At the moment I'm looking for my next position (most likely postdoc level, potentially one step up from there).

When looking at advertised positions in Europe I generally expect to see a brief summary of what the job is about on the advert, and then have the ability to click through to see one or more multipage documents detailing the responsibilities of the post, the exact qualifications that are required and desirable, and so forth. Typically these detailed specifications will be used in the selection process - and so an applicant will use them to inform their application, making sure to address each point.

When looking at a couple of positions in the US, there has been the initial brief summary... and then nothing else. The entire job advert seems to consist of one paragraph giving an overview, plus some boilerplate about equal opportunities.

Is this normal? If so, what are the reasons? Since the selection criteria aren't being disclosed, how can an applicant go about identifying what attributes they need to highlight in their application?

3 Answers 3


Yes, it's normal.

A few things that you can do to get more information about faculty or postdoc positions before applying are:

  1. Look at the web pages of members the department to see what they've been publishing, their grants, etc. Keep in mind that the expectations of new hires may be far higher than the expectations were when older tenured faculty were hired.

  2. Look at class schedules to see what the typical teaching load is, both in terms of the number of courses and in the kinds of courses that faculty and postdocs teach. For example, do postdocs ever teach advanced undergraduate and graduate courses, or do they only teach sections of introductory courses? Are the typical sections 200 students or 30?

  3. For tenure track positions, Look for the institutional policies on promotion and tenure.


In Europe, at least in science, a postdoc is generally hired with specific funding to undertake a specific project. This might not be the case in the US, where lab heads will take on postdocs with a general idea of the area they will work in, but then it will be up to the postdoc to design their own research program.

Also note that the law around employment in the US is much less restrictive, so where in Europe an employee can call foul if asked to do something not in their job description, and an employer can only sack an employee if they prove to be below a what would reasonably be expected on a listed responsibility on their job description, these things don't apply in the US.

  • In the US you will also have an enforceable job description. It just won't be part of the advert. But you eventually sign a contract.
    – Buffy
    Aug 1, 2018 at 12:28

I don't know where you are finding these adverts. If it is in print, in the back of a publication, say, note that many places expect that you will find the department web site where more information can likely be found.

If that is not the case here, then also note that giving out too much information about a job is a way to attract fewer applicants, though perhaps more appropriate ones. Most academic positions in the US are "teaching and research" even for post docs. If a position is strictly one or the other it will likely say that. Even the listed subfield is normally treated as pretty fluid. If they want an expert in Machine Learning, say, that is their dream and they may need a person rather than the ideal person. Saying more than you need to say defeats this flexibility.

An advert will need to be specific only if they are seeking a person to fill a slot in a particular research lab in which generalists or "related field" candidates don't help.

  • I asked the professor for more details. He just gave me a link back to the same Web page. So that's all there is.
    – Flyto
    Aug 1, 2018 at 22:21
  • @Flyto, then I'll just guess that they are pretty flexible in their needs. The details will come if you apply and are interviewed.
    – Buffy
    Aug 1, 2018 at 22:46
  • Thanks. It feels like a good way to waste everybody's time, by getting applications from people who they don't want. I can't believe they're undersubscribed....
    – Flyto
    Aug 2, 2018 at 9:02

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