Few days ago I appeared in a postdoc interview. The PI was very much impressed with my resume and the interview went very well. The PI asked me when do you want to join. The next day he asked recommendation letters from two of my references (I am sure that they will give me a very good recommendation). After 2 weeks I got the rejection letter. How to interpret this rejection (he told me that the position is filled by some other candidate). This will be useful for my future postdoc endeavors.

I politely asked him the reason. He did not reply.

Thanks in advance. Sorry if this question is inappropriate.

  • Have you asked the PI to give you more detailed feedback on your application? Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 10:13
  • @Savostyanov: I asked immediately. He did not reply. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 10:26
  • 13
    There may be an official advice out against giving reasons for rejection. It is always a very fine line for a prof to decide how much of a reason for rejection to give you that will not be used in court. Don't expect a reply, but be pleasantly surprised if they give you one. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 12:11
  • 22
    The PI asked me when do you want to join Don't read too much into this question --- it's normal to ask the candidates when they will be able to start working. Many applicants have constraints (family reasons, other positions to leave with a notice, they need time to look for a house and move, etc.), so it's always best to inquire. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 18:19
  • 15
    Are you sure he asked "When do you want to join?" That phrasing sounds like he's offering you the job. "When would you be able to start?" is the normal question. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 22:06

2 Answers 2


There isn’t anything to interpret. The only conclusion you can draw is that there was another candidate whom the professor thought would be a better fit for the position, for an unspecified reason.

Our minds have a psychological tendency to want to fill in a lack of information with speculation and beliefs. The added information you have in this case is literally zero, so you must resist the urge to “interpret”; it is futile and serves no useful purpose.

Good luck with the job search!


It is impossible to say without more information, which you should seek. It may be that the PI in question didn't have final say, or some funding evaporated, or ...

It isn't out of the question that it was just a mistake.

It may also just be that they found someone they liked better or thought would be a better fit in the interim.

If you feel comfortable with the PI, you could just ask (nicely) what happened and that any feedback would be appreciated. It may not be possible for him to give you much information, but you might learn something.

It would be good to know if there was a deal-breaker somewhere, but you may have no way to learn that.

But in general, if you got a good feeling about the interview, it probably doesn't say anything about your future. Carry on, do your best.

While it is true that some people will act very positively in person, just to avoid any potential conflict, don't let that realization get in the way of acting positively and naturally yourself in future interviews. You can't control the things you can't control. The PI may have acted toward other candidates precisely as he acted with you, but then had to make a choice.

  • 2
    If the academic institution is as legally savvy as private industry, seeking more information is not likely to yield much. You are unlikely to learn anything that could be twisted into evidence in a lawsuit for illegal discrimination!
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 21:33
  • @alephzero, exactly so. But some folks might be willing to hint at least about what you might have done better. If the meeting is face to face (assuming it can occur at all) you can learn something from body language and facial expressions.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 21:40

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