I think the title says it all, but here it goes. I am a final year PhD student in pure mathematics. My PhD has been running smoothly and I will graudate on time next summer.

This year I started applying for postdoctoral/assistant professor positions in Europe and in United States. The reviewing processes for these positions have already started, for example the earliest one started in mid December.

As times passes I start to worry that the reviewing process will take longer than I expected. I understand that the people in the search committees have other things to do an that they may have large numbers of applicants to review. But as someone who will be unemployed next September, I am worried that there might not be enough time for me to look for alternatives if these applications turn out to be unsuccessful.

Hence, I would like to ask what the normal period of time is for a recruiting process to finish. A side question might be if I would be notified if my application was unsuccessful. In a few job announcements it is stated that only the successfull candidates will be contacted. Hence if it is not stated otherwise in the job announcement, can I assume that I will be contacted no matter the outcome?

  • Related, but not a duplicate, academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2099/…
    – StrongBad
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:50
  • Are you familiar with the Math Jobs Wiki? It is by no means complete, but it may give you some useful information.
    – Dan C
    Feb 28, 2013 at 15:51
  • @DanC Yes, I am familiar with math jobs wiki. Since the reliability of that site has been refuted in one of answers in the relevant post, I try not to pay too much attention to that wiki. The positions I have applied for has no information on the shortlists/offers column though.
    – Lusitano
    Feb 28, 2013 at 16:22
  • I am worried that there might not be enough time for me to look for alternatives — What? You're not already looking for alternatives?
    – JeffE
    Feb 28, 2013 at 17:40
  • 2
    @JeffE This part is misleading. I am looking for alternatives and I am still applying for other positions as they come. By "alternatives" I meant the other jobs that I am not willing to take in the first place. E.g. a university job in my home country, or even a non-academic job. I do not want to rush and sign a contract for a such a job before I am sure that I cannot achieve my primary goals. That's what I meant by alternatives.
    – Lusitano
    Mar 1, 2013 at 8:39

5 Answers 5


First off, timings are very different in different countries. I have experience applying in Germany, UK, US and Sweden, with radically different time scales. The US runs on a very steady clock, where there tends to be a season for applications, for interviews, for notifications, and relatively few events happen outside this rhythm, while elsewhere is much more anarchic with respect to timing.

Shortest time periods I have had in the UK where a polite refusal has shown up as quickly as within about 2 weeks after the deadline.

In the US, you would usually apply during September-January, interview January-March, and be offered a job February-May or so. Slightly different timings are in effect for postdoctoral positions versus professorships, and there tends to be a second round of applications when schools scramble to cover teaching needs for the fall.

My experience with the US also indicates that you should not expect full information from everyone. Finding out you were not considered by simply not hearing anything from the school for several years is not an unusual situation.

UK schools have been diligent about letting me know one way or another.

German schools have sometimes delayed up towards 2-3 years before letting me know.

And the Swedish system is a beast almost entirely unto its own. For one thing, the process is utterly transparent: the list of applicants, as well as external reviews of the candidates and the minutes of all the committee meetings are all a matter of public record, and is usually distributed to all candidates directly as a matter of courtesy. The process is one of the lengthiest I have ever seen — it is in no way seen as unreasonable that well over 1 year passes from application deadline to notification.

  • 2
    Applications for professor positions at German universities can indeed frequently take several years to be decided, but for a post-doc position I'd expect this to be very, very rare. However, not all universities will communicate a negative decision on a post-doc application, even if this is not stated in the announcement.
    – silvado
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:22

In general I think it is best to assume that unless you are successful you will not hear about any decision. In other words rejection letters are fairly uncommon. This is not a good thing, but it is a fact of academic life. From a university prospective the hiring process is not finished until they have a signed contract. This might not happen until months after a formal offer is made and verbally agreed to. In the cases where HR sends out notifications, it is often not until the search is over.

A reasonable coping strategy is immediately after submitting the application to assume that you have been rejected and not think about the application again. If you miraculously get an interview you will then be happy. Immediately after completing the interview, you should again assume you have been rejected.

As for the uncertainty influencing the job search, you need to be applying for everything and anything. If you are lucky enough to get a position, you then need to decide if you want to accept it. Unfortunately the job market is so competitive that a position in hand is almost always better than a position applied for or a position yet to be announced.

  • 2
    tl;dr: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
    – JeffE
    Feb 28, 2013 at 17:40

You mention that you are worried that you will not have enough time to apply for alternative jobs if you are unsuccessful in your primary choices.

When I am in job seeking mode, I apply to every job that I would find acceptable, irrespective of what other jobs I have applied for.

I assume the worst for any given application - even those for which I can tick every box and satisfy every criterion. I do not live in hope. I apply, consider my application a ticket in a lottery, and look for the next job to apply for.


I think the timetable in Europe is a little more chaotic, but if you haven't been told you're under consideration at a job in the US in mathematics by the end of February, it is extremely unlikely that you are going to get it.

This not to say that lots of offers don't go out in March and April, but those are usually to people who already know they are on a short list or have been interviewed by this point. You might want to inquire with committees about whether you are still under consideration (it's fine to do this once by this stage, I think).

Of course, there are exceptions (there are even a few jobs being posted now), but I would definitely start looking into alternatives. My personal perception is that this was a very tough year for postdocs in mathematics in the US, so lots of good candidates have had trouble finding jobs.


From what I've seen, the time highly depends on the formality of the recruiting process. For some postdoctoral position where the recruitment only depended on the PI of the project funding the position, the process was very short, i.e., a couple of weeks between the deadline and the interview. On the other hand, I've witnessed, for a lecturer position, a deadline in June and candidates for the interview contacted in late September (but I guess the summer break does not speed up the process).

Usually, when they mention that only successful candidates will be contacted, they also mention a notification date: "If you haven't heard from us by the X, then consider yourself as unsuccessful". I've also seen cases where the announcement didn't say that only successful candidates would be contacted, and yet they didn't contact unsuccessful candidates.

In any case, if there is a position you're particularly interested in, do not hesitate to contact the recruiters, if only to know when you might get an answer.

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