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)

  • 6
    One significant risk with #3 is that the institution you prefer might just call your bluff.
    – JeffE
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 4:03
  • 3
    Is it ever a good idea? Probably. Is it ever a nice thing to do? Probably not. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 4:44
  • 5
    My rule of thumb is: if I wouldn't accept the position, I don't apply for it. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:11
  • 2
    "[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. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:48
  • Related at workplace.SE.com: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/21463/… Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:27

5 Answers 5


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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    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.
    – user10636
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:56
  • 2
    If you have a 'good faith' assumption that if offered the position and if the conditions were right you might accept it, then it is not dishonest. (Even if you have some other reservations or concerns from the beginning). And a candidate rejecting an offer doesn't leave a bad impression in that people do reject offers if they have received others that they prefer or conditions can't be negotiated to their satisfaction. But everything the OP say soundss as if there is not a good faith attitude going into the interview. And that means everything @BrianBorchers stated is very relevant.
    – Carol
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 2:18

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?

  • 3
    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
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 5:21
  • 1
    @Suresh: I'd say it's three or four levels beyond that, but it's certainly the same phenomenon. Commented Apr 16, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 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. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:31

I'm going to give a contrarian position and say yes, for two reasons:

  1. There's something to be said for practicing for interviews you do care about. The job search visit is something of a unique and intimidating beast, and being able to approach it once or two without the pressure of feeling heartbroken if you don't get the position is a good thing.
  2. You have the capacity to be surprised.

Now if you're genuinely certain you're not going to take the position, then I don't think you should bother. But if it just seems merely unlikely? I can tell you the position that I'm at right now was one where, both at the application and interview phase, I considered unlikely to be the right fit. I was wrong, and ended up taking the position and being quite happy.

What you do need to do is approach is with seriousness. It's still a job interview, and these people are spending their time and money to invite you out. Even if it's unlikely that it'll end up being the right fit, that deserves your respect. Similarly, if it's clear it's not going to work out, turn them down quickly so they can move on.


I want to argue for going to interviews where you are not 100% certain you would accept the job. However, I think that the reasons 1-3 proposed by the OP are probably not the right perspective, so I'll propose #4. (My assumption here is that the reason you are not likely to take the position is about fit, or research activity level at the university - not location.)

  1. If you would not work with these people at these university, how seriously are you going to take networking with them? Even if you want to do this, no guarantee the effect will be positive if they think you aren't considering them honestly.

  2. Practice is valuable. But once again, if there is a giant mismatch in fit between this place and your intentions, you can take the wrong lesson from your experience!

  3. I don't think having an offer from a university on a different "tier" gives you much leverage. In fact, I'd be worried about snobbery from some universities - "If a candidate would consider working for University X, they can't possibly be good enough for the Ivy League," etc.

Instead, here's the 4th reason, which I think is much more reasonable:

  1. You probably don't know what you want as well as you think. Are you sure you couldn't work at a place without a PhD program? I know brilliant, well-funded researchers at places like that. Wrong department name? Maybe the culture is aligned with your field more than you think - after all, they're trying to hire you! Don't want to live in [Region X]? Maybe there's a huge population of immigrants from your country there, which make it a much happier place than you'd expect.

I went on four interviews at places where I had serious skepticism about fit. Two of them I realized would be great, one plausible, and one was a worse fit than I had thought. Sometimes that happens - you just have to go in with an open mind, and an honest understanding of what your dealbreakers are. If you can truly 100% rule it out, don't go there - heck, don't apply in the first place! But unless you were choosing applications by throwing darts, you had a reason to apply to that department.


You already answered your question. You listed the advantages of going on an interview. You might think that you already have a decision not to accept an offer should they make one, however, you can never be certain unless you go on interview. If you dont have other commitments that are more important than this interview, I think it will be only beneficial to do an interview especially if this is a phone interview.

  • I am surprised that this is not the accepted answer. I think if there is some small probability that you would accept the position, you should move forward. You should not judge a book by its cover, and should not judge a department by its website. If you are a candidate that is competitive in many places, the school likely knows this. They are interviewing you/flying you out because they want the opportunity to convince you to choose them.
    – Dawn
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 17:58

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