Thursday 9 December 2010

Signaling and GRE scores

Bryan Caplan writes:
Back in 1995, I attended an IHS seminar for graduate students. We heard some lectures, practiced our public speaking, and did mock interviews. The last activity was pretty traumatic. It's hard for a second-year grad student to role-play someone who's wrapping up his dissertation.

Part of the process was writing up a mock c.v. - which led to a moment I still remember. One of the students wrote his GRE scores on his c.v. During the denouement, the mock interviewers raked him over the coals:
You don't put your GRE scores on your c.v. It's makes you look like a grad student! It doesn't matter how high your scores are. Schools want to hire creative assistant professors - not stellar grad students.
Good advice, no doubt. But why is it good advice? As usual, the signaling model sheds a lot of light. If the average candidate who puts his GRE scores on his c.v. is professionally clueless even given impressive scores, it's a bad idea to include them. So only professionally clueless candidates do so, reinforcing the equilibrium.
I got exactly the same raking at the same IHS seminar, albeit five or six years later. If I recall correctly, I'd used Robin Hanson's CV as model. Now, his scores are instead on his personal page. So I'm not sure if my memory is wrong, or if Robin's taken the signal.

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