Decision time for undergrads choosing a grad school is fast approaching, and I want to comment on a fallacy that I hear commonly repeated both by candidate students and by professors.
OK. So here's the thing: I routinely hear folks say "dept x frequently places their graduate students in higher ranked departments than does dept y. So no matter how much I like y, think they give people good training, match my interests, etc, I should go to x so as to get a better job."
The problem is that there are two variables in what job you get out of grad school: the training, connections, work, etc that the department provides, and how good you are. If anyone doesn't like "good" for whatever reason, then take this to be a technical term for whatever it is in the way of skills, habits, and dispositions that philosophers tend to look for in evaluating other philosophers. There is plenty of intersubjectivity among employed philosophers in this and basically the same people make the grad admissions decisions who make the hiring ones. (Yes, more are invovlved in hiring, but they have been trained by the ones making the admissions decisions and generally have internalized the same standards of quality.)
And as much as many want to deny it, there is big variation on the second variable. And the higher ranked departments - partly because of the temptations of this very fallacy; partly because they are good - tend to get much better students on average than lower ranked departments. And those students end up doing better work at the end of grad school. And they get better jobs. At least that is one causally significant pattern.
So the fact that school x has placed the top ten recruits of year n at highly ranked departments in year n+6, whereas school y has placed the 50-55 rank recruits at much lower ranked departments, just might say very little about where you will be likely to be placed if you go to one or the other. Because you have whatever talent you have. If you got into x, you are one of those thought now to be talented enough to get into x; which is to say that you are probably thought to be more talented than the typical student who goes to y. So you will probably do about the same as other students at x, and better than other students at y if you go there.
So, I suggest think first-order. Are the philosophers at a department good? Do they spend lots of time with their students? Do they have good training plans? Do they support their students well on the market? These things may be hard to assess, but they are much more directly relevant to how well a given student will do than the statistical average of how a bunch of non-comparable students will do.
(I trust that my former students will take no offense. I've had some absolutely marvelous students at GU, students I think the world of. But yeah, I do think that the average student at GU is less philosophically talented than the average student at Princeton.)