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I have recently applied to a research-assistant position at a university in the European Union. I got admitted into the interview. However, I am the only suitable candidate to this job, as I could see by the official documents.

I have several doubts about this situation:

  • Why would they want to interview me, if I am the only candidate, and they find me suitable for the job?

  • What type of questions/discussion in the interview should I expect? It is a fact that I am not facing any competition, so what will the purpose of this interview be?

  • Is there any chance of not getting the job? I am really interested in the job, and I did not lie about anything on my CV. Can I still be considered not adequate for the position?

  • Is the interview just a formality? The original job posting says that the evaluation methods are curricular assessment plus interview thereafter.

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    "I am the only suitable candidate to this job [...]" The interview is exactly to see if this is indeed the case. – user347489 Jan 1 at 2:16
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    About the worst thing you can do going to any interview is start convincing yourself that they have to hire you. They don't have to and if you don't perform well they won't, they'll just spend more time looking for someone better. And being the favored candidate is a double-edged sword - you can be given a really tough interview to avoid accusations of not doing a proper interview. – StephenG Jan 1 at 9:46
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    The old addage, "something is better than nothing" is remarkably false. There are many instances where something is a lot worse than nothing. The interview is to guarantee the former and not risk the later. – JBH Jan 1 at 21:43
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    I've been on a lot of hiring committees. It has been stressed so many times that we only want to fill the position with the right candidate. Sadly, this means we've had several rounds in which no one was given a job offer. So only candidate ≠ 100% chance of getting offer. – Cliff AB Jan 1 at 22:35
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    In my experience, we have about 80% rejection on solo candidate. No competition = no winner. Any mistake could be the last. Interview are like dating, will you date someone only because [pronoun] is the only avaidable one? – xdtTransform Jan 2 at 10:06
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There are a few possibilities.

It may be that an interview is required by the policy of the institution.

It is also likely that they want to get an idea of how you would fit in personally. If they are happy with your application materials and have no reason to doubt your honesty in that, they just might want to know if your personality seems compatible.

Yes, it is possible that you don't get the job. If they decide you are a complete jerk (sorry, nothing implied) they won't want to hire you and will most probably restart the search.

But, I'd advise that it isn't anything to worry over. Just be yourself and use the interview to help decide if you want to work with them. If you decide that they are complete jerks you will want to keep looking.

They may want to quiz you on aspects of your knowledge that are especially important to their work. Be honest in your answers, even if you aren't familiar. Be positive, of course, about your abilities and adaptability if that seems appropriate.

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    ...and in addition they might want to give you a chance to see if you want to work in this team. – OBu Dec 30 '18 at 21:13
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    An interview is also a two way process. You get to see whether you actually want to work there. I've walked into places where I can immediately tell I did NOT want to be there... seeing people with dark circles around their eyes hunched over their desks and staring at their monitor is not a pretty sight. – Nelson Dec 31 '18 at 6:47
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If you’re not a great candidate, chances are you won’t get the job.

I’ve sat on appointment committees for more than one U.K. Russell Group university. Pretty much every time the view of the committee is we’d rather make no appointment, than a poor appointment.

Last year, a committee I was on decided not to appoint to a professorial grade post, despite having a number of applicants who were already professors at other universities - they were just viewed as not good enough for the appointing institution.

So being a sole applicant far from guarantees getting the job. The university wants to interview you to discover if you’re a great candidate, or just good enough on paper. And if you’re in the second group they’d probably rather not appoint anyone and re-advertise at some point in the future.

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    +1. "Only candidate" in the current selection group does not mean you're the only person who can do the job. They'd rather wait for Mr Right, instead of Mr Right Now. (Or Ms Right, of course.) – Graham Dec 31 '18 at 13:03
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    I am currently recruiting for three (non-academic) positions. One of them is fairly unusual and we have never managed to have two candidates at the same time - we will still turn a candidate down if they aren't good enough. – Martin Bonner Dec 31 '18 at 13:10
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    @Graham: That's a nice ambiguity there; for a moment I thought you were suggesting that they'd rather wait for Mr. Right than for either Mr. Right Now or Ms. Right. ;-) – ruakh Jan 1 at 19:42
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However, I am the only suitable candidate to this job, as I could see by the official documents.

You probably mean that you are the only shortlisted candidate with suitable background or with shared research interests etc. But there are more than academic qualifications when recruiting a member for a lab. For example, nobody want to hire a jerk no matter how talented he is.

I once interviewed for a post-doc position in the UK. Part of the onsite interview was to talk with PhD students and other postdocs in the lab for an hour while the PI and co-PI interviewed other candidates. I thought they just wanted to make me busy, but that were a mistake. There were 2 candidates being interviewed via Skype and they had to do the same.

-Why would they want to interview me, if I am the only candidate, and they find me suitable to the job?

To evaluate you further, to get more information that is not available in the resume/ applications, to check if you fit with the culture of the lab, and so on and so on.

-What type of questions/discussion in the interview should I expect?

Only the interviewer can know.

It is a fact that I am not facing any competition, so what will the purpose of this interview be?

Having no competition doesn't mean you will automatically get the job. It doesn't mean the interview will be easy either.

In the SF Bay Area (or Silicon Valley as poeple often call), there is almost no competition for software engineer, data scientist jobs. Often a company want to hire 300, and they can only find 30. So if you "pass the bar", you can surely get into Google, Fb, Amazon etc. That doesn't mean the interviews are easy, as the bar is very high.

-Is there any chance of not getting the job? I am really interested in the job, and I did not lie about anything on my CV. Can I still be considered not adequate for the position?

There is always a chance for everything.

-Is the interview just a formality?

I guess not. You should prepare for it as much as possible.

Good luck.

  • "In the SF Bay Area (or Silicon Valley as poeple often call)" Originally (and etymologically), it referred to the Santa Clara Valley (South Bay), although its use is creeping into the Bay Area in general. – Acccumulation Jan 2 at 18:33
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Many academic positions beyond the PhD positions are extremely specialised¹. Even if the job market is saturated with suitable candidates on the time average, it may therefore easily happen that only one or no candidate is available at a given time due to statistical fluctuations. In fact, I am aware of several positions that stayed vacant for quite a while due to a lack of suitable candidates.

So, even if your situation is not common in your field, it is very likely not rare, and therefore there likely are mechanisms to cope with it. In particular, there are likely measures to avoid that one completely unsuited candidate must be hired due to being the only one. For example, I know that many funders allow to delay the research plan a little if no suitable candidate is found or to convert a postdoc position to a PhD position and vice versa. For university-funded positions, the flexibility is usually even higher. I heard of some cases where positions were advertised over years until a suitable candidate was found.

I also have never heard of an academic position where the hiring party is forced (practically or legally) to accept a candidate. This doesn’t mean that they do not exist, but given the above, I cannot imagine any mechanisms enforcing this to survive very long because they would lead to a completely unnecessary detriment of research quality.

So, I really wouldn’t assume that, just because you are the only candidate, you cannot fail. Moreover, even if they are desperate to hire somebody, they may still want to avoid hiring somebody who is very likely to quit after a few months, because they are back where they started with some time and funding lost.

Finally note that even if they are already completely enthusiastic about you, they may not tell you and go through a regular hiring process to get a better negotiating position for the details of hiring (if there is anything to negotiate at all).


¹ The situation is somewhat different for PhD positions, where in most fields you should be wary why you are the only candidate.

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Why would they want to interview me, if I am the only candidate, and they find me suitable for the job?

They have found you to be suitable enough to merit an interview, not suitable to enough to hire "blindly", without having talked to you.

Expect essentially the same interview questions you would get had there been multiple candidates.

The interview is likely not just a formality and you are not guaranteed to be hired: The research group can decide nobody was found suitable enough, and either shelve the position or try another round of recruiting.

3

Interviewing is often about cultural fit and how well one fits into the workplace community. It's helpful to talk with a job candidate and listen to how one responds to different questions, because it demonstrates one's communication style and approaches to problem-solving in ways that a CV may not easily otherwise accomplish. It is also a way to demonstrate one's soft skills, and those are harder to measure without a face-to-face interview.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

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