In a discussion with some of my close friends in other academic institutes, we noticed the common experience* in which it seems that well over 80% of the advertised job postings for permanent or tenure track positions at the departments close to our working environment where we are working are rigged or fixed. It seems that in Europe there are many people facing similar problems [1,2].

In this context "rigged" is meant to describe that many people at the involved institution already know who will get the position when or even before the position is publicly advertised. And with "knowing" it's meant that if it would be possible to place bets on the outcome, the people familiar with the situation (but not in the selection commission) would place all-in bets for the same person without any regard of the other candidates who applied.

In some cases the job description was even tuned to match the CV of particular candidates. And sometimes, it's already known years ahead that a particular person will get that position. In some cases those persons are also well qualified for the job, but in many cases external candidates with better credentials were not objectively evaluated. The other candidates were invited for interviews, and talks, giving sample lectures, spending time energy and financial resources for their applications and traveling.

This practice seems unethical, but it seems so common that it seems to be an accepted norm. When I spoke with a professor about this, he thought it was perfectly normal to give the job to people who you know well, instead of someone who might seem to be qualified better but who you do not know well. From a risk management point of view he might be right. But to me the situation seems similar to people in the mafia, those people who are part of it do not consider it as a mafia, and they do not consider the activities to be unethical, they even consider it beneficial for the society.

*EDIT: Based on the answers in a similar question on a particular instance [3], it seems that many people are OK, with that this is how the things go, it has become part of academic culture.

But some aspects of the question stay open:

  • How to deal with it in the search for a permanent faculty position?
  • How to find those job adverts which are really open?
  • How to deal with this if you are an insider and are observing this behavior on a regular basis?

I gave department and campus tours to applicants, of who i knew they had no chance, even if their credentials were better than that of some of the professors in the selection commission.

  • Should i have told them, that the whole vacancy and invitation for the interview was a charade?
  • If one notices such rigged position job advertisements in its environment, should one report it somewhere? Where could such conduct be reported?

Proof is not so much of an issue: We could easily set up a list of names and positions posting them on the web before the job was advertised get a time stamp. And confront some institute who cares with the statistics of hiring behavior.

But the most important central question is:

What could be changed in the hiring procedures or rules to mitigate rigged job postings?

*These experiences are based on 7 people from various institutions in Europe (Germany, Italy, Spain, France) during the last 10 years.

EDIT: The associated question is definitely similar, but i think there are some fundamental differences.

  1. That question was about a single particular case this question is about systematic ongoing behavior with which I and my friends and many others [1,2] are dealing on a daily basis.
  2. That question asks about a solution for a particular insider and potential whistleblower only. This question asks for solutions for insiders and outsiders (applicants).

Further more considering some of the answers on the other question which were relevant to the other case i changed the question a bit. How to solve this problem in the big picture.

  1. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Academic-Job-Hunts-From-Hell-/236635
  2. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20191122070839500
  3. I know that there is a preselected candidate for a position to be filled at my department. What should I do?
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 9:34
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    Please don't use "EDIT:". Instead, revise your question so it reads well for someone who encounters it for the first time. cs.meta.stackexchange.com/q/657/755. I think it might also be valuable to narrow your post to focus on one specific question.
    – D.W.
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 18:39
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    Hello @Allure, " If it's asked from the perspective of the job poster, then it's easy: don't systematically rig."---As you can well see below, there is a lot to answer, and many academics provide all sorts of rationalizations and justifications for rigging job posts.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 13:03
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    @Allure, there are more perspectives than being a robber or being robbed. I work at a department where these in my opinion ethical crimes happening very regularly, and i was looking for advice on how to stop it, or how to deal with it. It seems its even more common as i thought. Besides maybe setting up a website like tenureleaks.org to report and post rigging it seems there is little one can do about it.
    – Hjan
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 14:57
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    We all will pay for this type of corruption in the long run. The whole point of fair selection is: every now and then, someone we do not know comes, someone exceptional, and changes everything for the better.
    – Ash
    Commented Jan 20 at 4:32

9 Answers 9


I have seen this in situations where giving tenure track positions was not possible either because that institution was not available or because the financial situation of the department was too uncertain. Rigged processes for permanent jobs for postdocs who had proved themselves is than a way to get as close as possible to a tenure track position in that situation. That is imperfect, but the problem is the absence of the possibility to offer tenure track positions.

That leaves the question of why a department might want to give a tenured position via tenure track position rather than a simple application. In some countries it is extremely hard (impossible) to get rid of a person with tenure. So giving tenure to someone based on a letter, an interview, and some recommendations is much riskier than hiring someone who you already know. Your question assumed that it is clear that someone is better, but in my experience that has never been the case. Often it is clear that someone is not suitable, but that leaves many candidates. The impressions I got during the application process are very often wrong: those who I thought would be great turned out to be problematic, while those about whom I had doubts turned out to be great. In a tenure track process you can find that out before you give someone tenure.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 20:33

There are countries where institutions are forced, by law, to advertise positions before hiring someone. I think the idea behind such laws is that this will ensure they get the best person for the job plus it helps in fighting corruption by making everything more transparent.

So when the institution wants to hire a specific individual, independently of the reasons, it sees itself forced to advertise said position to obey the law. To deter applicants other than the one person they want to hire, this position can be tailored to the person's strengths and the evaluation metrics adjusted to ensure there is a high chance no one else will take the place.

While this is in a sense "rigged" it is the only way some institutions have to hire specific people without breaking the law. And there are legitimate cases for such behavior.

For example, say you have someone who worked for 2 years in a project. The 2-year contract ends and you realize you need 4 or 6 more months to finish it. In this case, it makes sense to re-hire the same person. However, the law prevents you from doing so directly. What do you do? You go around the law by opening a new position and tweaking the position to said person. Is it rigged? Yes. But you can easily argue this person is the best one for the job, after all the individual already has 2 years of experience in the project in question.

This is not the same as hiring faculty, but even in those cases, it's not surprising a hiring committee prefers the devil they know.

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    Yes, good point, but, still, this system is arguably unfair to people "trying to get a job"... I do not know how to resolve this... Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 20:10
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    @paulgarrett I honestly don't understand your and others' perplexity. I had several PhD students who spent some time as visiting researchers in US institutions, both universities and government institutions. At the end of the the visiting period they were offered post-doc positions, without the need of passing a selection. So, what's the difference? I cannot hire a candidate directly, but I can tailor a selection toward the qualities of a certain candidate. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 22:10
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    It is complicated, especially in view of traditional mechanisms for getting academic jobs, but the question is: is such procedure fair to other people? I certainly understand an impulse to extend the employment of a good person, but if that extension was not part of the original deal (and, as we know, in academe these things are toooo vague), then there is an argument strongly in favor about re-competing for the extension. Part of the argument is that otherwise people get shut out long-term after not "getting inside the system/network"... and have no legitimate chance to recompete. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 22:15
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    @paulgarrett Is direct hire fair to other people? And if I put the money, should I be generically fair to other people or should I be fair to me or the funding agency? Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 22:18
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    @Hjan In Italy you can always ask to view the decision reports which are, in fact, public. Actually, along the years there have been many appeals against preferred candidates (you can appeal at the administrative court), and sometimes selections have been invalidated. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 6:08

Indeed, I believe you are mostly correct in your arguments. In my opinion, as someone with quite a rich experience in academia, rigging or tailoring job postings, as is done a lot in Europe at least, is indeed unethical, and akin in some sense at least to a mafia mentality. There are of course some advantages to recruiting someone you already know, but the disadvantages first severely outweigh the advantages, and furthermore usually only apply to those few persons that are rigging the job posting. In most cases the one who devises these rigged positions is a "career-scientist" who attempts to recruit a colleague to add to his/her group junior assistants, or to add to his/her network of close colleagues within the department.

Rigging a job posting thus serves to:

1) Block the development of new groups and areas in the department.

2) Strengthen an already existing group, with someone who does not strengthen substantively the group, rather is more a junior faculty.

3) Promote the mostly narrow political-agenda of a group leader in the department.

Departments that usually rig positions after some time become non-competitive and usually are left behind, in comparison to their competitors (this is one reason in my opinion that European universities are on average less successful than US ones, in which rigging is less common; though of course there is more to it than that).

Following comments and previous discussions, I now explain why consistent rigging of job postings leads to a gradual decrease in quality and eventually a highly provincial department/cohort of academics. Let us consider the following highly simplified scenarios:

1) A department of "ranking 5" (out of 10) with 4 research groups hires for five consecutive years faculty members based on rigged job postings. Since no new faculty brings new expertise the department only maintains or expands in the areas it is already active in.

Outcome: the department only gets people it already knows. It doesn't go much down then in ranking. But it also doesn't go up: still 4 groups, doing the same research. Scholars of "rank 5" bring their colleagues who are also "of rank about 5". New areas are completely lost. Stagnation, and eventual provincialism. No new connection to different research groups and different countries.

2) A department of "ranking 5" with 4 research groups hires for five consecutive years faculty members based on international and unbiased recruitment process. People are hired based on reference letters, CV, publications, tangible achievements, and some strategic considerations (i.e., areas to invest in).

Outcome: Although one hire was found to be a problematic colleague who then quit after three years, all other four members are dynamic, international-level scholars, that bring fresh ideas to the department. New areas and new connection emerge. The four new hires are also of "rank 6 and even 7". The department then increased its average "ranking", its international connections, and the scope of areas it covers.

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    I've seen it happen both ways but honestly, far more often the department has preferred the "known known" to the "known unknown." I've even seen the process derailed entirely to promote someone who was less than qualified but had one heck of an "in" with the department dean or chair. It's sad, but it certainly happens.
    – Raydot
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 17:51
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    Good points, best point that such behavior has long term consequences in quality. Maybe this could be used to create a formalized feed back loop to evaluate the commission. Tailoring job positions is at least transparent to other applicants. One could try to spot and avoid them.
    – Hjan
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 5:45

I am going to respond to a part of the premise of the question, highlighted by the following statements from the question and comments:

in many cases external candidates with better credentials were not objectively evaluated

This practice seems unethical

In my view the procedure should be to search for the best available candidate

These statements imply that the eventual choice falls on someone who doesn't have the best qualifications and who was taken from a closed pool of candidates that "outsiders" could not enter.

An issue that I see is that often enough, who is or is not the "best candidate" in academia can best be determined by long-term endeavours such as conducting a project together with the candidate that takes at least a couple of months, or repeatedly working with them on various projects throughout the years.1 It seems that it is at this stage where indeed anyone can enter the race (e.g. by establishing contact at conferences or other meetings etc.).

Naturally, this does not match up well with the formal requirement of handling such a selection like a regular job offer followed by inviting applicants. The (as you correctly recognized, technically very dissatisfactory) solution is to run the selection process based on a long-term evaluation of candidates as described above while fulfilling the formal requirements by conducting what could be dubbed "job offer theatre".

As already stated, this is quite suboptimal. There is considerable potential for abuse and where no abuse happens, a candidate still needs to know how the process works to have a chance in the first place. (I think it is noteworthy that a considerable number of posts on this site about how to find such positions point out how important it is to simply get in touch with people from the department - because that is, generally, how any external candidate could learn about how to get into the department.)

I am not really sure about a solution; maybe the actual hiring process (i.e. including the evaluation that might span multiple years) could be formalized in some way - though of course, this would create quite some bureaucratic overhead and might also not be very practical given that such an "evaluation" may begin well before the candidate first utters (or even conceives) the wish to actually become a candidate.

Right now, as an attempt to answer the titular question directly:

How does one deal with rigged academic position job postings?

By understanding the difference between the formally required and the "actual" hiring process, and by, first and foremost, entering the latter. Get in touch with departments you would like to work with, show them your expertise during repeated encounters, contacts, or mutually conducted work, and thereby get on the path of being hired into your own personalized "rigged job posting".

EDIT: Based on various remarks, such as:

It seems to be about minimizing the risk, not about optimizing quality.

the OP's own answer

you claim that if A is perceived as a "good fit to the department" then it is advisable to take A. The problem is that (a) by that you exclude all other globally stronger on paper candidates.

Dilworth's comment

there seems to be some confusion about what is the assumed goal of evaluating candidates. The way I know hiring decisions to work (and that, personally, I think also makes most sense) is that they always combine several factors that need to be kept in a certain balance:

  • Are the professional skills of the candidate sufficient? These can be objectively tested and shown on a global scope. The candidate's formal education, prior work experience, and handling of concrete sample problems are just some of various ways to accurately determine these.
  • Is the candidate a good fit in the intended context? This one is much harder to determine, short of having already worked with the candidate before for extended amounts of time. The answer to this question may vary from one department to the next, as each environment, project, etc. is different, yet it is also crucial to know.
  • How accurate are the answers to the above two points? Both of the above points come with a degree of uncertainty. Keeping that uncertainty low is, of course, also important. Speaking in a simplified manner, a candidate who seems to be able to apply 90% of the expected skills in the department but turns out to apply only 70% is worth less than a candidate who is definitely known to apply 80% of the expected skills in that department.

Thus, the decision who is the strongest candidate is a combination of all of these factors. Especially in highly individual jobs as often found in academia (the higher in the hierarchy you look, it is less about fulfilling pre-defined duties and more about being able to develop and maintain one's own goals and positions), in my opinion an accurate impression of how that works out for any particular candidate in any particular context can only be gathered by gradually collaborating with and integrating them, rather than in a "normal" hiring process with a few superficial snapshot impressions such as a CV, interviews, sample lectures, etc.

1: Arguably, the longer I work in industry and have to do with (sometimes helping select, sometimes just training) new hires, I am getting the impression that quite the same applies there. Picking the seemingly best candidate based on a CV, work samples, and personal impressions from an interview within the course of a few weeks is simply not a reliable method to identify suitable (let alone the best) candidates, compared to hiring people who you've been in touch with for years.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 20:34
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    I disagree with point 2: a "good fit" is undefined, and is not a strong criterion, because in academia you hire colleagues who are going to work in the department potentially 30 years on, hence "good fit" cannot be assessed in the long run (only for short term purposes ("we need someone to teach X"), which is a flawed hiring tactics).
    – Dilworth
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 17:03
  • @Dilworth: I agree it is definitely very difficult to determine whether someone is indeed a "good fit", and possibly impossible to predict on the long run. Certainly, the person might stick around for a long time, and many things can change during that time. (For what it's worth, that's not really specific to academia, but basically the same in industry.) But what is the supposed solution? Picking someone who harmonizes with the existing team/group/department is simply an important factor, certainly on par with the professional skillset, so just ignoring that dimension just because it is ... Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 9:11
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    --- "Picking someone who harmonizes with the existing team/group/department is simply an important factor" @O.R.Mapper, I see where you are coming from but I simply disagree with this. An academic position in a strong department (!) is usually not a team's work. Strong departments usually have 100 faculty members or more, of independent group leaders. You hire based on academic excellence and independence. That's it.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 22:23
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    @O.R.Mapper, perhaps, but we must also respect the mode of independent group leaders I suggested, and not only the model you suggested that may suit some, but not everyone.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 23:50

I've seen* different kinds of rigged hiring processes which IMHO ask for different actions:

  • nepotism is IMHO the most problematic form. By definition (hiring someone because of the relation hiring Boss (I'll use Boss for the powerful one in the hiring committee) and Favorite rather than because of scientific achievements or job-related soft skills) this is dangerous for academic and general work quality.
    Hardly anyone cares about spotting nepotism if the Favorite is actually a good fit for the job.

    • So nepotism is spotted as problematic when Favorite doesn't fit that well. Either because their research isn't that good or because they don't get along/cooperate well with the other members of the group or department.

    • Nevertheless, Boss typically thinks they prefer Favorite based on objective criteria. For hiring local people/keeping jobs for their own staff rather than hiring newcomers, this may be related to a positive feedback loop: Boss supervises Favorite. Favorite is taught what research Boss does and how. After a while, Boss finds Favorite doing exactly the research they'd like to see. In addition, there's the important criterion that the candidate should work well in the department. Boss finds that Favorite works very smoothly with them.

    Of course, the usual rules against academic inbreeding counteract this if the relationship is internal as in the example. But a very similar problem may be encountered with hiring Boss' external Favorite.

    What to do? If the nepotism comes along with Boss being convinced that they are objectively right it is IMHO very difficult to stop as long as Boss stays boss. Realistically, only someone who is highly esteemed by Boss and who perceives the hiring outcome as problematic has a chance to make Boss aware of the trouble.

    For everyone else, IMHO the only feasible consequence is to think carefully whether/how long they want to stay in such a department/group: working atmosphere is likely already quite bad, and there is the risk that the fishy smell of being in a group that a) a does bad research and/or b) hires bad people (nepotism) sticks to them.

  • Hiring rigged in favor of someone found by a scouting process.
    Here we actually have a proper hiring process looking for the best or at least a very good candidate - but the visible administrative hiring process happens afterwards. The industry equivalent would be to have a job opening announced at the local unemployment agency as required by law and at the same time employ a headhunter.

    One reason to do this is that the visible administrative process cannot start before all grant contracts are signed - but then someone must be hired immediately. A 2nd related reason is to avoid the risk that noone applies who is really suitable for the job, either leaving the position open (project cannot start) or filled with someone who is not that suitable for the job.
    Related: we do have a probationary period of typically 6 months here that allows cancellation of an employment contract by either side without explanation. But again, doing so would mess up any project schedule (or the lecture plan) - so this is something a department is afraid of.

    This type of rigging comes at varying levels of unfairness to other candidates. In general, the hiring committee is still looking forward to hire Unicorn who appears out of the blue raterh than Favorite. However, the more preliminary negotiations have taken place with the Favorite candidate and the more promises have been made, the higher the hurdle Unicorn must overcome = the better Unicorn must be than Favorite in order to get the job. On the other hand, such a situaton is comparably easy to spot for other applicants: the job offer then looks as if they had forgotten to state required shoe size and eye color.

    What to do? When writing proposals, work that there is a realistic amount of time for the official hiring process. Do not make promises you can only keep by rigging the official hiring process against other good candidates when scouting.
    I do think that scouting is needed, but at the same time, allowing scouting procedures to replace the public announcement will facilitate nepotism :-(. Maybe allowing a certain amount of jokers/wild cards could give a good balance? After all, if a department (Boss) is determined to go bad, academic freedom allows them to do so.

  • Related is postdoc Favorite who wrote the proposal together with Boss ("You can join my group if you get a grant that pays you").

    Here the ethics are IMHO not so clear cut and need to be discussed in the academic community: what is a fair chance for some who wrote the proposal to actually get that job? Should it be treated like any other unrigged job advertisement - after all having written the proposal will give them a headstart, or should the writer have an "option" to the job? Anything in between?

  • Someone getting a follow-up contract has a similar headstart: they objectively won't need as much time to get started as an external candidate. The hiring process may still be further rigged in their favor.

    In my experience, administrative or legal requirement are sometime followed as required, but the perception is that the rigging counteracts unfair/unethical consequences of legislation (we have a saying "Gut gemeint ist das Gegenteil von gut gemacht" - quite literally "Well-intentioned is the opposite of well done"). One example is that legislation that was intended to protect emplyoees has the practical result that there are few things that administration fears as much as hiring someone on a permanent position, and at the same time there are strong requirements with fixed term contracts (violating them can turn the contract into a permanent one - nightmare for administration). The practical consequence is that Boss cannot offer permanent positions to Favorite who objectively deserves the position. So Boss/the committee does the next best thing they can do: making everyone jump through the loops of a rigged hiring procedure for a job that is promised to Favorite as a makeshift permanent position.

    What to do? This is a general political issue. And while many agree that the situation is bad as it is, I don't see anything approaching a majority agreement on what and how changes should be implemented.

  • "Rigging" in favor of internal candidates may be required by law: e.g. the staff council can demand that positions are first offered internally. In other situations, an external announcement may be required (by law, funding agency, administration, you name it): I'm quite sure any combination of weird administrative requirements may kick in. Or administration thinks they may kick in and asks the hiring committee to err on the safe side in the formal procedure.

  • Rigging against candidates (to be done...)

Conflict lines and political questions:

  • Academic freedom attracting despots? - relation to nepotism. (Humboldt and mafia)
  • Fair to applicants ./. scouting for and getting the best candidate
  • Labor laws: job safety ./. difficulty to get hired, fixed term ./. permanent contract regulation.
  • Administration minimizing risk ./. department wanting someone good

* In order to not blow up the answer even more, I'll write in indicative what is actually not more than what I believe to be true. Conjunctive or similarly cautious wording would actually be more appropriate. All this is my personal wold view - for few of the things I describe I have hard evidence, not to speak of a proof that I could show.

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    Interesting perspectives on many different cases. Also think that the situation if some one organized the funding, is a bit different. Also i think the case you state as: "Boss finds Favorite doing exactly the research they'd like to see" is perfectly connected to academic inbreeding. Many bosses think that a good employee is that who does what you ask them. But in academia i think a good employee comes with new and different ideas.
    – Hjan
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 22:13

Resolve that if you ever find yourself in a position to make (or contribute to making) hiring decisions, you will act fairly. If enough of us do this, some of us may eventually be in a position to effect change for the better.


Based on many of the responses it seems that this "rigged" faculty job postings are quite accepted in the academic community. And not really seen as something unethical. It is a way to deal with the formal requirements of "the system". And the formal requirements are a way to make the selection process look fair and objective.

A common argument is that one needs to know the person very well in order to appoint him for an important positions. How to compare an assessment of a CV, some papers and an interview with some of the candidates with years of collaboration experience with another candidate? If you have way more information about candidate B, how could you justify choosing another candidate? It seems to be about minimizing the risk, not about optimizing quality. "It is extremely difficult to get rid of some one with tenure". Another point mentioned is the lack of other alternatives to give tenure track or other permanent positions to those locally well known. Apparently often the real recruitment phase starts (and ends) before the formal job position opens.

Once you are hired in a similar way you get used to it, if it happens every where it becomes normal.

So what to do?

  • If one writes a rigged job advert, make it clear that it is tailored to a very particular person. (maybe one can agree on some code words?)
  • If you have to give a tour or have a conversation with one of the candidates who have no chance, whistle or hum the "the Entertainer theme (from The Sting, Scott Joplin), or offer them the choice between a red and a blue drink.
  • If you are in a department where this frequently happens, don't freak out, it seems to happen a lot. If you feel that they will rig a job for you to, stay and get assimilated. Otherwise network and collaborate with other clans and try to get yourself in a good position for the next rigged job posting there.
  • If you want to report it, forget it. Nobody with authority or power against it really cares and many even support it. You can write a blog or a post on academia.stack exchange. The answers could be disappointing, but you will learn the truth.

What could be changed in the hiring procedures or rules to mitigate rigged job postings? The first thing is that it requires to chance the view of those who think that this is ethical and acceptable, and the only way to circumvent the problems of the system. I hold it for impossible, and i fear they are in the majority. Resistance seems futile, and even counter productive. If you are known to be against such practices, you will not be invited for selection commissions, you will be considered as dangerous for other faculty members. These are things difficult to find out in a job interview, or CV, or by reading your papers. This kind of trust needs to be based on long term experience and close relations. So I recommend: do not try to change it, try to find a place where this is uncommon and exceptional, or adapt.

But hypothetically, the procedures could be changed to a more competition like structure. Quantifiable hiring criteria using a fixed limited "equal" amount of information per applicant could publicly stated in advance. With the possibility of public comments. An external commission evaluates the criteria, to see if they favor a specific applicant in a way not relevant for the position. The commission report is and remains public. People apply and another commission evaluates the candidates according the the specified criteria. The report with ratings, votes and conclusions of the individual commission members is and remains publicly available. Its imperfect but it seems more transparent, than how things currently go.

But those who want to circumvent the system will find ways around it, and jobs will keep being rigged. And probably in ways more difficult to spot. The more transparent the procedures, the more darkness is required to conceal the true objectives of those with power and objectives against the system. So in the end things will probably even get worse. Italy is one of the countries with public commission decision reports, but i know from personal experience that it did not solve the problem.

Therefore, maybe one must be thankful to know, and be warned that many faculty jobs are rigged. And try to find constructive ways to deal with it. One way is to keep it silent, and have the advantage of being warned w.r.t. the other poor sheep candidates who really still think they have a chance.

Also beware for the next level: maybe i am paranoid but the processes between awarding funding/grants (selecting reviewers, selection committees) and faculty hiring are not that different. Similar processes, similar people there might be a pattern there. It would even be inconsistent if the same arguments: "We know candidate A, better than B and C so we minimize risk by choosing A", are not applied there. In Germany there are elections for the subject committees of the national funding agency "DFG-Fachkollegienwahl" and of it is difficult to imagine that people do not vote for their friends, and that their friends do them favors back.

Note 1: I did not intend to answer my own question in advance, but the answers and feedback (also that of the related questions) gave me new perspectives summarized here. Thanks for all the other answers and discussions in the comments. Note 2: On request i could place references to some of the statements from other answers and quotes from other users, but i thought it was more polite not to do so.

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    I am not sure whether I understand your comments about the rigged grant decisions. Do you mean that people decide in advance what should be funded?
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 14:18
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    If you have the right connections, in the national funding agency and the surrounding society of the field, you can get inside information about when to submit a proposal for which particular call. And this helps in success rates of proposals of people in particular groups. Not that this is about relatively big projects in the field. Big in my field is salary of 30 people for 4 years, divided over 2 institutions. I am not deep enough in to this to make more detailed statements. But the decision process between faculty hiring and funding are not that different.
    – Hjan
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 20:55
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    @Hijan They are completely different here. I have not heard about a rigged grant here. At least in the main scientific agency for standard projects. Random-like decisions or unfair reviews yes, but I have not heard from anyone that rigging would happen. Not even as a complaint from people who did not get a grant. Not even as a rumorr. Hiring, on the other hand... Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 22:24
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    Rjey are not really that similar at all. Grants are awarded after reviews by international experts who are anonymous to the applicants and in panels with relatively larger amount of members from many institutions with very different own interests, they won't cooperate. For many calls there are strict publicly known deadlines and the bids are opened once the deadline passes. The time of dubmission plays exactly zero role. Maybe you heard some rumours somewhere but it will be very specific to your situation and your specific funding agency. Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 7:39
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    @Hjan It is normal for grant agencies to be structured by subject. Passing information about other projects prepared or consulted for applications are as wrong as it gets. So wrong that any such leak should start a BIG scandal. The people in those panels are usually members of competing institutions so the aim is they have as little incentive to cooperate as possible. If you know of anything like that happening, you can inform the police because that is a VERY serious thing (potentially organized crime). It is a serious allegation that could even get people into jail if you have evidence. Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 8:59

I will just give direct answers to each of your questions

How to deal with it in the search for a permanent faculty position?

Your question demonstrates that you have quite an accurate understanding of what is going on, and your comments on people's answers indicate that you have read the multitude of answers given here, which all say similar things. You now know how hiring is viewed and that you alone will not be able to change this overnight. So here is how I would advise you to deal with it:

  • It's okay to complain about the process here with your anonymous username, but try not to be too vocal in real-life about everything you've written here, especially how you think they are behaving like a "mafia". They will not appreciate being compared to a mafia or being call "corrupt" or accusd of "rigging" anything, and you will just be killing your own chances of getting the job. Wait until you have a permanent position, then you can fight to fix things (if you want).
  • If you file formal complaints or sue them, you are unlikely to see a happy outcome in a fair amount of time, so
  • Spend your energy on publishing many, strong papers. If your h-index hits 30 and you reach 2000 citations on 100 papers, eventually one of these institutions will have no choice but to hire you because you will be objectively and obviously a stronger candidate than the one they originally thought they wanted. Go to many conferences and make friends with as many powerful professors in your field as you can, one of them might like you and might make a "rigged" job opening for you.
  • If you are unable to develop what others think is a strong publication record, and you are unable to make friends with a lot of powerful professors, do remember that there's 1000s of people that can do these things quite well (whether thanks to very good luck, being born into an extra privileged family, having a lot of money, or doing the near-impossible: simply working even harder and making even more sacrifices than you and me), so I hope you don't have a closed-mind towards other excellent academic opportunities outside of being a professor at a top institution in one of your favorite countries. Academics tend never to give up, which is good, but compare yourself to the top sprinters in the world: you can be the best in your country and not make it to the Olympics.

How to find those job adverts which are really open?

Do you think that there is a place where you can find job adverts that say "this particular job hiring is going to be done in a fair way"? If so, how can you be sure they are being honest? So you can do the following:

  • Look everywhere and join every relevant mailing-list.
  • If you want to err on the caution, only apply to jobs where the advert is a rather direct fit for you. If they say they want someone specializing in machine learning, you can be tempted to apply because you do have a couple of excellent papers that used machine learning, but consider instead focusing on the ads that are really directly related to your specialty.

How to deal with this if you are an insider and are observing this behavior on a regular basis?
If one notices such rigged position job advertisements in its environment, should one report it somewhere? Where could such conduct be reported?

That's up to you:

  • You can ignore it (most professors do, and maybe that's why they managed to get professorships, but it's also why most of them are not celebrated like Martin Luther King Jr for standing up against corruption).
  • You can bring the matter up with the hiring committee, or if they don't listen than the person in charge of the chair of the hiring committee (either the Head of the Department, or Dean/Associate-Dean of the Faculty if the Head of the Department is the committee chair, which often is indeed the case). Or you can write an article about it, or go to your local news station and have an investigative journalist write about it. You can even raise the matter in a tribunal. But all of these things can backfire on you, especially if you don't have tenure yet.

I gave department and campus tours to applicants, of who i knew they had no chance, even if their credentials were better than that of some of the professors in the selection commission.

  • Should i have told them, that the whole vacancy and invitation for the interview was a charade?

Whether you "should" or "should not" is subjective. Are there any laws obligating you to tell them this? If so, then if you want to be a law-abiding citizen no matte what the law says, then perhaps you should. If not, it's up to you, but remember that your department colleagues can be very nasty to you and make your life a living Hell if you anger them.

  • 2
    "make friends with as many powerful professors in your field as you can, one of them might like you and might make a "rigged" job opening for you" - I think what this comment demonstrates blatantly, is that academia is now so riddled with corruption, that they don't even see the need to wear a mask when saying so.
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 19:37
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    @Steve That is a fair point. However I actually am vehemently opposed to the idea of creating a "rigged" job opening, and I would never do it myself. The comment actually does not indicate that I am riddled with corruption or that there's anything to hide behind a mask. I agree with you that this comment of mine is reassures people that academia is corrupt, but I don't think you needed to accuse the person "saying so" of not even seeing the need to wear a mask, because that can be seen as taking a stab at me.
    – Nik
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 20:37
  • Good points and warnings, based on this and other answers, i understand to be more careful speaking about this with my colleagues. Before i thought that doing good work, writing good papers is enough, but now i am learning that knowing the right people is more important. This seems also true for getting well cited. But any way i will try the good paper road, over fake friendships.
    – Hjan
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 22:29

I don't have a full solution, but it is necessary to be daring and speak up against the practice. And I would like to strenuously object to the "this is expected, and solves some problems, let's keep it" ethos. Or to the "you're not established yet, don't rock the boat" ethos.

These practices are common, not just in academia, but also in certain professions. And they contribute to the "looks like me" results. In other words, if you're a minority, you're less likely to "get in" on each level of the career ladder, and if you're not already "in", you're even less likely to progress. It would be great if cis-gendered white male allies would educate themselves on the full picture, and do what they can, when they can, to speak up against such culture. It is a risk, but less of a risk than it is to be a minority, and that's what allyship is all about.

I applaud the OP on his ethics.

  • It was very disappointing that, so many experienced tenured people think, that this is completely normal and even think that this is the best way. I consider the reactions as a warning, and I will fight and discuss it more cautiously as before. I think this is not something that can be battled easily because the majority of the system supports this Cronyism, and does not even consider it unethical. They will view people who do consider this unethical with hostility and care to protect themselves, which will make it hard to get tenure if you are outspoken about this to early.
    – Hjan
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 20:54

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