When Invisible Forces Are on Your Side

February 14th was my day!.. No-no, nothing to do with St. Valentine. I got a job offer. Even more, I got a great job offer. It came from the University of Vienna, and this alone made it great. Before the offer came, I had visited Vienna to present my job market paper and to meet with professors there. When I went there, my body was still confused about the time zone I brought it in, my presentation needed more rehearsals, and a long list of papers was in the to-be-read category. Nevertheless, I was excited to talk to all those people with whom I had scheduled appointments.

And I got even more excited after I met them. It does not happen too often that you feel the drive during a research-related conversation, but it was the case for me in Vienna. It reminded me how I felt during my mobility stay at NYU just a couple of months before, and it was so much better compared to how I felt after the interview for a postdoc position at one top U.S. university, which was originally my dream-place. No doubts, I wanted an offer from Vienna. Not because it would be at-least-some offer, but because it would be an offer from these guys.

My job talk took place on January 21st. You can do the calculations to see that it was followed by a long waiting-for-a-response period. From the beginning, I knew who my main competitor was. The girl had an objectively better profile, great presentation skills, and, most importantly, a very interesting job market paper. I even recommended her paper to my student at Ural State University who was interested in doing an experimental research on preventing dishonest behavior. I knew that she would get an offer first. I just hoped that many other universities would be interested in her as well, and she would choose one of those. Even though it was hard for me to imagine anything better than Vienna. Where else would you join a newly established experimental center and would have so many enthusiastic people around being interested in your field? But we all have different priorities.

You probably know that to get a dream job, one needs either to be a genius, or to use his/her lucky chance efficiently. Not being a genius, I was looking around for my lucky chance. And it came! It was an A4 paper “Last Minute Changes” that they distribute at conferences, with a hand-written email address of a professor from Vienna on it. This paper originated on December 17th, when I presented my research at the Symposium of Spanish Economic Association in Madrid, at the job market session on experimental economics.

It was not typical at all how my relationship with the University of Vienna started. Usually, you send out your application packages, institutions review them and decide whether to interview you at one of the job market meetings. Then they decide whether to invite you to present your paper at their institution. The recruiting group from Vienna was at my presentation in Madrid, the next day they interviewed me, and only then I officially applied for their position.

Why did the recruiting group from Vienna come to my presentation at the first place? To explain, I need to jump back into summer 2010, when I met the guy who essentially gave me this lucky chance. It was a small students’ conference in Warsaw in June where we were two out of three experimentalists presenting our research. Of course, it was unavoidable that we would talk about different experimental methods during a coffee break, and then would go with a bigger group of young economists to watch a World Cup soccer game. A week later we met again in Copenhagen at a big experimental conference, and had a great time tasting expensive Danish beer (and talking about economics sometimes).

The guy, I will call him JT, was on the job market as well this year, and we met for the third time in Madrid, a night before our job market session. JT was after his interview with the University of Vienna. He was wondering why I had not even applied there. The place looked really good and I started to wonder myself why I had not noticed their announcement on Inomics. Good for me, the recruiting team from Vienna was coming to see JT’s presentation the next day. And then he just told them about my interest in their position. This was the reason they stayed for my presentation, which was right after JT’s.

To complete this most positive part of my job search experience, let me get back to where I had started the story. That is, to the happy end on February 14th. By a coincidence, I had another job talk on this day, and was supposed to have one more on February 28th. For the latter one I could not decide which flight ticket to get, a cheaper one or a refundable one, and I kept bothering a friend of mine with this issue. As if it was a to-be-or-not-to-be question. Finally, I decided that I would get back to this question after the job talk on February 14th. The friend smiled and said “No, you would not. You would have a job offer from Vienna by then, and you would not have to fly anywhere on February 28th”. Just imagine how I felt when on February 14th, just a couple of hours before the job talk at another good institution, I got an email with a job offer from Vienna.

The last coincidence in this story was to meet JT again on February 14th, as he had a job talk at the same institution the day after. However, it was not a real job talk, because by that time he had already accepted his job offer from… the University of Vienna! They were hiring three junior experimentalists this year, and we became two of them. Guess what we did in the evening? Right, we went to have some beers to celebrate…

Natalia Shestakova, 6th year CERGE-EI student


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