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About 1,800 economics graduate students converged on the chilly Chicago streets in early January. MA: So they decided to show the rest of us how it should be done. SMITH: Oh, not just any market, a hyper-efficient, multibidder, optimized sorting system effortly (ph) balancing the needs of management and labor, tested by game theorists, tweaked by a Nobel Prize winner himself. But he also says he's having these anxiety dreams about the interviews that are coming. MA: He's applied to universities, private companies, private consulting firms. He loves big datasets, people who have a lot of numbers.

Every employer's set up in a different hotel room in hotels all across the city. He's a hotshot economics grad student from one of the best schools in the country, University of Michigan. MA: Julian's about to have the first real job interview of his life. Is it not clear that I don't know how to tie a tie? Half an hour later, our heart rate has returned to normal. SHU: So, like, you're supposed to have a 15-minute thing ready to go. So there are like 13 minutes of details afterwards. CAWLEY: So we had one job candidate we interviewed, and she got laryngitis. Now 97 percent of people who go through this speed-dating race find a job by the summer. SMITH: Everyone we talked to said, Julian, oh, he's going to be snatched up quickly. I do not need to run through the streets of Chicago. SMITH: But I have to say, the good thing about the schedule that I noticed is that there is no time to replay the bad moments. I mean, they've spent - some of them - six years preparing for this one weekend, and then anything can happen. SMITH: And after these tweaks, the number of successful job matches went up. You leave the interview and everyone goes, oh, that was bad, that's also good because you've agreed that this was not something that you want to do. I can - they said they only have four students this year. But, you know, here at the job market he's in the same kind of hotel room as Harvard is and MIT and Princeton. SMITH: By the end of February, he still didn't have a job offer. You know, I was like, ah (ph) I have a job offer, right? MA: (Laughter) It's tempting to try and draw some lessons here, right? He's into big data, and he'd be the first to say his experience is just one data point. You can find that on npr.org/podcast or on the NPR One app. Now, Hoover figures that the University of Oklahoma may not be the most prestigious economics department in the nation. SHU: And I thought, hum (ph), that's not well timed. They have a new episode out about what they are looking forward to, and more importantly, what they are dreading from the suburb movie season. SMITH: And think of it from the perspective of the poor graduate students. If by the spring they're still looking for a match, they can go online and see who's still hiring. It is Sunday afternoon and Julian Shu is finally done. SHU: Twenty-two interviews in three and a half days. After you walk out and both people go, oh, that was great, like, that's good.

And so, yeah, there's job candidates who just could not interview. ROTH: The American Economic Association now runs a website through which before the interviews are formalized, candidates can send up to two signals of interest. MA: Just in case that doesn't work out, Roth also helped develop this kind of safety net for applicants who don't get any job offers. And Julian pulls up a huge bag of Amazon swag and dumps it on the table. And I think managing that expectation is really important.SHU: All right, so here we're, like, four minutes late. He has more than 20 interviews already scheduled for the next three days. SMITH: But Julian is really excited by the government interviews. SMITH: Wait, you've, like, done this all on Google Maps so you can get between these places? That one will take 15 minutes max, minimum of 13 minutes. SMITH: These are graduate students in economics heading to their very first job interviews.

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