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Is it ever a good idea to apply (and interview) to a faculty position at an institute if you know for certain (or with very high probability) that you are not going to accept a position there.

Possible advantages are:

  1. Networking and letting people hear about your work.
  2. Practice for later interviews.
  3. Leverage: If a top institute offers you a position, that could be used to improve negotiating position with other institutes that you are interested in.

Is this something which is frowned upon? On one hand, I am guessing that departments wouldn't want to waste their time and money on a candidate that will not accept a position. But on the other hand it might be acceptable if the faculty are interested in hearing/talking with the candidate anyway.

If this is acceptable (or if it is not but someone still recommends it from the candidate's perspective), should the candidate give the impression that they are enthusiastic about the institution? (of course I realize the interests of the candidate might be different than those of the institution)

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One significant risk with #3 is that the institution you prefer might just call your bluff. – JeffE Apr 16 '14 at 4:03
Is it ever a good idea? Probably. Is it ever a nice thing to do? Probably not. – Alex Becker Apr 16 '14 at 4:44
My rule of thumb is: if I wouldn't accept the position, I don't apply for it. – Chris Leary Apr 16 '14 at 5:11
"[I]t might be acceptable if the faculty are interested in hearing/talking with the candidate anyway." In that case they can simply invite the candidate to give a talk. – Mark Meckes Apr 16 '14 at 9:48
Related at… – Stephan Kolassa Apr 16 '14 at 11:27
up vote 27 down vote accepted

Please don't do this- you'll only be wasting the time of the search committee members. Furthermore, you'll be doing something that is dishonest, and you do should not get into the habit of lying to people.

If it becomes apparent early in the search process that you aren't truly interested in the position then the committee will probably not invite you for an on-campus interview. If you actually are invited for an on-campus interview, then there's a good chance that it will become apparent during the interview that you really aren't interested in the position. If you feign interest and do get an on-campus interview and then get an offer but reject that offer, then you'll have left a bad impression with the faculty in that department which will effect your relations with them in the future.

The ways in which this can hurt the candidate are fairly limited, so the reality is that people can get away with this if they want to. However, that doesn't make it right.

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Thanks for your answer. – Bitwise Apr 16 '14 at 12:59
I strongly second this advice. If you go to an interview and people get the sense that you don't really want to come, they'll not only feel insulted ("Who wouldn't love to have ME as a colleague?") they'll also feel like you've been a colossal waste of time and money for them. You can very easily get a bad reputation for doing things like this and academia is smaller than you think. – shane Apr 16 '14 at 17:56

It seems a little inconsiderate to me; the department will waste their time considering your application, and the further along in the interview process you get, the more of their time (and yours) you will waste. But I don't think it's necessarily unacceptable. You could argue that an interview might convince you that you would be interested in working there after all.

I'm not sure it's actually very helpful to you, though.

Your point 1 doesn't make sense to me. If you want to tell someone about your work, just send them an email and tell them. Sending an application seems ineffective; yours will probably be one of hundreds of applications read on that day, which won't help your chances of having them remember you.

For point 2, "practice application" seems a little silly to me. But if you really think it would help, you'll get just as much practice by writing the application and then not submitting it.

Point 3 has some justification. But for it to be effective, you have to go all the way through the interview process and get an offer. Consider the amount of time you'll spend writing a compelling application and traveling to an on-campus interview. And you'll have to spend that day-long on-campus interview insincerely convincing them how much you want to work there; not a very pleasant task for most people. (If you don't do that, you almost certainly won't get an offer and it will truly be a waste of your time as well as theirs.) Even if you do get an offer, it may still be lower than the offer you actually want, and thus useless as leverage. Is it worth it?

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In other words, if you're going to do all the work needed to get an offer, why not do it at a place where you might actually consider going ? This is the next level of "spent 1 hours googling to find the answer when just solving it would have taken 30 minutes" – Suresh Apr 16 '14 at 5:21
@Suresh: I'd say it's three or four levels beyond that, but it's certainly the same phenomenon. – Mark Meckes Apr 16 '14 at 9:50
Thanks for your answer. In points 1 and 2 I was referring to the interview/seminar, not the application itself. Regarding point 3, imagine a situation where you are restricted for personal reasons, to accepting a position only in a small geographical region or at a specific institute, so it is important to maximize the chances of success. I could imagine it may help to have offers from top institutes elsewhere. – Bitwise Apr 16 '14 at 12:56
@Suresh of course this would be in addition to the place you actually want. As I mention above, in some cases the places you actually want could be, due to constraints, only one or a couple of institutes. – Bitwise Apr 16 '14 at 12:58
Meanwhile, someone who really wants the job loses out because time wasters snagged the interviews...Definitely a time to employ the Golden Rule on doing unto others as you would be done by. – The Wonderer Apr 16 '14 at 18:31

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