Applying for Jobs You Won’t Take


A graduate student in philosophy asks:

“In today’s job market climate is it immoral to apply for a job and go deep in the interview process when one knows (not just reasonably foresees) that one will not take the job if offered it? Or is this practice, common among senior philosophers to increase their salary at their current institution, just a shrewd career strategy? One reason to think it is morally wrong is that fully embracing the practice involves deception, feigning interest, and lying. It is also exclusionary to those most in need of opportunities. If a job search is open rank, senior philosophers engaging in the process stand to take slots for on campus interviews that could have been offered to less senior philosophers. If the practice is immoral, what steps can the profession take to discourage this sort of behavior?”

I take it that context is important here: we’re assuming that you are not going to give up academia in order to do something more productive of the good (like take a job at Oxfam or become a Wall Street effective altruist), we’re leaving off the table structural reforms to universities and academic remuneration, and we’re granting that obtaining new job offers or retention offers is the most effective way of increasing one’s salary as an academic.

Given all of that, in my view there is nothing wrong with applying for a job that you think you “probably won’t take.” In part this is because the application process is also a learning process, and there are things about the position (or yourself) that you might learn by going through that process, that could lead you to want to take the job.

But our correspondent is asking about a different kind of case: one in which people are applying for jobs that they are by any reasonable standards certain they would not take. What should we think of that? Among the various considerations there’s the question of whether the context legitimates deception (as it does in, say, a game of poker). But there is also, among other costs, the time and effort that your would-be colleagues spent courting you and fighting for you, which you knowingly waste.

Readers?

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(Philosopher Playing Cards design by Martin Pulido)

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Danielle Wenner
5 years ago

Given the financial costs of applying for jobs, coupled with the time sink of assembling applications, and the life interruptions attendant on interview prep and potential last-minute travel (if invited to campus), I can’t help but wonder – why *would* any junior scholar apply for a job she was certain she wouldn’t take if offered?

I tend to think there’s bad faith in acting in this way, but perhaps there are strategic reasons that I’m not seeing.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  Danielle Wenner
5 years ago

“why *would* any junior scholar apply for a job she was certain she wouldn’t take if offered?”

As Justin points out, job offers from other institutions often lead to retention offers. So as long as your home institution doesn’t know about your bluff, there’s reason to seek an offer which you know you wouldn’t accept. But that doesn’t yet answer the question of whether it’s moral to do so.Report

Danielle Wenner
Reply to  recent grad
5 years ago

Complete misread on my part. Was thinking about junior scholars on the market for the first time.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  Danielle Wenner
5 years ago

That makes more sense. I was beginning to doubt my ability to read charitably.Report

dd
dd
5 years ago

I think the minimal attitude one should have toward the institution to which one is applying is openness to being convinced to go there. And being genuinely certain that you won’t go there is certainly, to my eyes anyway, not being open in this sort of way. Of course, being open in this way does not necessarily entail a present desire to go, nor does it entail one’s belief that one would go under such-and-such circumstances, and so on. I’ve been on job interviews before where I’ve been really skeptical but have ended up coming away with a real desire for the job (not that I’ve gotten any of those; oh cruel fate!). But if you genuinely know that you won’t go there, I don’t think you can in good conscience apply.Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

I sort of feel like we have this discussion all the time, in different forms. Some practice which helps individuals do better on the job market hurts the discipline, collectively. Collective action problem arises. People wonder about whether individuals have obligations to make personal sacrifices in order to solve the collective action problem.

At this point, more sensible people chime in about the moral obligations of those who could actually do something to remedy the large-scale structural issues which lead to the problem in the first place. While the powerful (senior philosophers) may have obligations to refrain from mass-applying, In conditions of scarcity, it is kind of silly and moralistic to talk about the moral obligations of the powerless many who are directly affected by that scarcity. We should always focus on those who quietly benefit from the system being the way that it is (for example, departments who profit from cheap labor supplied by admitting too many graduate students).Report

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

Here are some potential reasons why someone might apply to a job that they were not sure that they would take:

1. Nobody is ever really sure of anything. Perhaps, upon actually speaking with one’s potential future colleagues, visiting one’s potential future campus, and interacting with one’s potential future students, a person discovers that they were wrong about their previous beliefs and that job that they were sure they would hate turns into a job that they find fulfilling.

2. Being on the job market is a skill that can only really be developed with practice and, in my experience, the best practice is doing the real thing (mock talks and interviews really can’t prepare you for the variety of things that can happen during the real thing). In this sense, it’s in one’s pragmatic self-interest to apply widely.

3. As others have mentioned, getting another job offer is a really useful way of getting your home university to re-assess your value in a good way (it can lead to summer salaries, increased general salary, more research funding, etc.). I don’t blame candidates who do this in the “don’t hate the player, hate the game” sense. Also, for those who are currently employed but in a non-tenure-track way, having and outside offer gives the NTT lecturer some negotiating power at her home institution (I have seen this lead to promotions and raises even among NTT faculty at my home institution, for example).Report

Mr. Nogot
Mr. Nogot
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

Those are reasons why someone might engage in the practice, but do those pragmatic and self-interested reasons make it morally permissible for one to engage in the practice? It is a common point that maximizing self-interest can conflict with the demands of morality. Regarding point 1, knowledge doesn’t require certainty, but if one knows in advance that one would not take the job it is often because there are outweighing factors that, no matter how great one discovers the job is upon visiting campus, would never outweigh, say, selling one’s house, moving away from one’s community, taking one’s kids out of school, and so on. I take it that this the case we’re being urged to consider. Regarding 2 and 3, again, the considerations are self-interested (polishing one’s interview skills and better situating one’s self at one’s current university). Is your claim that these self-interested reasons make the practice morally permissible, both in the specific case and for the profession generally? If so, that claim would be hard to swallow given that people are denied opportunities to interview on campus via, as the case suggests, people that know they won’t take the job. Additionally, you might worry that this lack of authenticity and lying to better situate one’s self financially and professionally is the sort of practice that should be discouraged by the profession, as such dispositions within the profession are responsible for many of its ills.Report

CuriousCat
CuriousCat
Reply to  Mr. Nogot
5 years ago

I’m interested in hearing what Louis Generis has to say about this.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Mr. Nogot
5 years ago

Hi Nogot. I think there *is* an injustice here but it isn’t the one(s) that you point to. On the one hand, I think your response points to an ideal/non-ideal theory issue. I’m not sure what an ideal job market would look like. Would it even require scarcity or competition? Would it be a market at all? I find these sorts of considerations not especially useful when I’m thinking about how to advise specific individuals who exist in this world.

A defense of (2). I don’t think that there anything morally wrong with sharpening your interview skills even though opportunities to do this are scarce resources that cannot be distributed to all who would want them. I think it’s a genuine good to sharpen your interview skills (they constitute a real and valuable set of social skills everyone should have an interest in acquiring) and I also believe that the best way of sharpening (or acquiring) these skills is to actually engage in the market and practice. That the resources are scarce, that some worthy individuals are left without these opportunities, is only an injustice if selections are being made in an unjust way. Although I think that this is true (gender, racial, and orientation-based discrimination are real and pernicious features of our market), you don’t identify *these* as your problem. You seem to think that because (2) is a self-interested concern that the practice of pursuing (2) is therefore potentially immoral. I’m not sure I buy that, especially when we live in a world with job markets (i.e., scarcity). You also seem to assert that interview skills are about lying. I deny this. A good interviewee may need to sharpen their social acting skills but this doesn’t imply that a good interview be inauthentic (seriously…who thinks that?). A good interviewee needs to be tactful, needs to understand how to frame their contributions and abilities to people who are not experts in their niche field, and needs to understand the differences in their audiences, but these are good skills for any of us to have.

A defense of (3). In a perfect world, we would all be valued by our institutions in a fair and appropriate way. We do not, however, live in that world. I don’t think it is any particular person’s responsibility to under-value themselves in order to confer a benefit on someone else (who is, we may stipulate, also being undervalued). If anyone has an obligation here, it is any person who is being overvalued (since, by definition, they are earning more than they deserve). Still, I bet the number of overvalued Philosophers is actually quite rare (given how poorly all humanities scholars are paid).

However, I do think there is genuine injustice here. Departments have a moral obligation to try as hard as they can to control for racial, sexual, and orientation-based biases when they hire candidates (and, I would stipulate, that they have an obligation to expand our currently narrow conception of what philosophy is and whose work counts as philosophical). However, I don’ think this generates a corresponding obligation on the parts of applicants to refrain from applying for jobs merely because others may be worse off than they are.Report

NotFuriousAtAllCat
NotFuriousAtAllCat
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

I don’t know ejrd. They’re taking chances from people who really want the job. They’re misusing some department’s money. And if I found out that someone in my own department did this, I would have a really hard time trusting them in the future.Report

Mr. Nogot
Mr. Nogot
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

Hi EJLD, Your response shifts the concern to a different question: Is the practice of being a deceptive interviewee just or unjust given our current (non-ideal) market conditions? You respond that the practice is not unjust. By implication, I take it, the practice is not immoral. However, a practice can fail to be unjust yet still be immoral. Think infidelity. Is the practice of infidelity an injustice akin to the things you mentioned (e.g., racism, sexism, and so on)? Not necessarily. Though the practice is arguably immoral. I suggest that being a deceptive interviewee is more like infidelity than racism. I would not claim that those deprived of opportunities for on campus interviews are systematically excluded from the interview process on the basis of biases and prejudices. The loss of opportunity is not an injustice; rather, it is a side effect of a practice that is immoral—knowingly and intentionally deceiving others to secure long-term personal interests.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Mr. Nogot
5 years ago

I disagree that relationship fidelity is the right model. With a relationship, two people have committed to a set of beliefs that is good for both of them (in this case, the belief that they will be one’s only sexual partner). Not only is no such promise being made in an interview situation, the analogy you’re proposing would imply that it would be wrong to look for other work at all (since it would break my promise to my current employer).

The employer-employee relationship is not matrimonial nor is it filial.Report

Mr. Nogot
Mr. Nogot
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

I did not propose an analogy between employer-employee relations and matrimonial or filial relations. I said that, “being a deceptive interviewee is more like infidelity than racism.” Why? Deceptive interviewing involves deception and often, though not always, infidelity involves deception. The two practices are not analogous in important respects, which you mentioned. However, there is a sense in which deceptive interviewing does damage a collegial relationship. This is the phenomenon “NotFuriousAtAllCat” was tracking when he/she said, “if I found out that someone in my own department did this, I would have a really hard time trusting them in the future.” Discovery of infidelity leads to a break in trust in the other person, though at a different level and to a different degree than discovery of deceptive interviewing. One does not cheat on one’s boss, so to speak, by interviewing elsewhere. The deception that is common, though not analogous, between the two practices points to what grounds the immorality of the practices, namely, that such practices violate the basic demand for goodwill or reasonable regard of the other. One acts so as to circumvent the other’s autonomy or ability to consent to the practice. However, such practices do not share with racism and sexism the feature that they are social injustices. Racism and sexism involve discrimination and prejudicial treatment in ways that deceptive interviewing and infidelity do not. This is why deceptive interviewing is more like, though not analogous to, infidelity than it is to racism.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

Is this practice really “common among senior philosophers to increase their salary at their current institution”?

I haven’t been around all that long yet, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a senior philosopher apply for a job they knew they wouldn’t take if offered.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

But since my very first semester of grad school, I’ve been watching people with good TT jobs apply for assistant professorships elsewhere, get an offer from those other places, and then get tenure at their own department within several weeks.

Now, I don’t want to jump to conclusions on my jump to conclusions mat, but one straightforward explanation of the correlation is that those people never wanted the new job, but used it as leverage for tenure at their own spot.

Call me a sucker, or maybe just an idealist, but that seems depressingly calculated. Add that as a result, sometimes those other departments end up having to conduct the same search the next year, and the whole thing is even more of a damn shame.

Anyway, I guess those people are senior now. But yeah, I guess they do this when they are junior. So, maybe “is common among senior people” should have been “is a common method people who are senior now have used to secure tenure.”Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  HighFiveGhost
5 years ago

That doesn’t seem to be an example of the behaviour in question. If you haven’t got tenure, you haven’t got a definite job at the end of the tenure track. Effectively, your tenure application is a job application. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to make other applications in parallel, in case tenure doesn’t work out.

Even if you’ve got several years to run on the TT clock, your preference order might be

current job with tenure > job elsewhere > current job without tenure

and then, again, I don’t see anything unreasonable about applying elsewhere: your hope is that your current institution will respond by offering tenure, but if not then you’ll move.

The only thing that would seem dubious would be bluffing – applying elsewhere even when you know you’ll stay whether or not you get the tenure. But I share Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa’s scepticism as to whether that really happens much.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Yeah, I guess that’s right DW.

For the reasons you give, it’s not the worst thing in the world. For the reasons I gave, it’s not the nicest thing either.

But I don’t know, having opinions about this is stressing me out because I said that I’ve seen cases like this, and I really don’t want to be mean.

But I guess it’s not so bad to point out things that make PRO go hmmm.Report

OneTimeNameless
OneTimeNameless
5 years ago

I find on-campus interviews really draining. I don’t think that I could put myself through one unless I thought that there was some chance that I would want the job if it were offered, and I really don’t think that I could interview well under those conditions anyway: I’m not that good of an actor. But I’m a little less scornful of people who do apply in order to solicit a counteroffer than I used to be. My university hasn’t given a merit raise since at least 2007. We’ve only had about three raises total since then, and the largest was only about 3% so they’ve just been across the board. Our President has said that he does not anticipate a merit raise in the foreseeable future. So the only way that people have been rewarded for hard work during this period has been via counteroffers. Well, and raises for promotion, but that only happens twice in your career. A full professor may rationally expect that after inflation she will see her salary steadily decline over the rest of her career here unless she gets a counteroffer. Given compression, it’s not out of the question that she may someday be making less than new assistant professors. And our willingness to make counteroffers is always raised as a mitigating factor during discussions about the lack of raises, so we’re implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) told that if we want more money we need to be testing the market. If my school tacitly encourages us to go out looking for counteroffers. then it’s not really in a position to complain if someone applies here for the same reason. And I assume that most schools are like mine, so if one of us goes out looking for a counteroffer, the schools where she applies probably aren’t able to complain either. Of course, this analysis doesn’t take into account the effects of “insincere” applications on individuals, although in my experience someone usually does get hired even if one or two candidates turn offers down; a school would be very shortsighted not to do a fourth or fifth fly-out, if good candidates were still in the pool. And I don’t fault my school (or others) too much for the lack of merit raises; I know that our President would love to have the money to offer one and is looking hard for it (although I don’t think that he’s considered looking in the athletics budget yet).

All of this aside, I think it’s very rare that anyone could be certain that they wouldn’t accept a job without having visited the school. I’ve applied for a few things that on paper didn’t look like my dream job, but you never know what you’ll find once you’re there. Maybe I wouldn’t have applied for some of these if a counteroffer were not a possibility, but I can’t think of any job in particular of which I’m sure that’s true. I did once accept a counteroffer.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  OneTimeNameless
5 years ago

Yeah, I that all sounds fair…. for the most part. But even if one or two people turn down a job, and someobe gets hired, there are others who didn’t even get a chance because one or two people were just looking for counteroffers.

And I hear what you’re saying about a lack of merit raises, and the possibility that an assistant professor might end up making more than a full professor. But I guess the full professor has a chance to save and invest their money to take advantage of inflation in other ways.

I dunno… I guess the biggest issue is that people just out of grad school would like to at least have a chance at a job. And this whole counteroffer business limits those chances.

But whatever. Life is hard and then you die.Report

Brandon Cooke
Brandon Cooke
5 years ago

I don’t think that the interviewing-for-counteroffer practices takes opportunities away from junior applicants. After all, if the senior person declines an offer, as long as the search isn’t failed, then the hiring department usually moves straightaway to other finalists or shortlisted candidates. It’s not as if the position evaporates if a first (or second, or third) offer is declined.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  Brandon Cooke
5 years ago

I’m pretty sure it evaporates for the year, and the department ends up doing the same search again the next year. But I’m still in grad school, so my department is fancy enough to have a grad program.

It might work differently in less fancy places- which is good news for me when I go on the market I guess. Anyway, this whole thing is whatever and not that big of a deal. It’s just part of academia I guess.Report

OneTimeNameless
OneTimeNameless
Reply to  HighFiveGhost
5 years ago

It depends. When I received an offer that I ended up not accepting, choosing the counteroffer instead, I was the fifth person to make a campus visit and the third to receive an offer. When I turned them down then they did run the same search again the next year (and ended up hiring someone much better for them than me). But by the time they got to me they were probably at the end of their shortlist. They were certainly at the end of the semester. They were fancy enough to have a graduate program. In any case that was a senior search; no junior faculty were harmed.Report

smj
smj
5 years ago

The assumption that if person X applies for a job, person Y will be denied a chance at the position is questionable. There are hundreds of applicants for every job in philosophy. The majority will have no chance at all, and a small subset will be given serious consideration. An even smaller subset will become finalists. (Imagine a scenario where only 5 people apply for a job, and the hiring committee thinks two are worth interviewing, and then one if them is offered a job. That person turns down the job. If you’re applicants 3-5, you have not been harmed because you were not going to get an interview anyway.) Some applicants will be people who apply only to gain leverage from their existing department (for a salary increase, a spousal accommodation, early tenure, research leave, etc.). The fact is that without a competing offer, both junior and senior scholars (superstars excepted) have practically no leverage at all, and the fact is that people’s lives and circumstances change such that they might actually need that leverage at some point in their career. They do not have a duty to every other possible applicant to stand aside and sacrifice their own interests, and the interests of their families (and doing so would not guarantee any other possible applicants a shot at the job). They don’t owe it to search committees to tell them they are only applying to gain leverage. Search committees know this is a possibility any time they look at an applicant who is already in a TT position.
If you’re not in a TT job, and applying for jobs you absolutely would not take under any circumstances, you are probably wasting your time, given the long odds. But you don’t have a duty to others to not apply for those jobs. (You might, for example, be in the fortunate position of having competing offers where, again, leverage would be advantageous.)Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  smj
5 years ago

You’re telling me that the people who actually get interviewed are the only people worth interviewing?

I see the logical space for that hurtful possibility. But fortunately, I don’t see the likelihood of that.

Anyway, I don’t care about this anymore. I’m just responding to your objection because that’s good practice I guess.Report

smj
smj
Reply to  HighFiveGhost
5 years ago

I’m not saying that they are the “only people worth interviewing.” I’m saying that in the judgment of the (hypothetical) search committee, they were the only (hypothetical) people worth (hypothetically) interviewing, because they were the only ones that might (hypothetically) be hired. There are all kinds of ways that search committees can (and do) make faulty judgments about the applicants in front of them, and use metrics that are unreliable, and when there are (literally) hundreds of applicants, arbitrary decisions are practically a necessity. My point was that the people who did not get interviewed were not harmed by the people who were. If they were harmed by anyone (which depends greatly on how you define harm, and whether you think denying to someone something they were not actually entitled to is a harm), it was the search committee. But search committees are under no obligation to interview hundreds of applicants.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  smj
5 years ago

I don’t know. I would think the search committee would interview their top group of applicants. If counteroffer seekers weren’t on the top of that list, genuine seekers would be.

Again, don’t really care. Just responding.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
5 years ago

No, it’s not immoral. And it’s a standard career strategy in every industry in the world other than academia. If you’re a professor working the TT, you’re almost certainly underpaid relative to what you’re doing, and using a different position as leverage for more money is perfectly fine. You simply have to be a professional about it. Sure, managers (i.e., “department chairs” or “Deans” as they’re called in academia) or the company (i.e., the “college” or “university” as it’s called in academia) may discourage this practice, but that’s largely because your interests and the company’s interests probably diverge in this case.

If you’re looking for who/what to blame, this is a structural issue, not an issue of actions of individuals.Report

Mr. Nogot
Mr. Nogot
Reply to  Matt Drabek
5 years ago

Comparing how we ought to conduct ourselves in academia to practices in the business world only heightens my sense that something is morally problematic with the practice of being a deceptive interviewee. Ought academics to model their professional conduct on status quo conduct in the business world? Perhaps not if the conduct being modeled involves deception, lying, and is largely underwritten by egoistic concerns (i.e. an act is moral given that it promotes individual long-term interest).

You suggest blame for the practice should target structures and institutions. I don’t deny that structures and institutions deserve blame to some degree. However, individuals are also appropriate targets of blame for engaging in the practice. Blame expresses the perceived damaging of a relationship. Blame expresses, on a Strawsonian view, a violation of the basic demand for goodwill or reasonable regard. On campus interviews are often extended affairs. The interviewee meets with faculty, students, and administrators. In an effort to appear sincere about the job, the deceptive interviewee must often lie about why they want to take the job and why they want to leave their current institution. Such an attitude of deception fails to meet the basic demand for reasonable regard for others in an effort to successfully deceive them, get the job offer, and use the offer to bolster one’s standing at one’s present institution. The practice is immoral. Individuals who engage in it are blameworthy for doing so. Being undervalued by one’s current institution is not an exempting condition from being subject to the basic demand. It is not on par with being cognitively disabled or morally disabled (i.e. a psychopath). One intentionally and knowingly deceives in an effort to secure personal long-term interest.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Mr. Nogot
5 years ago

I suppose it’s not really a matter of arguing that academics ought or ought not to model their conduct on the business world. It’s to point out that academia is already a part of the business world, and the rest of the institution already operates that way. By not using these strategies when they’d prefer to use them, academics just hurt themselves for no discernible positive effect.

And I just don’t see where the deception comes in. Perhaps if there’s a literally zero chance of accepting the position, you’re engaged in deception. But even in the business world, it’s not really standard advice to apply for jobs in which you have *no interest whatsoever* in order to improve your current lot. Indeed, it’s a part of the strategy in the first place that you have at least *some* level of interest in the new position. And an openness to being sold on the position even if that interest level is very low. In order to use the strategy effectively, you have to be willing to walk away from the table and take the job in the face of intransigence from your current employer. I guess the way I read it is, “should you apply for jobs you *probably* won’t end up taking?”Report

Mr. Nogot
Mr. Nogot
Reply to  Matt Drabek
5 years ago

Hi Matt: You said, “Perhaps if there’s a literally zero chance of accepting the position, you’re engaged in deception.” I thought that’s the case we’re being asked to consider. You might be interested in the job because you find it interesting, but you know no amount of wooing by the university and department will make it likely or possible for you to take the job if offered it (e.g. you won’t leave your current community, sell your house, pull your kids out of school, etc.). The deception becomes most evident when you’re asked why you want to come work for university x and why you want to leave university y. You lie and feign sincere interest in taking the job while knowing that you won’t take it. So, I think we agree that the case involves deception. Now, I’m not sure why we would stop short of saying that the case involves a practice that is immoral, especially given the connections between deception and blameworthiness that I previously mentioned.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Mr. Nogot
5 years ago

Right, I think there’s still a fair bit of ambiguity here. If one knows that no amount of wooing will do it – and that there’s not even a remotely plausible scenario where it will happen (i.e., it would take a $500,000 salary to make it worth one’s time) – then I think we agree. That’s deception, and the person shouldn’t apply for the position. But I guess I saw more room in the original question. I could, I’d imagine, apply for a job that I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t accept, but I’m not totally sure. If, you know, it turned out that the city was much nicer than expected, or the salary were right, or I just really loved my colleagues, maybe I’d be on board…

I do like your scenario about being asked about your interest in leaving university x for university y. I think this is a question where you have to be very honest and upfront with a search committee.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
5 years ago

In case this comes as news to anyone: many colleges and universities have extremely limited budgets, and going through a search and hiring process is expensive for them. I know it may be hard to believe, but some places are so strapped for funds that just the cost of flying in the candidates for the interview process is significant. At such institutions, doing a search is not an automatic privilege. One year, Department A gets to do a search. If that search doesn’t end in a successful hire, then Department B is already in line for the funds for a further search the following year. The deans can easily decide that the search committee for the Department A position were unable to attract the right sorts of candidates, and that the whole exercise was a waste of the institution’s money. So yes, if you are a finalist and pull out of the process at the last minute because you weren’t serious about the process, you really might cost the department and another candidate the position. Here’s a toy example: A, B, C, and D are the top four candidates, in order. The department can only afford to fly out three candidates, so it’s A, B, and C. A and B were genuinely interested but get earlier or better offers elsewhere. So the only person the committee can hire is C, since they have to hire someone they flew out to the interview. C wasn’t serious about the job, so turns it town. D would have loved the job, but didn’t get interviewed and so loses out. The department asks to do another search the following year, but there’s no guarantee this will be granted. So the department and D both lose out.Report

smj
smj
5 years ago

The circumstance you describe, in which 3 finalists turn down a job (two because they got better offers elsewhere) points to a bigger problem for that department than one applicant (C) not being “serious about the job.” Why is C more culpable than A and B? All three did the same thing — they turned down an unattractive offer. Why is this department (or university) making such unattractive offers, or trying to hire people who could get better offers elsewhere?Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  smj
5 years ago

Why? Because almost all colleges and universities nowadays are trying to hire people who could get better offers elsewhere under the best circumstances. And the people who are applying to those jobs make it very difficult for those colleges and universities to know this fact about them. Do you think the search committees are to blame for that?Report