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I have been contacted by the search committee of a Swedish institute to whose (STEM-based) tenure-track position I had applied almost 8 months ago. They informed me that I will have an interview over 30 days after their invitation email. I found that a bit strange because, at least to my experience, search committees often don't postpone interviews more than 10 days from their invitation email's date. I then informed my supervisor and a friend of mine, who is a rookie assistant professor in another Swedish institute, to see whether I can get some useful information about the interview process.

My friend told me that job advertisements in Swedish academia are only pretexts for legalization of recruiting internal applicants. He said, most of the times, an internal applicant has already secured a big chunk of funding/grant, and the affiliating university would like to hire them. But since they can't do it directly, they open a position, and regardless of the other applicants who may apply and their merits, they finally pick the intended person. My friend had already done his Ph.D. in Sweden, and he told me he had 3 interviews with different departments of that university all of which ended up with nothing better than rejection. When I told him about how far the interview date is from the date they invited me, he speculated that "their internal favorite applicant" may be waiting for the finalization of his grant, so the interviews are postponed so that the committee's rationale to pick him will be available. My friend advised me to check the list of the postdoc fellows of the university, especially those who are under the professor who is the position's contact, to see whether there is anyone in the field related to the position. If so, in his estimation, I (just like any other external applicant) may have no chance. (I did what he recommended without finding any good match between the current postdoc fellows there and the position's research topic)

After I informed my supervisor about the invitation, he said he has a friend in the medical department of that university. So, he contacted that person asking whether he has any access to my application and the current opinion of external experts about it. That guy fairly reiterated my friend's claim about the internal recruitment of rookies in Swedish system, and he (mistakenly) even claimed that I am invited to an interview for a senior postdoc position rather than an assistant professorship one! (Despite the clear assistant professorship nature of the job application, I contacted the coordinator of the position, and he just confirmed that this is indeed an assistant professorship position.)

Now I am thinking whether or not what these two (independent) sources claim are really true. To be honest, one may rule out their opinions for some reasons. For example, I felt my friend was a bit salty because of his rejections, and that medical faculty member's experience might only be the case in their department, as he wrongly thought this position cannot be an assistant professorship position. However, its seems that (at least some degrees of) nepotism in Swedish universities to prefer internal applicants is a well-known fact, as one may read in various reports such as here, here, here, etc.

Overall...

Is there anyone from the Swedish system (or experienced in this topic) who can shed some light on whether or not tenure-track positions in Sweden exclusively assigned to internal fellows?

Update:

In the final ranking, I placed second right behind the internal applicant who is a postdoc in that department within the last five years. The only negative comment of the experts of the committee about my case (according to the public protocol of the committee shared by the department) was that I have not yet finished my first postdoc.

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    From my experience, the long waiting time between application and interview invitation is typical for Sweden, and is actually a result of their measures to assure fairness of the application process. One part are the external experts, which you already mention - they have to provide written assessments of the applications, which is naturally a quite involved task. Departments also tend to have relatively large and diverse hiring committees, which makes the scheduling of meetings more involved. Feb 28 at 14:03
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    I'm also a bit puzzled by the episode regarding the person that claimed that you apply to a postdoc - that seems to have nothing to do with the question, and seems more like a rant. Feb 28 at 14:06
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    This situation (an international search is required to be opened even if there is a preferred internal candidate) can happen anywhere (I've observed it in the US). If they are at all honest about it, they will at least seriously consider the external candidates, especially if you have better credentials than the internal candidate (in which case hiring the internal candidate would be harder to justify). As a candidate, you are probably won't be able to glean whether it is happening. Feb 28 at 17:32
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    I am tempted to downvote because of the "exclusively" phrasing, which is making this a non-useful thread with answers like "No, because here is this single counterexample".
    – Szabolcs
    Feb 28 at 20:20
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    @Szabolcs: So far, three contributors have shared different counterexamples, especially xLeitix's that indicates something more than a "single counterexample" but a (university-level?) policy. So, that "exclusively" has not led to trivial answers.
    – User
    Feb 28 at 20:27

4 Answers 4

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My personal experience tells me that your statement, in general, is false.

I was interviewed for a (permanent) Senior Lecturer position in a university in Sweden. I was not an internal candidate by any definition - I am from a different country and I did not know anyone in this University, even a "rookie assistant professor". I was offered the position, which I had to decline in favour of another one.

In total, I attended 10+ interviews for permanent academic posts in the UK and EU, and the interview I had in Sweden was perhaps the most transparent and pleasant experience, despite also being the longest and the most demanding interview I ever had.

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I worked in Sweden, so I can answer that question. It turns out that I also know some people who were involved in such a process.

While it is true that they may have an applicant in mind, they have to legally open a position and external people can apply. They also may not advertise it for too long...

However, the hiring committee does not only comprise people from that department, and the committee members will still evaluate all the applicants. In the department where I was, they opened a position for one specific person but what happened is that someone external also applied to that position, and this person got hired because he was a better applicant than the internal person. So, hope is not lost.

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Are tenure-track positions in Sweden exclusively assigned to internal fellows?

I have joined Chalmers University of Technology five years ago on a tenure track position without having any prior ties to the university. So it's certainly not true that positions are given exclusively to "internal fellows". Moreover, thinking about our hirings since I joined Chalmers, I struggle to think of even a single case where we ended up hiring somebody who was already working at Chalmers in some form (we did internally "promote" some postdocs to teaching-focused faculty positions, but not to traditional research-focused tenure tracks).

That said, Swedish academia is a large place. I don't doubt that there are universities that are looking more at their current postdoc pool when filling tenure track positions, to the extent that external candidates do not have a meaningful chance altogether. But as a general rule about Swedish universities this is incorrect.

They informed me that I will have an interview over 30 days after their invitation email. I found that a bit strange because, at least to my experience, search committees often don't postpone interviews more than 10 days from their invitation email's date.

Again, be careful to make sweeping assumptions and derivations based on how you think things should work. Scheduling an interview next month (rather than next week) is nothing out of the ordinary at all, and you should not conclude that something fishy is going on based on this alone. Thinking back about my time on the job market, I would say most interviews I attended across Europe were scheduled with months of leeway. I can only recall a single case where people basically asked me to come visit them next week, and I was more than a little annoyed by that because it sort of assumes I have nothing else to do.

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"Job advertisements in Swedish academia are only pretexts for legalization of recruiting internal applicants." I have worked as a postdoc in Sweden and from my experience this is to a very great extent true and not only about internal/external applicants, but Swedish/non-Swedish. At my department there are Swedes who start working as lecturers and assistant professors without a single published paper nor much teaching experience. Yet an international with more teaching experience and publications may have a difficult time getting their way through unless they use "Vitamin B"! I personally, and sadly, found Swedish academia, or at least my department, to work very much based on race and ethnicity rather than merit. Also, there's a white-collar/blue-collar devision within academia, meaning that a white-collar may be approached as a blue-collar based on where they from! So all in all, I think yes. Tenure-track positions are mostly reserved for internal(local?) applicants. One can also easily see that by reviewing the staff profiles on university faculty pages.

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