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Nota: This question specifically scopes the issue in an academic context.

Context
I am currently on the job market for a tenure track. I assert I should get a position in a bottom-of-the-first-tier institution. Consider I accepted such a position, and that I then get an offer for a top-3 institution. (Obviously, I won't be their first choice, so I should receive their offer after I had to answer to previous lower-range offers.)

Issue
As far as I am aware of the job etiquette in the US, you are not liable to your future company as long as you've signed no contract. So you can eventually change your mind, even if you already shook hands. Of course, you discredit yourself with the given company... but there are plenty of fishes in the sea in the case of industry. This is not the case in the academia, where you will rub shoulders with the colleagues you dumped for a few decades.

Questions

  • How bad would it be for my reputation/career to turn down a medium-position I accepted for an all-star one, in the case I verbally (phone call or email only, no contract signed) accepted the former ?
  • Idem, yet with a contract signed (as long as it is permitted in the contract to resign)?
  • Could you tell us a lil about your field? It seems the gap between top and bottom schools is not that big! – The Guy Dec 10 '17 at 19:07
  • @TheGuy I would prefer not to. But let's assume it's a field in which only a brain is required for doing research (i.e. no specific device, hence no significant difference between universities apart from the subfield they are specialized in) – ebosi Dec 10 '17 at 20:45
  • 2
    Two years ago to the day you asked this question academia.stackexchange.com/questions/81376 in which you said you were about to receive your master's degree and wondering whether you should spend three years doing your PhD. Only two years later and you are applying for tenure track academic jobs with a chance at getting a job at MIT, Stanford or Berkeley? Wow. (Is it not common to do postdocs in engineering?) – Pete L. Clark Dec 10 '17 at 21:44
  • @PeteL.Clark Good catch (yet a bit creepy)! Both are questions I am/was genuinely looking for answers for at the time they were asked. They are pretty close to my personal situation, yet might have been asked in a way (use of first person, described context) that makes them more generic, and thus valuable for me and others. I'm glad to share with you the pleasure to hold a PhD for a short while, though. – ebosi Dec 11 '17 at 16:55
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Because of the way the academic schedule works, if you accept a job you are expected to go to that job for an entire academic year. This is different from other kinds of jobs where hiring happens all year round. As a part of this, you are expected to withdraw your other applications when you accept a position. Anything else will usually be seen as unethical behavior by most people. This can get complicated in some corner cases (eg you take a temporary job but then get offered a permanent job, where the usual ethical move is to delay the start of the permanent job for a year, but often there’s no hard feelings if you just drop the temporary one, especially if you’re nice about it), but it’s the standard ethical rule.

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  • Thank you for your insight. Note that I expect both offers to occur within a 2 months interval, a few more months prior to the 'assumption of duties'. – ebosi Dec 11 '17 at 17:03
  • What you can, and should, do, is tell the chair anywhere you’ve interviewed about deadlines at other places where you have offers. – Noah Snyder Dec 11 '17 at 17:46
  • I've asked this question around me too. Here is the story I've been told: A candidate was offered a position by A, which they accepted. Then B, a more famous institution, offered the candidate a position too. They decided to accept the second offer, and called A to withdraw their agreement. What happened is that A called B, which then withdraw its offer. In the end, the candidate had no more job offer, and got blacklisted on the market. Bottom line: stick to your word. – ebosi Dec 15 '17 at 11:21
  • @ebosi That's even more unethical by A. Nasty vindicative move. – Captain Emacs Nov 27 at 9:35

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