I have been offered and have accepted a position at a university. The position is not advertised yet, but they will advertise it because they are required to. Is this something common in academia? To be more clear on what happened, prior to the offer I sent my CV as a respond to another similar position which they advertised, but it was to be filled immediately and so I was ruled out. I guess after looking at my CV and having further conversations with me they were keen for me to join them and so they offered me this new position. But because they are required to, they have to go through another round of formalities.

I did ask the head of department how he could be sure that I would be the most suitable person for the job and told him that others might be better candidates, to which he said something to the effect that he saw me as suited for the group. But since I have not signed any contracts yet, how can I guarantee that I will eventually get the job? From the time I accepted the offer, I have stopped looking for other jobs, and have withdrawn my other applications, but since there are no contracts signed yet, I am a bit worried.

Perhaps another question I should ask is why are universities required to put up advertisements and to go trough all the formalities if they already decided on someone?

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    Given that this is illegal (by the employers) in many countries (including the UK), and that it's fairly easy to get from your username to your real-world identity, you might want to consider whether posting this question in this form is wise
    – 410 gone
    Jan 19, 2016 at 11:51
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    @adipro What do you mean, "why"? If there is a formal requirement to publicly post a position, then this requirement is not fullfilled if they promised you the position beforehand. Depending on where the requirement comes from (government law, organizational rule, ...), it may be actually illegal or merely a violation of organisational policy.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 19, 2016 at 12:07
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    What kind of a position is it? In Germany, this seems to be routinely done for doctoral candidates. On the one hand, institutes often have a "standing invitation" that anyone interested in doing research in <very broad range of topics> is encouraged to contact the institute (whereas concrete openings are mostly only presented or agreed upon in personal conversation), and on the other hand, quite some doctoral candidate positions are only created on-demand, e.g. by combining several sources of money to assemble enough to fund a person who the institute is interested in. ... Jan 19, 2016 at 12:11
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    @adipro because it breaches discrimination laws
    – 410 gone
    Jan 19, 2016 at 12:12
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    I see, thanks. I'm very unfamiliar with those countries so wouldn't have too much insight to offer, other than that I agree with the other commenters that there are some serious ethical, and quite possibly legal, problems with the way the department head is behaving. You are very right to be concerned (both as a general rule since you don't yet have a contract, and much more so because of the specific situation). In the U.S., I would recommend consulting a lawyer and also maybe looking into whistleblower protection laws, but not sure if this advice is applicable to Scandinavia.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 20, 2016 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


Offering a position informally is illegal, but unfortunately still common practice in academia in the UK and some other countries. By offering you this position, the University violated good business practice and possibly breached several laws (although I am not a lawyer and can not speak in confidence here).

From purely human perspective, consider other candidates, who will find this post advertised online, will spend hours and days preparing and polishing their applications, put their time and effort in this work. Some of them will eventually be shortlisted, and will come to the interview, some of them travelling from other countries in hope to get a better job. And their desires and hopes will be for nothing, because this position is already promised to you, and all the process is in fact fake.

You describe your sense of insecurity. But for other candidates it could also be a very frustrating experience to be selected for an interview and then turned down for no obvious reason, often without a decent feedback or even a polite letter of rejection.

Finding a job in academia is increasingly difficult, but this is exactly why fair hiring practice is now greatly important to ensure that the best candidates have the positions of the base of their merit. Although you may have no better options than to join the University which offers you the position, it is important to realise that their current practice is toxic and should be improved.

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    @adipro, if you want the job, I wouldn't mention it. This is something that's easier fixed from the inside than the outside. Once you're in, you can work with the department to fix what you see as unfairness in the process. Though you might not start rocking the boat too hard until you have tenure.
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 19, 2016 at 14:51
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    ... giving the impression that you would consider all applicants (although you have no intention of doing so) and soliciting materials that take effort to produce, and then hiring your brother-in-law/apprentice/etc, to whom you have already made an explicit job offer in writing. To my layman's understanding that sounds like fraud, or maybe something slightly less serious but still very serious.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 19, 2016 at 21:30
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    External advertising is desirable because you wish to fill the position you have with the best candidate. It should be in the department's interest to make an as broad advertisement as possible. Of course, particular known candidates should be encouraged to apply. The position, however, should not be promised before the application process is over. Perhaps the dept. is - by focusing on the nearby option - missing out on one of the top candidates? At least, if we want a meritocracy, that's how it should run. The hirers made a mistake and hadn't you noticed it, it would have run its course. Jan 20, 2016 at 11:28
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    @CaptainEmacs: In many contexts, no candidate can possibly be better than a candidate who is already a part of the team due to their previous work in the department. If the OP has not yet had any contact to the respective future employer, though, that is of course not the case. Jan 20, 2016 at 11:36
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    There are standard provisions for keeping people already on the department payroll in continued employment. I do not think that this is the issue here. Rather, the problem seems to be a new employment which is agreed upon before the procedure is initiated. In the past many European institutions used to be quite cavalier about how positions are allocated. Adopting increasingly US-style legislation and requirements, what happens is that institutions seem to adhere to old practice, while only paying lip-service to the new legislation and thus wasting everybody's (including their own) time. Jan 20, 2016 at 11:49

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