Some of the comments on the last post bring up interesting related points: whether an interviewee is ‘serious’ about a position, and the role that a Significant Other (S.O.) has in the decision to accept or decline an offer of a faculty position.
When you get an invitation to interview, you might not know in advance if you want to be in that department or live in that area. When you visit, meet people, and learn about the area, you are checking the place out as much as they are checking you out. It can also be difficult to know in advance whether an academic setting is a good place for your S.O.; this is why many places invite the candidate and their S.O. (± other family) for a second (post-offer) visit.
What I have trouble understanding, however, is the situation in which someone goes through the time and effort of an interview, consuming lots of time and money by the interviewing department, but apparently does not know that their S.O. will never agree to move to the vicinity of the university or college that is conducting the interview.
From talking to colleagues over the years, I have heard of the following My- S.O.-Won’t-Let-Me reasons given for not accepting an offer of a faculty position:
1 – My S.O. doesn’t want to leave Our State/City. I always assume that this means that a certain really important conversation that ideally would have taken place before the interview didn’t actually occur until after the offer was made. The S.O. may well have good reasons for not wanting to move no matter how great the other place is, but if so, it would be best if that were worked out before so many people invested time and money in the interview process.
2 – My S.O. doesn’t want to live in such a [insert obvious physical characteristic that is known even before the interview: e.g., big city, rural area, Midwestern place, southern place, west/east coastal place, cold place, warm place]. Again, this is something that ideally would be discussed in advance, before getting on the plane to interview at the defective place, though I suppose it is always possible that someone could be geographically challenged or not realize that they have a cow phobia or cactus allergy, or something.
I know that this issue can be more complex than I am portraying it. Your S.O. might not really want to move to a place that is so X, but their reluctance might be overcome after a visit. That's something you might not know before the interview. In that case, it would be better to use reason #3 instead:
3 – Your U/City/State is not a good place for my S.O. to live/work, and we didn’t know this until I/we visited. This is a good reason. I think everyone can understand this reason, even if it can be disappointing. The other two I think are obnoxious reasons.
It is difficult to know whether any of these reasons for declining an offer are sincere – perhaps some people think that blaming their S.O. is a polite way to turn down an offer. If reasons #1 or #2 are sincere, though, I think that the candidates and their S.O. have some issues they need to work out and/or that they must not have given much – if any - thought to the people whose time they wasted by going through a process that had no chance of success. Perhaps you have to be on the other (search committee) side to be selfish enough to think about your own wasted time and effort. Even so, most of us accept the randomness and risk that comes along with a search process and know that the interview process is complicated and stressful for everyone, resulting in some less than mature behavior (on both sides).
Does any of this matter? I think so. I have seen the negative feelings generated by a perceived lack of 'seriousness' (commonly caused by Lame Reasons #1-2 for declining a job offer) linger and affect how someone is viewed within the scientific community.
10 years ago