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Happy Friday

I've been told never turn down a job in this market, so take the job before the deadline, unless it's really a job you would invariably hate (but then why bother apply)? However, there's a potential way around if you ended up receiving another letter, I've also been told. You could accept the first job and negotiate with the second institution to defer for a year, and announce that you received another offer in the course of your first year at your new job. The first institution doesn't have to know you knew it beforehand. That may not be the most ethical thing to do, but moving from one job to another even after a year does happen quite a bit. The thing I'm uncertain about is whether, in some cases, you may be putting the first institution in a worse position than if you simply went back on your deal. If you did the latter at least they probably have a second-choice finalist who might still be up for the job. If you did the former, they have to start a search agian, potentially having to fill a gap very quickly or waiting another year until they can fill it.

This shows the market clearly sucks.

Job searcher

That is an interesting solution. I wonder what others think whether it would be better to go to the preferable place immediately or to spend a year at the first institution?

Being Real

Keep the larger context in focus. It is a job market in a capitalist market place. In any other industry, there is no question that you have the right to take the best job. Exercising this right is not unethical. The thing is to execute your choice with dignity. As soon as you know you won't be taking the first job you accepted, alert the department. That will give them as much time as possible to pursue their Plan B. But do not think they will think much of you afterwards. But that is as should be expected. You have inconvenienced them significantly. But you have yourself, your family, your career, etc. ... to think about as well.

APA to the rescue?

Maybe you could justify backing out and question their warrant for being indignant if they violate the APA market guidelines?

First check that they indicated they would do this in their job ad. If not, then I say you should feel fine backing out and they have no warrant.

If they did indicate possible non-adherence w the APA guidelines at the bottom of the philjobs ad, it is less clear but the violation still seems relevant.

Oh and the policy is here: http://www.apaonline.org/page/jobmarketcalendar


I just want to second Being Real here. Your own happinness trumps all other considerations. You should definitely take the preferable job. So the question is not what to do but how to do it.

Being Real

APA to the rescue:
Your strategy for dealing with this looks a bit like a "gotcha" strategy, getting them on a technicality. I think this is very bad advice and bad form. Just say it like it is. "I got a better offer, and I am now taking that. Sorry for the inconvenience."


This has happened to me. I talked with both departments. The preferable place offered to let me come a year later. I told the first place that I had another offer but would be willing to teach there for a year since I had accepted their offer. But they preferred to go down their list of candidates and ended up hiring their second choice (so they didn't have to run the search again the next year). Personally, I would have a problem with going back on my word, but I know that works for a lot of people.

Being Real

I would think that most Colleges would not want a candidate to come for a year, on the understanding that the candidate would leave after that year for another job. In such cases, Departments can lose the line. At least, when the academic year has not started, administrators may be open to filling the position with the next candidate in line.

APA to the rescue?

Being Real: I am not sure I understand your points.

First, I don't understand your objection that this is "a bit like a gottcha strategy". I was suggesting an answer to the ethical question, not advising the person on what to email to the department in question. That is another issue.

The school is not following a policy recommended by our professional organization and that policy is presumably meant to protect the lot of students by stopping schools from giving early offers with time-forced decisions. Schools are presumably tempted to violate that policy in order to maximize their market advantage. If so, they then set up a relation to the candidates that is much more adversarial than it would otherwise be, so the candidate should feel ethically fine when acting in adversarial ways too.

You say this is bad advice. Why?

You say this is bad form. Can you explain what that means and why? Here is why I disagree:

My view is that the normal norms of market etiquette, such as they exist, do not apply once the school adopts the adversarial approach. They presumably put candidates in a tough sport *in order to* maximize their market advance or their bargining power over candidates, so why think it is "bad form" to adopt a roughly symmetric attitude towards them?

For my part, I think you are bit to sanguine about what is ethically ok in all capitalist markets. I think sometimes there are norms of etiquette to which employeers and employees tacitly agree and that in some such cases it is wrong to do what ever you can to get the best economic outcome.

For example if two schools comply with the APA policy, I think it could be wrong to go back on your word just to get yourself the best job. Imagine that some candidate accepts an offer but then reconsiders the wisdom of that commitment before turning down a second offer that is also in hand at the time. Maybe more internet research or discussion with friends highlights the down side of living in a small or remote location, and the accepted offer was from a more highly ranked school in a small remote town. You seem to think there is nothing wrong with this person going back on his word in order to land at the lower ranked school in a big city - i.e. going back on his word in order to switch to the second school. On your view, it seems, the person would be exercising their "right" to get the best job.

I disagree, and would ask to hear more about the basis of this alleged right we have in all capitalist market situations. I think going back on one's word in this kind of case would violate the legitimate expectations of the people at the first school and that it is for that reason ethically suspect. And this is why I think the school's attitude towards the APA policy matters - it determines what they can legitimately expect from candidates.


A couple of years ago, I accepted a position at a regional US state school. It was in a state that wasn't desirable to me but given that the job market is difficult, I planned to accept the job. Then it turned out that anything I tried to negotiate for, they didn't want to offer. For instance, the job was well under 50k, I heard other candidates at the same school who could negotiate above that, but for some reason they would not budge an inch. There was also the spousal issue - being non-American, the visa situation would be such that my spouse would not be able to find a job (I've heard that this situation has now improved). Anyway, I got an offer for a postdoc, and I decided to go back on the offer and take the postdoc instead (I since have a tenure-track position in a place I like much better). I am glad I made the decision I did.

Job searcher

Anonymous - that takes guts. I would be tempted to do what you did but there is basically everyone telling me I would be crazy to not accept ANY offer. Anyway, how did the state school react when you went back on your acceptance?

It is interesting how clearly desperate all job seekers are, yet I am still constantly asked, "Why do you want to work at our institution? What made you decide to apply?" Uh well...the same thing that made me apply to every other school - I want a TT philosophy job!

Although it def helps if the APA guidelines are followed, the APA needs to have both a beginning and end date. Right now it says flyouts should not be before Feb 1 and job applications before nov 1. However many schools are going too far in the opposite direction. I have many deadlines due dec 15, some even in Jan! And these are for typical TT positions. Hence someone could have a flyout Feb 10 and still not have any info on the job application that was due Jan 10th. The APA should say flyouts (and deadlines) should be between two specific dates.

anon junior

Job Searcher, I think it is unrealistic to narrow the dates down too much. Certainly, the APA could, but if it gets as narrow as you seem to be proposing, HR at many universities simply won't adhere. The APA has some influence over philosophy departments but, I suspect, none over HR at any university.

Job searcher

Would Feb1 - March 1 be unrealistic? Maybe, but I don't see the harm in trying.

So most seem in agreement to take the better job. I suppose the only way to do this is to nicely explain your situation to the school whose offer you first accepted. Can anyone report their experience with this? How did the "rejected" school react when you informed them you were going back on the contract?

Market Logic

@anon junior: "HR at many universities simply won't adhere"

Unless I am misunderstanding your remark, I just don't buy this. How would these HR departments deal with political science, which has its annual meeting in late August and which mostly does flyouts before the winter break? In my experience, "HR won't do it" usually means "we can't figure out a way around this admittedly inane requirement". A great example is philosophy departments claiming they are forced to use HR-approved online applications while the math department down the hallway uses AJO.

I agree entirely with Job searcher that the APA recommended timeline needs to be tightened on both ends, at least for TT hiring. The de facto timeline when most everyone did first round interviews at the Eastern worked well enough and should be codified.


Job searcher (I am Anon 12/15) - a bit of context: This job was advertised way out of season, so no chance for a competing offer. Not sure why they did not use the APA calendar. This was a few years ago when most schools still did. It's at a regional state school. I met the person who has the job I would've had, and he seems very happy there (a better fit too). I know there is an overabundance of candidates, and yet, it's important to hire someone who is a good fit.
I think my research was good in terms of fit, but there were lots of circumstantial things (e.g., the spousal H4 visa issue) that made this a stretch for us. Prior to going back on accepting the offer, I talked to someone who I befriended who as a faculty member there (not a sc member). She said the pay was a stretch for her and partner to survive on. And there were just 2 of them, and 4 of us. I think that the messed up job market made me make a wrong decision by accepting their offer, which was well below what assistant profs make in still a pretty expensive part of the country. I should not have accepted that offer in the first place. Thank goodness the postdoc came along. Some people in the dept were pretty angry. Others were understanding.

Job searcher

Thanks Anonymous. I have heard that there are a number of small liberal arts colleges that pay between 40-50k. Depending on the part of the country, that can be rough. Glad things worked out for you.

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