I have been involved in the recruitment process for a researcher position in Europe and I have been informed I was accepted. However, thinking about how the interview went, I noticed that most of it focused on the evaluation of the skills and the responsibilities associated with the future job opportunity. In particular, I was expecting the prospective employer to at least show some interest in my previous work (my recently-completed PhD* for example), beyond the common question of introducing myself. However, no questions have been explictly asked about it, which I found particularly odd, since both topics (PhD and new position) are closely-related.

Is the employer's lack of interactivity/interest in knowing more about a candidate's past experiences normal/common in such interviews or is it a bad sign?

*I don't know if this is relevant, but a PhD wasn't mentioned in the requirements for the position, but I applied anyway.

  • Presumably you gained the skills relevant to the job while doing your PhD, so the questions covered it, albeit indirectly. – astronat Aug 31 '20 at 22:15
  • @astronat yes, I guess I was expecting a rather direct interaction. – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 8:04
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    Also, downvoter, please suggest how you think I can improve the post. – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 8:05
  • I'm not sure why this should be odd. The point of a postdoc is to broaden your research profile, not to reiterate the same things that you did during your PhD. It might indeed be feasible to use some of your PhD work for the new project, but that's usually just one out of many possibilities, and if that's your key interest you could have brought that up, too. – lighthouse keeper Sep 1 '20 at 12:00
  • @lighthousekeeper The position is neither advertized as a postdoc, nor a PhD position. But in my case, since it will happen [post] my [doc], I guess we can refer to it that way. – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 14:46

First, learn to take good news as good news! You've got better things to do in life than to second-guess these things :-)

As for the actual question: We really can't know. In academia, a lot of things are available in written form. You probably had to provide letters of reference, and the people who interviewed you will have read them. You also wrote a PhD thesis, and the people who interviewed you will have taken a look at it. You may have written publications, and the people who interviewed you will be aware of them. So a lot of your past performance is an open book. What isn't available to the selection committee is your ideas about your future because, I assume, you don't have a website on which you have provided a vision statement.

So, first, it doesn't strike me as particularly odd that the people who want to hire you for a particular job ask you about that job rather than your previous job. Second, just take the fact that they're offering you the job as good news and celebrate!

  • thanks for sharing your view! "You probably had to provide letters of reference" -> They didn't ask for it. Also, my CV didn't include reference contacts, as they didn't ask for it. "You also wrote a PhD thesis, and the people who interviewed you will have taken a look at it." -> My thesis will take a few weeks to be published online, and they didn't ask for a copy to have a look at it. Re- publications, yes, that's probably true! – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 8:12
  • "What isn't available to the selection committee is your ideas about your future " -> In fact, yes, and they didn't ask about what my future plans were. So, it seems that everything is assumed. – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 8:12
  • +1 for explaining that OP's past output is public. "You probably had to provide letters of reference" -> not e.g. in Germany. Instead, here the employer certifies what types of work OP did. However, these certificates are often not yet available when a job interview takes place (and they are sometimes omitted in academia, since e.g. the PhD thesis does that as well). The new institution's HR department will ask for them later on, though and use them to validate what is claimed in the CV (and also to judge experience = wage tariff for public research institutions). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Sep 1 '20 at 11:38
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX thanks for these clarifications. The position is indeed in Germany (the new, not the old one) – acad-user Sep 1 '20 at 14:43
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    @acad-user -- even if there are no letters, academic communities are small. Your PhD adviser may very well be well known to your new employers, and they may have had a conversation on the phone, or over beers at some conference. I believe that I've known the advisers of all postdocs I've hired, and probably had formal or informal conversations with each of them about the candidate at some point. In several cases, this was long before I hired them: I hired them because I already knew for a long time that they're good, sometimes before they had first met me. – Wolfgang Bangerth Sep 1 '20 at 17:09

Lots of large organisations have very strict requirements about recruitment processes to avoid bias. These may include asking identical questions to each applicant. When you answer the question, you draw examples from whatever your history is - PhD, organising the family business, caring for your sick relative for five years. The thesis is a tool for developing and demonstrating a set of skills.

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