Using the matched employer–employee data set for Denmark and information on the founders of new firms, we analyze the hiring choices of all new firms that entered from 2003 to 2010. We develop a theoretical model in which the quality of a firm’s employees determines its average cost, a firm’s productivity is based on its pre-entry experience and persistent shocks, and over time firms learn about their productivity. The model predicts that more productive firms are larger and hire more talented employees, which gives rise to various predictions about how pre-entry experience, firm growth rates, and firm size influence the wages firms pay to their early hires. We find that beginning with the time of entry, larger firms consistently pay higher wages to their new hires. These are firms with greater survival prospects at the time of entry based on the pre-entry backgrounds of their founders and that grow at greater rates over time, both of which are predictive of the wages paid to new hires from the time of entry onward. Our findings suggest workers are allocated to firms according to their abilities, which can give rise to enduring firm capabilities.

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