I recently interviewed at a school and decided that it would be my first choice. Is it good to tell them this after the fact? The obvious advantage is that the school will know that it can extend the offer in full confidence that the offer will be accepted. The disadvantage is that the declaration will reduce or eliminate the candidate's bargaining power once the offer is extended.
You're assuming that you will increase your chances of being picked by reassuring the school that you'd accept the position if offered. I don't think it works like that. They'll extend an offer to the best candidate.
Think like a poker-player - keep your "cards" close and guarded until you start getting offers. I see no advantage to telling a school that they're you're top choice. Yes, it can reassure a rather poor institution that you would consider accepting an offer, but it could also cause other places to think you'd jump at a low-ball offer (for salary and/or other perks). Just be patient.
I sort of disagree with the posts above. Yes, telling them they are the first choice will help, especially if they can't decide between you and other candidate. Also, negotiation of package is usually done between you and the dean (a few schools that I interviewed told the same thing). And the dean usually is not that involved in the departmental decision. So yes, tell them you like them but still keep it professional.
I think it can hurt you. The school might think that you will not accept an offer from another school until you hear from them, thus allowing them to offer the job to another candidate while having you as insurance.
Thanks to all for the thoughtful posts above. It seems that that there is a difference of opinion on whether to tell them that they are my top choice, so perhaps the safest thing to say is just that I really like the position. On the other hand, the job market for my niche is not the best, so I'm really not anticipating getting multiple offers and I don't think I would lose much by just telling them they are my first choice.
It seems to me that it would hurt more than help. Could it break a tie? Maybe, but search committees don't have to report how many candidates declined their offer, unlike their school's admissions programs, so at least at the university I am at, whether a candidate would reject the invite didn't impact their ranking of the candidates. It also could come across as desperation. I agree completely with holding your cards close and not letting out too much of your thought process. I'm not saying that you should play hard to get, but imagine if you went up to a girl and said "you're my favorite girl, if you ask me to go out with you, I'd say yes." Would that increase your chances?
Giving them the impression you'd accept no matter what would put you in a terrible place from a negotiating stand point and might give them the green light to low-ball you on an offer. The deans aren't always your friends, they have a bottom line to consider, especially at state schools.
One additional thing to keep in mind is the research that is somewhat related to this topic - generally people like those who also like them. So, from this standpoint, it could *potentially* help because if they know you like them then they might like you ever so slightly more. But in the end I don't think it is a make or break issue.
If the school is in a remote part of the county where there would be obvious concerns about retention then I think it could really help.
I did this in a roundabout way: I told the chair that I thought I was a great fit for their program and would be really happy in the position. It worked, as I was offered the job. I don't think it affected my negotiations at all, as those were with the dean.
Why not be honest?