I have recently interviewed for a Postdoc position in a Scandinavian country, where the short-listed candidates have access to ranking and comments on how they were selected. I saw that the other person selected for the interview, already works there as a Researcher, probably on a temporary contract. Given the transparency of the process, I assume this would not matter much. However, it is human to be unconsciously biased and I have a fear that the professional intimacy shared by the candidate and members of the committee might not be in my favor.

The interview was really nice, a positive experience where I felt I connected with the committee, smiles were exchanged and my overall gut-feeling was that I could get the job. I can't help thinking, however, that I might lose over this detail.

Any thoughts and experiences?

EDIT: I do have another question, related to the selection process in Scandinavia: has anyone experienced a situation where 2 candidates are promising, and the PI or university opens another job or simply, they hire both? In my context, I know the PI has funding and could do this if they wanted. I wonder how common this is?

  • 4
    Even if someone had access to all the facts, how would they tell the difference between fair and unfair except in the most blatant cases of unfairness? – Alexander Woo Aug 14 '18 at 23:38
  • Are you asking if you will get the job, or if all candidates have the same chances pre-interview, or if interactions outside of the formal interview play a factor in decisions? If the latter, the answer is definitely yes, extra familiarity can increase or decrease one's chances---the more you know about a person the better you can decide if they are who you really want for that role. – Kimball Aug 15 '18 at 4:02
  • I know two PhD students have been hired when only one job was announced. – Asdf Aug 16 '18 at 8:29

Nothing in life is certain, of course. Different places have different rules and different levels of actual adherence to the rules. Your concern that they may prefer a known quantity may well be balanced by their desire to bring in a fresh face. Different members of the search committee might have different preferences if they have any at all.

But it sounds from what you write that you are likely in a fair process even if that isn't a universal phenomenon.

But, in the end, they will choose the person who they feel is best for the position, based on whatever formal and informal criteria they have. You have no actual influence over that.

I'd suggest that you take a deep breath and also have a backup.

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    Was going to write an answer but this one said what I was planning. +1 – SecretAgentMan Aug 14 '18 at 21:42

TL;DR: That there are internal candidates shouldn't detract you from applying. After all, the only situation in which you're sure of the outcome is when you don't apply.

What follows can be rather depressing to read. It was hard to write. It is, however, a description of the (my) reality as a senior staff member with international experience in graduate school and postdoc admissions.

I've participated and chaired selection panels for postdoc positions in a number of universities. In Australia and the UK, I note that there is a requirement to advertise and interview suitably qualified candidates, even if there is no intention of hiring them. That is, the internal applicant is the preferred candidate but funders or the university requires that some hiring process be undertaken. These situations can be quite wasteful of time and is quite unjust for external applicants or even other internal applicants. There are no obvious policies around this practice; people are simply acculturated into the system of winks and nudges.

In East Asia, the situation is a little different. Here, the intention is to use the interview process to reward progress and encourage good behaviour. It was explained to me in three universities in two different countries that the application process is so tough that being invited to interview is an achievement in itself. Thus, even if there is every intention of hiring candidate A and absolutely no intention of hiring candidates B and C, the latter two candidates are interviewed nonetheless. The interviews for B and C are also conducted in a manner different from candidate A -- there is more encouragement and advice from panel members, more talk of empowerment and improvement through the use of words like "potential", "opportunity", "diligence", etc.

I've sat on panels where the internal candidate was so underqualified but had to be interviewed for HR reasons. In cases like this, the Department uses the hiring process to accomplish two things: (1) it gives political cover to terminate a contract and (2) the Department gains a new functioning member of its staff. Why is this done? Well, it is quite difficult to go through typical HR processes and this is one of the options open for them.

Finally, in some cases, the panel members and the internal candidate have established such a comfortable relationship that it becomes a case of wanting to infuse new life into the group. This is a case in which the lab decides "better the devil you don't know."

Despite all of the above, a great majority of the panels on which I've sat have tried their best to choose the most qualified candidate. Internal candidates are a disadvantage, in fact, because when they need to do a presentation, almost everyone's seen their work; when they introduce themselves, they're thrown off guard because they assume that the panel members already know them; when they are asked about their plans, they tend to parrot what they've heard from their work colleagues.

You should apply for the post if you feel you are the best suited for it. You should prepare for the selection process as you normally would. If the playing field is level, then the only time you are sure of the outcome is when you don't apply.

I wish you the best of luck.

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