Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms

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Abstract

This article presents culture as a vehicle of labor market sorting. Providing a case study of hiring in elite professional service firms, I investigate the often suggested but heretofore empirically unexamined hypothesis that cultural similarities between employers and job candidates matter for employers' hiring decisions. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers as well as participant observation of a hiring committee, I argue that hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting; it is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity. I unpack the interpersonal processes through which cultural similarities affected candidate evaluation in elite firms and provide the first empirical demonstration that shared culture-particularly in the form of lifestyle markers-matters for employer hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications for scholarship on culture, inequality, and labor markets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)999-1022
Number of pages24
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Volume77
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

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Keywords

  • cultural capital
  • culture
  • hiring
  • homophily
  • inequality
  • interpersonal evaluation
  • labor markets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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