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your moralizing aunt

You should not apply to jobs you would not take. Why? Well, if you are interviewed, you are essentially taking away an opportunity for someone else who would want that job to have a chance at getting it. Further, you have effectively restricted the choices of the search committee. Some deans will not allow departments to extend the number of people they are bringing to campus, even if candidates brought to campus don't turn out. It costs a lot for a state college to bring in someone for an on campus interview. In short, do not apply to jobs you would not take.


I also hold the permissive view. To build on something Marcus and the other commenter didn't mention explicitly, I'll add that you don't know what you'll get out of the negotiations until you're there, and you have the offer, and you have whatever leverage you have at that point. And something you get out of negotiations could plausibly make the difference for whether you want to accept the job offer.

Marcus Arvan

your moralizing aunt: indeed, a situation like that can easily turn into a failed search, in which case no one gets the job at all. That's a disaster for everyone involved: both for the department whose time was wasted (and who may or may not even get the search renewed the next year), and for other job candidates. If you *know* that you won't accept a particular job, don't apply. Sure, applying and getting an offer could improve your negotiating for other jobs--but so far as other people are concerned, it can cause great harm.

your fun uncle

I'd be interested to hear if people defending the restrictive view would apply it to senior job searches as well. I've seen senior searches where A LOT of offers were made to people in quite respectable jobs, the vast majority of which were turned down in favor of a pay raise at one's home institution. You can't see into people's minds, of course, but it stands to reason that a fair share of those applicants never really intended to relocate. But does the fact that senior hires aren't a buyer's market change the norms?

All that said, I don't think there is much benefit in applying to junior jobs you are absolutely sure you would never take. For it to give you leverage in negotiating a contract somewhere else, you would need to get that offer fairly close to the time of the offer you are genuinely interested in... But as Marcus points out, this doesn't apply to jobs you *might* be willing to take.

Hidden Salary

To echo Marcus' point, there are so many epistemic limitations to knowing which jobs you might prefer. In fact, I think the biggest deciding factor (i.e. salary) isn't known to you at most American universities until you get the offer, especially at private universities where you can't look up pay scales.

I've legitimately seen lectureship starting salaries range from 30K to 80K. Obviously, no one is going to give up a TT job for a 30K lectureship, but I have seen a few people trade tenure lines for much higher salaries and large salaries can definitely make jobs that you otherwise wouldn't want much more appealing.

In general, I think applying for a job is kind of like trying a new food. You can make some educated guesses on past preferences which types of food you might like, but can't know with certainty that you will or won't like something until you try it.


I agree with Hidden Salary. LOL at the idea that the norm should be: when I apply, I am willing to take the job despite not knowing anything about the salary, the benefits, etc. That is absurd. Only independently wealthy people could abide a norm like that.

permissivist #2

As far as I can tell, the question concerns what it means to "know" that one wouldn't take the job. On my interpretation of the 'permissive' view, which is the view that I favor, the applicant is either seeking (1) to leverage a better offer or (2) is ultimately unsure of whether they would take the job, maybe leaning away from it, but nevertheless wants to test the water. So as I understand it, the applicant *thinks* but *is not certain* that they wouldn't take the job.

In both cases, there is greater than zero reason to apply, and hence I think the applicant should apply. If the applicant is *absolutely certain* that they wouldn't take the job and couldn't do anything with an offer, then there seems to be no reason at all to apply and I don't know why someone would even consider it. So if my interpretation of permissivism is right, then I fully think that this is the way to go, for pragmatic if not entirely moral reasons.

A quick anecdote: on last year's abysmal market, I started applying for jobs that I didn't especially want, for the first time in years and because of both (1) and (2) above. I wound up as a finalist at two tiny state schools. During the interview process, I decided that I really didn't want one of the jobs and would have been quite happy to take the second (though ultimately I didn't get an offer). The job ads were vague and I likely wouldn't have applied in healthier years, but am glad that I did apply to both ultimately.


On a first reading, I took the narrow view and thought the permissive view absurd, but on a rereading I think the dichotomy might be ill-formed under the (clearly wrong) construction: (1) Don't apply to any job you won't take vs (2) apply to any job at all. (1) is clearly wrong for the reasons Marcus points out. (2) would be overly broad. Isn't the middle ground between (1') do not apply to any job you would not under any reasonable interpretation of the job ad take and (2') apply broadly to any job you can conceivable take, and the argument fundamentally about how far to widen "conceivably take" vs how strictly to apply "reasonable interpretation"?

OR are there literally people saying don't apply unless you're willing to take the job regardless of anything unstated or undesirable that turns out to be true of the job? and conversely are there people actually telling people to apply to jobs they know they would hate?

SLAC Associate

My belief is that candidates should never be dissuaded from applying, or even from accepting first-round (zoom/phone/conference) interviews. And I certainly don't think it's required that you be sold on an institution before applying in the first place: part of the search committee's job, if you're a viable candidate, is to sell themselves to you as an attractive place to work.

But it is awfully low to accept an on-campus interview from a place that is such that you know ahead of time that under no foreseeable circumstances would you accept a job offer from them. You've made the hiring department waste $1000+ flying you out, putting you up in a hotel, taking you to dinner, etc., only to raise the probability that they end up with a failed search. They are most likely only allowed to bring 2 or 3 candidates to campus; you should absolutely turn down an invite if you won't accept their job under any condition. (Note: all of this is said with a touch of bitterness over a failed search in the past where I'm relatively confident the candidate already had an offer elsewhere that they knew they were going to accept; the position has since been eliminated in part because of multiple failed searches.)

Committed to Applying

OP here: this is very helpful! While I think the permissive view very natural, 'moralizing aunt's' point is very well taken. Given how difficult the job market is, I'm tempted to apply to any job that I might conceivably take. But when I stretch that far enough, it ends up being very permissive because there are SO many details that I'd want to negotiate (salary, teaching load, etc). When pushed to permissive extremes, I worry that I'm applying to jobs that would be a reach for me to take, though it's hard to say, and that this is something of a norm violation.

The other point that was made to me is that, as a very junior person, I don't have much bargaining power when it comes to salary/teaching load/etc. This leaves unaddressed the fact that most salaries aren't even posted, but does make me think that the idea of bargaining a job I'm not sure of into something I like a lot more is unrealistic.


Marcus said it well. I think it is good to apply to jobs that you may or may not take if offered. Applying to jobs (and possible interviews) is also a process of knowing more about jobs, institutions, locations, etc.

But I see few benefits from applying to jobs that you are almost certain that you will not take if offered. You pay time and energy for what? Maybe some possible interview experience? I personally feel that it just does not worth it. I would spend the time and energy on improving my other applications.

your moralizing aunt

You said what I did not want to say. Some people DO take interviews for practice. I am led to believe that some schools even encourage it. I knew some crumbs who had seven or so on campus interviews in one season - knowing well they were "above" some of them, but feeling the need for practice interviews.

Timmy J

I think you must be in a very bizarre position if there are a large number of jobs that you can know in advance you wouldn't take. When I was on the market there were *some* jobs that fit that bill for me, but they were very rare. For example: for reasons to do with what's officially or unofficially permitted regarding treatment of certain classes of individuals, there are countries where I would refuse to consider working. There have in fact been job ads in the past from some of these countries.

My expectation is that the advice OP is getting is coming from folks who are *massively* out of touch with the philosophy market as it is. There was a point in time where one could turn up one's nose at a large percentage of jobs and still have good odds of getting something. Those days are gone. When I hear people say that they won't consider e.g. jobs with a 3-3 load, or will only take jobs in a certain geographical area my default assumption is that the person saying these things will be out of the discipline very very soon. So far I've been right about such people literally every time.

permissivist #2

One good point emerging from this discussion and particularly G's and your moralizing aunt's posts is that there is a lot of variation in experience on the job market based on program prestige. The idea of crummy applicants from elite institutions selfishly gobbling up seven (!) on-campus interview slots for jobs that they don't even want is very hard for me to wrap my head around.

As someone from an unranked PhD program with good publications, I've needed to cast an extremely wide net on the market. Recognizing that others experience the job market differently is good and helpful. So my permissivism described above should be qualified accordingly.

I guess I can't entirely fault the crummy applicants since the job market requires selfish behavior. But that is pretty disgusting. Among other things, it's a reminder that the academic caste system needs fixing (which is not exactly a news flash, I realize).


My current job is one that I was quite sure I wouldn't accept, and only applied for because my old advisor pushed me to. The campus visit, though, convinced me that is was a great fit for me, and I have been very happy here for the past few years. On the other hand, about 5 years ago, I applied for what I thought was my dream job, and ended up not only turning down the job offer but reporting the actions of two of the faculty members during my visit to the dean.

So, basically, Marcus is right. In many instances you simply do not know enough at the time of applying to have a justified sense of whether you would take the job if offered. So apply away!

Jonathan Ichikawa

Echoing and reinforcing some thoughts that have already been expressed:

It's quite common to not know at application time whether a job would be a good fit, and that's fine. You can apply now and decide later.

But if you do actually know you won't take the job no matter what — if your sole interest in applying is as leverage against another job — then I do think applying is kind of a dick move. Yes, the committee is paid to read your file in the sense that they get a salary and have that service role that year, but they have better things to do than study, and potentially intellectually and emotionally invest in, a disingenuous job application. And if you do get the offer and draw it out in a negotiation before rejecting it, you might well cost the department a line, and cost some colleague a job.

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