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After being offered a postdoctoral position by email, I was asked by the university’s administration to submit some documents allowing them to start the hiring process. According to them, this process will take 2 months.

I was wondering if it is wise/safe to wait this long without an official letter at hand. If not, how should I proceed?

Note that I am aware of the position details based on the job description and the discussion with the PI, but I was expecting some official document (signed by the administration/PI).

I have seen this similar question, but I have added a country tag to my question so that I can get specific answers.

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts on this!

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    Keep looking. If you find a firm offer that's about as good, take it!
    – Bob Brown
    Sep 12 '20 at 14:12
  • Where are you based right now? Which citizenship do you have?
    – user151413
    Sep 12 '20 at 16:01
  • @user151413 non-EU citizenship, but currently-based in another EU country. (Sorry, I prefer not to mention explicitly which ones for anonymity) Why do you think this matters? Is it for the in-person signature of the contract as you mention below? (Thanks btw, it seems I don't have enough reputation to upvote)
    – mbl20
    Sep 12 '20 at 17:09
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    @mbl20 Certainly not in the informal ad. You can try to figure out if the PI has grants from private agencies. But it could well be that the rules are that all jobs have to be officially advertised.
    – user151413
    Sep 12 '20 at 18:41
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    This is very common in Germany: public service contracts can take one to two months to prepare. They also won't sign anything until they have checked that all your documents are ok, but at that point, they will directly send you the contract. This is somewhat unfortunate for the PIs, who cannot guarantee anything beforehand, but it does not seem that it is a priority for them to speed up the process...
    – wimi
    Sep 13 '20 at 10:41
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I wouldn't be concerned.

In German academia, it is rather common to make PhD/postdoc offers informally (i.e. just via email etc.), and the formal process is only completed at a much later point. I know of many cases where people only sign their contract on their first working day (in particular in pre-Corona times, administration wanted to do the signing in person, so if you were in a different place, this would be postponed until you arrived).

On the other hand, even without the contract, you can get a confirmation that you will be hired in the future, once the necessary paperwork is completed.

However, it will be impossible to get such a confirmation without having the required paperwork completed - just imagine that in the course of that, it turns out that you don't have the required qualifications (no PhD, no degree, ... ) - the administration will not sign that they will hire you unless they are sure that this is legally possible.

One thing you can do to speed up at least part of the process - to make sure that you don't "accidentally" miss a qualification (very unlikely) - is to supply all required documents as soon as possible and check that they are sufficient. Even if the process is not completed yet, this should give you additional security that things will not go wrong for formal reasons (again, rather unlikely - they hire people all the time).

Finally, while on the one hand I understand that you want a more formal "safety" that you will get the job, as I said this is rather normal, so no need to worry. But more importantly, you should note that even if you have a contract, within the first 6 months you can be usually fired on short notice and without a reason given (I'm pretty sure this is more or less the same in other places, that there is an initial period where both parties can terminate the employment on short notice, not to speak of places like the US), so even if you have a written offer or even a signed contract, there is still some amount of risk involved, like essentially always in life (unless you have a tenured position).

Edit: Maybe to add a comment, hiring decisions typically have to be approved by the personnel council, and possibly other bodies (equal opportunities, etc.), which can take its time, especially at large universities or research institutes. In addition, if this a position funded by public money, it has to be publicly advertised in one way or the other, and the advertisement has to be open for a certain amount of time (I think 2 weeks at least), before the whole process can even start. So putting all these processes together, 2 months might well be the minimum time it takes.

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    Perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning that also the "equal opportunities officer" can, depending on the state, effectively veto a hiring process, and this person will not be informed until the hiring process is started. This is another reason for why there are no offer letters - they would either be meaningless in such an environment or promise something that the hiring university cannot actually guarantee, which is legally highly problematic.
    – DCTLib
    Sep 13 '20 at 20:52
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The concept of an offer letter is not a universal one.

Based on my own experience in Germany, as well as what I've heard from colleagues, I don't think they really exist at German universities. I once was in the process of being hired on a temporary professership at a German university, and they had me sign all kinds of ancillary paperwork and got to the point where I was listed as the instructor on the course pages I would have done without there ever being something like an offer letter.

I don't think there is anything more reasonable you can do than going along with the process, and not stop considering backup plans.

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    Professor hirings in Germany (i.e. Beamter) is entirely different. This is not a good comparison.
    – user151413
    Sep 12 '20 at 15:49
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I can't speak directly about Germany, but acquiring work visas for foreign postdocs in China can take 3-4 months. The official offer letter from the university only comes after the visa is acquired. Your new PI should be able to tell you if the process of generating an official offer letter after a faculty has requested one to be made has ever fallen through. For us, HR will evaluate the candidate immediately and let us know if there are any issues (e.g. insufficient work experience; candidate cannot supply a diploma). At our institute I'm not aware of any cases where a qualified candidate did not get an official offer.

I will add that the COVID-19 pandemic is adding a lot of uncertainty to these things. It is possible that the university suspends hiring for budgetary reasons.

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