I know this got asked a few years back, but I thought I'd bring it up here again to see if anyone had thoughts/experiences. I recently went on an interview to a school that was my number one choice right when I applied and the campus visit did nothing but reinforce that it was my top choice. Should I tell people on the faculty I feel this way? Is it weird to just come out and say? I dont' think it would hurt me with negotiations since the department makes the hire and the dean's office does the startup negotiating. is there a way it could come off as them thinking "oh right, everyone says that blah blah blah." Or might it actually be good to say a few sincere words about your enthusiasm?
I don't see how this could hurt or how it'd actually make much a difference. Perhaps the only scenario I can envision is if it's a less elite institution and/or is in a non-ideal location, where search committees sometimes question whether particularly strong applicants are using the place as a back-up option. Thus, letting them know could be worthwhile. Again, I don't see how this would make much a difference, though, and would only drop such a comment as part of a more formal correspondence, such as a follow-up thank you email.
Yeah I was thinking I'd only send it along with the typical thank you emails one sends at an interview. A few of the faculty mentioned that the issue of being someone's "backup" has come up before. So I thought maybe expressing my particular enthusiasm would at least safe guard me from potentially being knocked down a notch if they think I'm not excited?
I am of the mind that you should say they are your first choice. Once you have the offer you can still play hardball with negotiations and as you said, in your case it's about negotiating with the dean. Plus, they still have an incentive for you to be happy and want to stay.
But yes, say they are your first choice. I've heard of candidates not being selected because they weren't perceived of as liking the place that much or being that enthusiastic about it. And it was sad because they did like it and it really was their first choice; they just weren't effusive people.
If you are a hot-shot candidate for the place (i.e. it's possible that you could "do better" in terms of ranking but you like the place for other reasons), then saying the place is your first choice will help you tremendously. Less prestigious places are worried about being dicked around. Even top places can be worried about this if they're dealing with a clearly outstanding candidate. People want to choose someone who will choose them back and who will stay. There was a chronicle.com article about this a day or two ago.
If you are a reach candidate then I don't think it hurts you to say they're your top choice but it won't necessarily help. And the way in which it could hurt you is if they feel this admission means you're a "sure thing" if another candidate turns them down.
Your best bet is to indicate this school is your top choice but that you have other options.