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Last year, I applied for a research assistant position at a German university in the STEM field aimed at a PhD degree. I prepared all the documents required, including recommendation letters from professors in my current school. I also got an e-mail from the university confirming my application.

However, I was not informed about the status of my application for a long time (about two months), even close to the desired starting day for the PhD I had not heard back from them. I also checked my spam folder every day. So I sent an e-mail to the university to ask what was going on. They said that my application was rejected but it seems that somehow the result was not communicated, and they don't know why. I didn't understand the situation, but I could do nothing but accept the given result.

Soon after, I got an e-mail from the university informing me that they will open another hiring process soon. It says that they decided to hire a more convincing applicant at the time, but they hope that I consider applying once again. I never got this kind of e-mail before, so I'm now a bit confused.

Is it normal for German universities to announce new hiring to all previous applicants, or is this only for me? I might be overthinking too much, but I'm guessing they are just being nice. (Maybe as I was not informed of my previous application because of their mistake.) My supervisor said that it might be a positive sign, so he encouraged me to apply again. But I'm suspicious whether the university really wants me to re-apply. I was not even invited to the interview, and all I got was a short rejection mail. I won't apply again if the same result is repeated, as I don't want to waste my time. What should I do? Should I seriously consider applying again?

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    Who sent the email? And is there any reason why you might only be invited to apply for formal reasons (e.g. you are part of an underrepresented group)?
    – user151413
    Feb 3 at 9:16
  • @user151413 The email was sent by a secretary at the department, and there is no formal reason why I should be invited. I think I'm not the only one, but I have never received this kind of mail before so I'm wondering. Feb 3 at 9:29
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    The key thing to know about the German system is that a lot of the decision making power lies with the individual professors. As such, what is normal can differ even within the same department, depending on who is hiring. In any case, since you have your documents ready, i would argue that simply reapplying takes less time than writing an SE-question and waiting for answers. In particular when there is a good chance that you simply never got an interview because they misplaced your application before sending the invites for those.
    – mlk
    Feb 3 at 10:18

2 Answers 2

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I would take it as a positive sign.

Note that in Germany, PhD/postdoc hirings usually work via professors, not via the department or university. This means that it is quite likely that whoever makes the decision in the hiring wanted you to apply again.

In case they wouldn't want to hire you, there doesn't seem to be any incentive to encourage you to apply, as it would only create extra work for them.

I wouldn't take the fact they didn't invite you last time as a negative sign: It could simply be that the last time, they had someone they definitely wanted to have (be it because of the specialization of the person, or it was someone the professor knew very well, or who had a very specific and strong letter, ... ), but for some reason, the hiring didn't ultimately work out. If that was the case, it was in fact kind that they did not formally invite several people to give talks: This would have just created unnecessary work for everyone.

So if I were you, and I were still interested in the position, I would definitely apply.

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If you want another chance at the position, you should apply again. Nobody here can guarantee anything about how the process will turn out. Possibly they are 'just being nice', but usually, universities don't want to spend more time to 'just be nice'.

The fact that you hadn't heard anything for a long time with your first application can mean anything. Probably it means what they told you. Universities have no reason to be dishonest in this process. There is a good chance that you will be rejected in the second application as well, since it is possible that they sent the invitation to apply to the second position to everybody that applied the first time. You can always apply and see what happens.

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