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The normal UK process to hire new academic staff would be:

  1. The position is placed on job adverts, websites, specialized magazines
  2. The curricula and forms from prospective candidates are collected
  3. A filter is applied and a short-list produced
  4. The short-list candidates sit in a workbench for an interview
  5. The position is assigned to the most qualified candidate

I happen to know of a case where the position is already assigned, but the job avert has been published, so it should be open to all candidates. Since the position has already been assigned, steps 2 through 4 are a waste of time and paperwork as other responding candidates will not be seriously considered.

Is this superfluous search process legal?

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    How conclusively do you mean "already assigned"? There could be a big difference between several cases: an intent to hire a specific person no matter how the applications/interviews go, an intent to hire someone with a willingness to hire someone else instead if a better candidate appears, an offer already made to a candidate with interviews to select a backup in case the offer is turned down, an offer already made and accepted with a possibility of a second offer for an extraordinary candidate, or an offer already made and accepted with no possibility of further offers. May 16 '13 at 15:41
  • the job specification, type and spectrum of requested skills are pointing towards one SPECIFIC person, who will be appointed. Friendships and past comraderie also play a part.
    – ElCid
    May 16 '13 at 17:30
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    In many situations it's actually NOT legal to go ahead and hire someone without advertising and/or interviewing candidates. Pretty common in government-funded institutions (not just Universities either). Seems pretty uncommon for them to interview many people if they already have a top choice and the ad's gone out though.
    – Irwin
    May 16 '13 at 18:49
  • @Irwin, with a little bit of expansion, your comment (with some of Anonymous Mathematician's) becomes a good answer to this question.
    – Ben Norris
    May 16 '13 at 23:20
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    A better question would be "how do people (public and other job-seekers) can find out whether the employer has not assigned already the position to some specific person before job announcement?" Are there any clues?
    – user4511
    May 17 '13 at 10:22
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In many cases, academic institutions will be legally obliged to fill positions according to the procedure you described. This usually requires publishing a call for applications in a suitable medium, and putting together a short list of selected candidates based on qualification for the position and fit to the announcement.

Now there may be the "problem" that the person or group that will select the candidate already has a specific candidate in mind and want to "assign" the position to that candidate. However, simply hiring that candidate without going through the formal process would in fact be illegal. So the typical workaround in this case is to make the announcement so specific that the desired candidate will be the best qualified person for the position. It may be ethically questionable, but I fear it is totally legal.

Still, even for other candidates, this approach seems to be better than allowing the institution to just fill the position without the formal process. Especially if there is a committee deciding on the short list, this may even be different from the group that made up the announcement, and there may be people pushing for candidates they deem more qualified than the originally desired candidate. Chances for other candidates will clearly be rather low, but still higher than zero as in the case without announcement.

As to the question whether it is possible to find out about such a situation in advance, I fear it is not that easy. It works best when one has good contacts to people in the committee, and can ask informally about the situation. Otherwise, a reasonable approach would be to phone a contact given in the announcement and discuss details of the position. In many cases, one should be able to figure out whether the other person is open to applications or not.

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    Another clue is an overly specific description of the position and the required research area. May 17 '13 at 11:03
  • @FedericoPoloni: that's a good hint, and it what started the question altogether.
    – ElCid
    May 17 '13 at 13:54
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    I have seen a few cases where a very specific position was announced with a very specific candidate in mind, but after the legally mandated search process, someone else got the offer.
    – JeffE
    May 17 '13 at 15:14
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    In the private sector/industry this is so common that a regular piece of job hunting advice is "if it is published in the paper or on a big job site, the job is already filled." I once even had a recruiter outright tell me I was only called in because the company required at least X amount of interviews (least pleasant interview ever). However, as @JeffE noted, I've also personally observed a few cases of an heir apparent passed over in favor of an outside candidate. Its an unpleasant, though not uncommon, reality of the workplace.
    – BrianH
    May 18 '13 at 1:06

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