was very attractive to the central banks. There is a love-hate relationship between academics and the work of these guys.

Comparison of interviews between academia and central banks

At schools they ask about your teaching attitude, how you would structure a course, etc. Instead, at the central bank, they asked about how I feel about doing policy work. The interview has different stages: 1) the interview which lasts at most for half an hour; if the interview goes well, then there is an invitation to 2) fly out to the institution where you present your work. And if you are successful you will receive an offer. At both types of interviews I presented my job market paper.

I had less interviews than one would expect. I think my CV was not especially impressive, but my presentation and my work were better. Out of seven fly-outs I received two offers, and at the time I still had two opportunities that I was waiting to hear from. I sent out my applications around the 15th of November, and then interviews are set around the beginning of the year. I then got the fly-outs toward the end of January and the beginning of February, and got the offer at the end of the month. I accepted at the beginning of March. There was no room for negotiation, but it could have been that I was not good enough for it. If I could do the negotiations again, I would have used another offer I had in Moscow to maybe leverage an increase in my salary. But, I naively asked if I could negotiate, instead of just stating my stance.

Current position

The position I have in […] now is the one that I got while I was in the MWP. It is a tenure-track position. I have a contract for three years, and after those three-years I have three options: 1) There is no continuation; 2) The contract is renewed again for two years; or 3) They give tenure.  After three years there is an evaluation. I think that most of the academic contracts that you find in economics are like this.

I’ve been in this position for [...] years and I think it’s a good match. I’ve already had some good feedback. The worst thing that could happen is that they could renew my contract for two years, but I would say that there is a reasonable chance that I will get tenure at the first evaluation. Giving out another two-year contract could also be a way for them to postpone the discussion for a bit. I do research 10 to 11 months of the year, and for the rest of the year I do policy work, which includes briefing and organizing data.

Job market tip  

Put yourself in the shoes of the people who may hire you. They have to not only like you, but they have to be sure that you will be fine in the institution and that they can provide good reasons to convince others that you are good for the institution. It is important that you clearly define yourself and state what type of economist you are.

At the MWP, I think the language support was very helpful. Of course, talking with professors and getting their feedback on presentations was a good thing.

In the beginning, when I was looking for a job, I never thought that central banks could be a serious option. I thought that it was always better to work at a university, especially since I was theory-oriented. But I should say that central banks are good employers. They have more money to send you to conferences and there are some that really give you the freedom to do research and to teach. I think that it is better and you get more visibility at a central bank rather than being at an average European university.


From an interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in Greece (2014)

On general job market trends in Economics

“In comparison with many other markets, the economics job market is quite organized. The American Economic Association (AEA) has facilitated the market for new PhD economists in the United States by supporting job interviews during the ASSA meetings. Other services such as Inomics, SSRN networks, and each university use the web to publicly advertise the existence of jobs, and provide additional online application and reference letter transmittal services. Each year, throughout the entire year and most intensively from late October until early December, thousands of recruiters advertise positions they seek to ?ll, and thousands of job candidates submit applications for these job advertisements. Applications typically involve the candidate’s vitae (resume), his/her job-market paper or other writing samples, and letters of recommendation.”

Personal experience on the job market during the MW Fellowship

“At the time I was a MWF,  and before the financial crisis which seriously affected the job market, according to Coles et al. (2010) several thousand candidates were applying to many thousands of job advertisements in the North American region and Europe. A typical candidate could have made 80 applications. I remember I was pursuing more than 45 applications and travelled around the world consistently for more than 4 months when I was a MWF. The collective time and other resources necessary to manage all of this information and pursue interviews and meetings is, by itself, a potential source of signi?cant inefficiency.”

Tips for a successful job interview

“When it comes to the interview, do not show a ‘know-it-all’ attitude and focus on the pros of your application. Admit with sincerity and straightforwardness the weaknesses of your resume (so far) and try to show a genuine dynamic and promising potential without exaggerating. Try to acquire all the necessary information you could get through any means, of the particular University/Institution and Department that you are applying for, in order to be prepared to confront any idiosyncratic/specific requirements that they might have.”

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in Sweden (2014)

Comparison between the Economics job market in Europe and the US

“Historically, it [the job market] has been very different, as in the US it has always been institutionalized. In October, early November you send applications. Around Thanksgiving, second half of November, departments start reviewing the applications and make lists of people they would like to interview. Interviews happen all at the same time, at one conference which takes place in the first week of January, the American Economic Association (AEA) meeting. In this first round, depending on how many invitations you get, you have a schedule, you walk around the hotel, sit in the hotel rooms and talk to potential employers. In Europe, this has been historically very different, as it was more of a traditional, not so institutionalized job market. You look for a job opening and apply for one job in particular. Recently, Europe has been moving toward the US system. There are also European job market conferences, and more and more European universities are trying to do the same thing. Many of them do the job interviews in the US. This is how I got the job, they came and they interviewed me at the AEA meeting. My estimation would be that for all assistant professor positions in Europe, at least 50% go to the US job market.”

Tips for a successful job interview

“The most important thing to do is: practice out loud, practice out loud. The most important is to practice, practice, practice and be in close touch [if you can] with your advisers. Try to inform them about every step on the way. In my own experience, they were always willing to help. I think I have underestimated how useful the practice was and I think this is something people usually underestimate.”

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in the US (2014)

On general job market characteristics

"The job market in economics is the most centralized. Everything is very organized. The first advantage is online applications., Around 80% of the schools I applied to used the Econ Job Market site. You can quickly load your application, it's low-cost, so people apply to 100 different positions. Then there are conferences where schools set interviews for the people they want to talk in a little more detail. It implies very small costs for the school, so they interview 30-40 candidates for the position they are hiring for. Those they really like, they invite them to the campus, for flyouts. Typically you apply for around 100 positions, you get 10-15 30 min interviews, 3-4 flyouts. The job market in 2010 was very difficult for applications, because of the crisis. Some people decided to stay in school for one more year. So when the market started to hire, there were more positions being offered in 2011 and 2012. But it is still competitive, there is a back-log of applications, even though everyone is hiring. At the same time, there is private money for lots of positions, in environmental and behaviour economics, so there are more positions in those fields. Another thing, there are a lot more interdisciplinary positions, at business schools. The people have to be interdisciplinary and open for fields outside economics."

On interview experience

"I had very similar experiences to other candidates. Fly-outs, all day on the campus, 30 minute interview with 8 faculty members. I had coffee with some grad students. It was pretty standard. I gave job market seminars, in front of a general audience. Make sure that the materials and explanations are accessible to the general audience, rather than focusing on people who might know your particular field. At the 30 min interview, the first 5-10 minutes you talk about your main research paper, where your research agenda will go and so on. Then about  teaching, what courses you would be interested in teaching if given the chance to teach elective courses on a PhD programme etc. All the interviews for the position were conducted in January and February. The first person offered the job declined, and then they made an offer to me. There were 8-9 people on campus. Typically, they make offers sequentially, depending on ranking, but they do not offer a position to everyone. They also do a second round of fly-outs if there are no adequate candidates or if people do not accept. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks for the market to clear. Typically, there is a trickle down – the top schools, like Harvard, they get whoever they want so candidates wait to see whether they get top positions, if they do not, they accept another offer. Some reject thinking they will get a better offer, so those that are hiring stay in touch with the people that rejected."

On expereince from the Max Weber Programme

"Having advisers is great. I had 3-4 that I talked with, at the Economics department, on a regular basis. Also fellows, we would talk about economics and our research. It was good for getting the understanding what academia is, tools required to be successful in academia. You also learn how to write CV, cover letters, and about writing skills in general. To be successful in academia, you have to interact with colleagues, to teach and so on and you do not realize that you need all of these skills while you are writing your PhD. Also, talking with people from other disciplines was useful, since explaining your research to them was important for the job later on, when you have to speak to the dean and have to explain your research, for example."

Tips for a successful job search

“First, lay the groundwork ahead of the application season; attend as many conferences as you can.  Wherever you apply, there will be some senior person from your field, and if they know who you are, it’s good. It’s good having your name recognized, and increases the chance of getting the 30 minute interview. The hardest thing is that the quality applicants are not always recognized [given the number of applications], i.e. it is not always easy to get from the application to this 30 minute interview. By attending conferences, this is much more likely. Getting your name out there, as well as having a web page helps. Second, for the interviews, find out the names of the people who will interview you. It is important to recognize the faculty members from your field, understand what their research is about, so that you can address it, show interest and respect for the people that work in the field. I would always learn names and address people by their first name. It is very helpful if you can create a personal connection.”

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a research position in Italy (2014) 

On changes in Italian academia

"Italian academia is probably becoming more open, partly because research is now included in the way in which the Italian ministry provides money to universities. So they have an incentive to look for people who are good in research. However, this is still in the process of change and no one knows what is going to happen [...]The other thing is that Italian universities are not rich, so they look for people who can get them grants. If they are rich, they look for people who can bring them even more grants. They won’t tell you this but they will be looking for it. Before they did not care much about this. Before there were many small grants, now things are moving towards a few big grants. If you get the grant, then you are a super star, all the departments want you."

On the application process

"It was difficult to get this position, even though I had better publications and it was not the first time I tried, as the Italian system tends to be very closed.. I had no contact with the university in advance. I studied at the same university, although I studied in a different department. To get this position, I did a written exam, and the small interview based on my research. It is not like this any longer. I think now it is getting more similar to the international job market, since it is important to have a good paper and to have publications."  

Page last updated on 18 August 2017

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