Several questions on this site relate to a situation where someone gets several offers simultaneously: for example, see How to choose between multiple math postdocs offers?. But how does this situation arise? In my (limited) experience, offers do not come simultaneously, and need to be replied to almost immediately (within a week or so). For example, position A could have the application deadline 1 February, have interviews mid-February and announcements mid-March, while position B could have everything one month later. To have two open offers at the same time seems very unlikely in a specialised field where positions are not open on a weekly basis. Then how does this happen?

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    @scaaahu I mean within a week or so. I've added it to the question.
    – gerrit
    Jan 29, 2014 at 12:24
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    This is very field and country dependent.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 29, 2014 at 13:05
  • Having a sufficient number of applications out really helps. That and being a candidate that people really want to hire. Jan 30, 2014 at 4:56

5 Answers 5


In mathematics, the answer is easy: most American math postdocs are selected on about the same schedule. There are some variations of 4 to 6 weeks, but that still leaves plenty of room for second round offers from an early school to coincide with first round offers from schools that run later.

Further, there's been a tendency for schools that tend to compete over people to try to race each other to making offers, so the number of simultaneous offers ends up being higher than the number of schools would suggest.

(Also, a one week deadline to respond seems a bit short. What I've seen is more like two, with the ability to ask for an extra week or so which is usually granted if there's a chance of another offer.)

(Just for clarity, by most I mean more than half; there's a big early cluster and then additional positions being considered for months.)

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    First-round offers are also synchronized by the AMS common deadline, which keeps most schools on the same schedule. Jan 29, 2014 at 13:52
  • The ability to ask for an extra week or so which is usually granted if there's a chance of another offer — doesn't that give the message you are my second choice? If it does, does that not have negative side-effects?
    – gerrit
    Jan 29, 2014 at 15:20
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    @gerrit: They've already made the offer, so what negative side-effects would it have? I mean, yes, it does risk sending that message, but the faculty can generally take it without too much offense (unless they're the absolute top of their field, they probably know they're not, and they're also aware that people often have personal reasons for choosing postdocs). Moreover, pretty much by definition the request is from someone with a serious chance of other offers, so giving the extra time to decide makes it more likely that if they do accept, they'll stay for the full term of the postdoc.
    – Henry
    Jan 29, 2014 at 15:28
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    @gerrit Would you want to hire someone who had no hope of getting a job at a better school? Of course, it is good if you find candidates who like your school for idiosyncratic reasons, but in general the people you want to hire are probably in the mix other places as well. Jan 29, 2014 at 16:34
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    @gerrit: American math postdocs are very different from science postdocs, which are what you seem to be thinking of. They aren't attached to specific topics, and they're funded primarily by university/department money rather than grants.
    – Henry
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:25

In faculty hiring, it's not uncommon for the following sequence of events to happen.

  1. Candidate interviews at University A and University B
  2. Sometime later, University A starts making noises about making an offer (usually over email and on phone)
  3. Candidate puts out feelers to University B, hinting that if they were thinking of making an offer, now might be a good time.
  4. University B makes offer (email/phone) to candidate
  5. Much negotiating merriment ensues.
  6. .....
  7. Profit (for candidate at least)

Sometimes, there might even be more than two players involved in the bidding.

In short, the candidate can trigger multiple offers if they play their cards right. Or it can happen by fortuitous timing. But the approach described above is quite common.


In American sociology, hiring usually happens during the fall and winter months (although the 2nd tier market goes on to the Spring, which is a bit different from the fall/winter markets).

During these months, candidates (PhD Candidates, postdocs, VAPs, lecturers) send out applications for academic positions, usually in large numbers due to the high level of uncertainty and cut throat nature of the market-- Most positions get around 200+ applications (one postdoc competition I applied to last year was interdisciplinary social science and received 780 applications!).

I applied to about 30 jobs this season, which number is actually considered pretty low (I am in a pretty niche field) and I personally know other people who have applied to nearly 100 positions. The fact is, candidates have limited information regarding the hiring (what the department is "actually" looking for- because many things are not noted in the vague job descriptions), and it is believed that, getting an interview, is not only the workings of credentials and qualifications, but also largely due to "fluke." To up the chance, many people apply widely and in large numbers.

Anyways, many candidates do not get anything after months of putting in applications, and a few lucky ones can get multiple interviews, offers, and so forth (interestingly, I find that probability of getting interviews does not correlate too much with publication records either, except for the absolutely top tier market). It is completely possible to have multiple offers and when you do, it definitely gives you more bargaining power in negotiating.

  • 30-100... I hope for the supervisors that they don't all require tailored recommendation letters!
    – gerrit
    Jan 30, 2014 at 0:04

I would think they happen mostly by having a relationship with the person doing the hiring. That means that the offer isn't made through a tight bureaucratic process but can be more flexible.

Many positions are never publically announced and the only way to access them is through networking. Some position will even be created to be able to hire a specific person.

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    Many positions are never publicly announced — [citation needed] (This may be country dependent.)
    – JeffE
    Jan 29, 2014 at 14:33
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    This quite false in the US in mathematics. Positions usually are widely announced, and not necessarily linked to one professor who makes the decision. Jan 29, 2014 at 16:36

Do you believe in the "element of luck?" Many people say that if you have this, you'll be able to achieve your life's goals in easier means as compared to others. And relating this to your question, those who receive simultaneous offers are probably "lucky" at that particular point in time. Unfortunate are those who really work hard but are not given such opportunity. Anyway, according to successful people especially those involved in real estate business, "persistence pays" - so never stop chasing what you truly deserve!

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