I applied for a post doctoral position a few months ago. The initial response from the professor in charge was warm and enthusiastic and he even made a verbal commitment to hire me. But then he just stopped replying to my mails for sometime and then out of the blue he told me that the regulations have changed and I would have to be interviewed by another person. Following that, he scheduled my interview several times only to be canceled at the last minute. Now he has again stopped responding to my queries, which I make at intervals of at least 10 days. Is this normal in post doc recruitment? How long does it take to process post doc applications? Should I start looking for other positions?

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    "Verbal commitment" is something that has absolutely no weight to it - be very wary of relying on anything that isn't in writing.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:42
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    @Zibbobz A verbal commitment can actually constitute a legally binding contract (depending on local law). But it’s of course hard to enforce. Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 17:06
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    @AlessandroTeruzzi: That is an nice proverb. I kind of "made up my own" in Hebrew: מה שלא נכתב - לא קרה (literally "whatever wasn't written down - never happened").
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 22:40
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    "Verbal agreements are worth the paper they're written on." Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:22

4 Answers 4


Is this normal in post doc recruitment?

No, this is obviously not normal. There is something going on, and your guess is as good as mine as to what that is exactly. Maybe there is indeed some sort of administrative chaos due to changing regulations. Maybe the professor hired somebody else and is trying to weasel out of his earlier commitment to you. Maybe the position just got cancelled, and the prof is trying to find funding to hire you anyway (and failing). Maybe it's something completely different. There is just no way to tell from the outside.

How long does it take to process post doc applications?

That really depends. However, "a few months" certainly sounds like the upper bound for how long selecting a postdoc should take.

Should I start looking for other positions?

Yes, independently of what is really going on, I would not get my hopes up that there is indeed a position for you in this department in the future. Maybe you get lucky and it works out after all, but at this point relying on this post seems to be very optimistic.

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    +1 Indeed, something's wrong here, and while I prefer an open approach, some people may not be willing or able or permitted to tell OP what is going on. Cut your losses and move on. Or else, if you really want to give the position a fresh try, you could mention that you understand that it didn't work out, thank him for his attention and you will seek out a different option. If he really is still interested, he will contact you. But do pursue the other route in any case. Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 12:49
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    I double recommend @xLeitix's final recommendation. Whether or not someone committed to hire you, and unless you know for sure that a verbal commitment is enough to rely on, you should keep looking for other places. At least until it is written and final.
    – Sos
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 15:28

If it starts like this already, before you get a real chance, this will likely not end well. Independent of what position it might be. This is not normal for any kind of position. It's disrespectful to cancel an interview at the last minute that was scheduled. Think about the other way around. Would you hire someone, who once accepted an interview and then cancelled at the last minute?

In my opinion, always search for other opportunities and positions you're really passionate about as soon as possible and you will be much more happy in the end.

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    Agreed. I probably wouldn't recommend the position even if it finally did become available. You can imagine this as a preview into how the advisor likely works: initial enthusiasm about a project, but if a problem comes up, he's likely going to actively avoid informing you about it. Then when you are made aware of the problem, he'll expend absolutely zero effort in helping you fix it. -- If you do take this position, assume you'll be completely on your own for solving problems, particularly administrative ones.
    – R.M.
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:52
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    Actually the other way around is not that terrible. I mean, bailing on an interview is a relatively minor discomfort; shirking a promise to hire someone might really mess up their lives.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 22:43
  • In the vast majority, yes. But as a side note there are also employers who rely on experts and it`s a no-go to cancel an interview hours before. I only wanted to emphasize the other way around to show that the questioner deserves something better - especially in his position as a postdoc. Other companies will welcome him and show more appreciation, if he's passionate.
    – tuschenski
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 12:00

I'll make two observations:

  1. What might have seemed like a commitment to you might not seem like a commitment to him. I'm just in the process of interviewing for a post-doc position after having been made something like a commitment - or at least, listening to the text you would have thought it a commitment; but I actively interpreted it as no more than a statement of willingness to consider me. And, indeed, the tone in writing is less enthusiastic, less committed; and there's an official interview process.
  2. If it really was a bona fide commitment to employ you, and if he really wanted to make good on his promise - he could very well get past the regulation change. He would tell his superiors the agreement had already been made; and that it should count as an offer made before the regulations changed; or he could even have you and him back-date a signed written agreement to the time you made the oral agreement, and wave that in front of people. There are solutions to these problems.

So, either you misinterpreted or he's had a (partial) change of heart. IMHO.


Is this normal in post doc recruitment?

It's not normal in any recruitment.

How long does it take to process post doc applications?

How long is a piece of string? But, in my experience, interviews tend to happen a couple-few weeks after the application deadline and successful candidates are notified within a few days and receive a formal written offer a few days after that. (It may take much longer to notify unsuccessful candidates, because you don't want to reject the $n$th person on the list until one of the first $n-1$ has actually accepted the job.)

Should I start looking for other positions?

Yes. Absolutely. The problems you're having at the moment are the fault of the professor, the department, the university or some combination of the three. The fact that the professor routinely ignores your emails about such a critically important subject shows that at least some of the fault is theirs. Even if you do get the job at this university, working there will almost certainly be a total pain in the backside.

If you finally do get a written offer from this place, you'll have to consider whether the certainty of a probably-bad job is better than the uncertainty of waiting for another opportunity. You should definitely apply for other positions and, if you get an actual offer from some competent university, take it! You owe nothing at all to the professor and university that have been messing you around.

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