Recently I had an interview for a PhD position in Germany. After couple of days, I received a congrats email stating that I'm ranked 3rd candidate. Originally there was only single opening in the advert. So I am confused - actually I'm not selected - then why am I being congratulated? Is it something like if first two candidates do not accept the offer then I'll stand a chance? Should I ask this question directly? How to ask this with politeness?

Also, in the mail, it is mentioned that the group will have new opportunities and I should contact the respective person in a particular month. This sounds like a very promising statement, also from the internet research of the group, it is evident that they have few plans for near future.

I want to ask the question: How certain is this? I would want to listen a direct answer for e.g. 0.7% probability. Also, even though opportunity arises, will I be considered directly? Or will there be a formal evaluation process again? Because if yes, it is too time consuming and I might consider few other options rather than waiting for something in which prob of getting through is low.

This is a very good group and if I get an opportunity I would definitely work with them. So at any cost, I do not want to sound rude and/or idiot. So are these valid questions to ask? If yes, how to phrase them politely?

  • What country is this? In the US it might be considered rude to tell them their "rank." Sep 16, 2015 at 21:38
  • This is for Germany Sep 17, 2015 at 2:50

1 Answer 1


I might consider a few other options rather than waiting for something.

That sounds like a good idea to me in any case! Probably nobody can give you a quantitative information concerning the probability to get the position (how would anyone know the probability that two other candidates decline an offer?). Moreover this information may not be very useful or verifiable (what do you do if they tell you "it's about 30%"?). If a tangible offer is presented to you; like a contract that is ready to sign, then you may have a reason to be congratulated. Until then I wouldn't give any importance to that email.

I suspect that this group wants to be sure to obtain a student within a certain time (else the funding may expire), but you're apparently not their first choice; so they might be trying to put you 'on hold' as they may fear that their preferred candidates take other offers, and that in the meantime you could have found another good opportunity, too, leaving them empty-handed. That does not sound very fair to me; even though it is understandable from their perspective. I think that the email should have contained information on a deadline, stating that the final decision will be made before a specific date.

Just my two cents: since I don't think that you will obtain any useful answer, I would probably not ask anything and look for other opportunities instead. Maybe in a few weeks they make you an offer; then you can still decide. But I wouldn't recommend to wait and hope.

  • makes sense.. thx Sep 18, 2015 at 3:40

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