In honor of the impending US News Rankings release (and in the alternative to discussing them, which I don't plan to do), I wanted to pose a question. I think I know the answer, but I could be wrong: Do employers actually look at the US News rankings in making hiring decisions? I ask because I've seen this written on blogs and in comments - that the rankings are how employers see you. This post at Above the Law suggesting that employers not do so (and thus assuming that they otherwise would) is an example. This doesn't mean students don't look at the rankings or even that they shouldn't. It merely questions this factual predicate about hiring.
My gut says most employers don't for a several reasons reasons.
First, lots of practitioners have told me they don't, and we never did at our firm. Nor do they have the time to check a list for each applicant.
Second, there is a strong local/regional bias for hiring. This shows, for example, in the National Law Journal "Go To" law rankings, where Villanova ranks some 60 spots ahead of our US News Rankings in part because of our Philadelphia location. So as not to seem like a shill, I also note that our local competitor Temple lands right behind us, many spots ahead of its ranking, and both Santa Clara and Howard have higher jumps than us based in part on their locations. This is not to say that these schools have great employment outcomes across the board; we have our own struggles, as do Temple, Santa Clara, and Howard and that affects US News ranking. But, as far as I can tell, it's the struggle that affects rankings and not vice versa.
Third, employment rates don't match up to US News rates (that is, this year's employment numbers are not even close to lock step with last year's rankings). You would expect to see this if rankings were used for hiring.
Fourth, differences between peer rankings and judge/lawyer rankings illustrate that how employers see schools does not match up with how US News sees schools. After all, there is very high correlation between peer rankings and overall ranking, but the correlation with judge/lawyer scores is lower.
Thus, my gut says that exact ranking doesn't matter. This doesn't mean reputation doesn't matter. Students from the top 10, 15, or even 20 schools will have an advantage. But that advantage could be based in part on views of historic alumni performance as well as general prestige as much as ranking. Do employers really look to seek if Harvard or Stanford is ahead this year, or if Duke cracked the top 10 from number 11? I doubt it.
The same is true for lower ranked (third and fourth tier schools). These schools may suffer from lack of prestige in the market, but no one is looking to see if the last ranked school slipped from a number ranking to the unlisted group. Just being in the area is enough. And even that is regionally based; when I started at West Virginia eight years ago, the law school had just dropped into the fourth tier due to a miscalculated student/faculty ratio. And, yet, employment rates did not suffer the next year.
This leaves the vast middle of the top 100. I'm skeptical that employers -especially local ones- are looking to see if a school dropped from 30th to 55th. The drop in rank (usually) doesn't come with some great shock in faculty or graduate quality. And if it does, it's not one that would affect every student such that students are viewed differently until several years of declining graduate quality experience. Instead, my guess is that when employers see a resume from an unknown school, they look to see if they know it as a top or bottom school, and if not, they think of it as a middlish school and judge the student on that basis.
Like I said, I could be wrong, and there could be some US News based hiring out there, but I don't think so. If I'm wrong, I'd love to hear about it from people who actually look at the rankings in hiring (as opposed to people who just assert the fact to be true).