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I already have an offer for a TT job at another institution, but I received an inteview offer from a school I'd really like to work for. I was told (twice) that they didn't like two of their first three candidates and that they'd like to inteview me if the one they liked fell through.

They told that they'd have an answer as to whether or not I'd interview on Friday by Wednesday. Which turned into Thursday. At about 5:45PM on Thursday, I was called by one of the committee members to offer me an inteview for Friday. (I am currently visiting faculty here, so the turnaround is possible if really inconvenient and hard to swing.) I agreed, excited. But it occurred to me during the conversation that I should ask if I could safely assume that the first candidate fell through, and I was told I could not!!!

I was flustered, continued the conversation, finished it. I then calmed down and emailed very shortly after and said that I could not accept the inteview until I could actually be considered in contention for the job and that I should have immediately said so upon learning that my assumption that the first candidate had fallen through was not correct.

Has anyone heard of such things happening? Getting a backup lined up outside of the first round of invites to campus interviews after an offer has already been put out?

They know my clock on the other offer expires soon, so I know they're scrambling to make sure that they could consider me should the other candidate fall through. But I was told that the interview would only happen if the candidate did fall through.

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    Suppose someone answers your question with only these words and nothing else: "yes, I have heard of that." Would that be a sufficient answer for you? If not, I suggest asking a more focused question. – Mad Jack Feb 24 '17 at 12:48
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    What makes you think they should only ever interview one person, decide if they want them and only then interview the next? That is not how most interview processes work, as far as I know. – skymningen Feb 24 '17 at 12:55
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "fall through". It sounds like you are assuming they have an offer out to Candidate #3, but it's not clear from your question whether you actually know for sure that this is true. Another possibility is that they weren't sure about Candidate #3, so rather than either making her an offer or rejecting her, they decided to interview you first. In that case, after your interview, they will decide whether to make an offer to you or to #3 (or neither). Could that be consistent with what you've been told? – Nate Eldredge Feb 24 '17 at 21:15
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Has anyone heard of such things happening? Getting a backup lined up outside of the first round of invites to campus interviews after an offer has already been put out?

It's not usual, but I have heard of such things here in Europe. And why not? If the search committee already knows that, or at least has the strong impression that, their originally preferred candidates are not going to work out, why not immediately line up backup interviews? I should also note that they seem to be playing with unusually open cards towards you, so I would certainly count this as a positive.

If I understand you correctly, your main problem seems to be that you already have an offer that you cannot delay until you will get a decision from this school. Note that it isn't only about whether the preferred candidate will work out or not - even if the preferred candidate cancels, you still need to ace your own interview and do better than the other backup candidates (typically, if a search commission goes through the trouble of inviting backup candidates, they will invite more than just one person!).

At the end of the day, your options are likely as follows:

  • Try to delay your standing offer, and/or convince the school where you are interviewing to hurry up. Some schools seem to be fairly flexible with timing (I have heard from TT offers to be delayed for many months), others are not. There is only one way to find out.
  • Cancel your standing offer, and take the risk with the interview.
  • Cancel your interview, and take the TT offer.
  • Accept your standing offer, go to the interview regardless, and back out of your earlier acceptance if you get the second job. You certainly can do that, but you should expect some backlash. I would not recommend that, even if it may appear like the approach with the highest short-term profit for you personally.

If you need to decide right now (option 2 or 3), you should ask yourself (a) how much better the second job is than the first one, and (b) how disastrous it would be for you if you ended up with no offer at all. Oftentimes, when making such decisions, it is better to take the offer that you already have than a slightly better offer that you may or may not get, but at the end of the day the decision is yours to make.

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  • I think my particular problem was the multiple indications that I would not be invited until the first candidate dropped out and then receiving an invite where that wasn't the case without being immediately informed otherwise. – S Disaapoint Feb 24 '17 at 18:29
  • I have extended the deadline for my response to the first institution. – S Disaapoint Feb 24 '17 at 18:29
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The following is a possible explanation:

They are waiting to hear back from someone about something (e.g. they have made an offer but the acceptance is looking iffy; they contacted a reference who is slow to respond; someone on the committee is unhappy with the primary candidate, etc.). Someone on the committee said, "Look, we owe it to ourselves to talk to SDisaapoint, and we have to do it quickly, because of his/her other offer."

I understand that things have been confusing and contradictory and unclear. But if you have any interest in this job, and are able to go see them today, go! You've been given an opportunity to make your pitch ("I am the best person for this position"); now go make it!

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