I am a master student in mathematics at a university in the Netherlands and am currently applying for PhD positions as I will be graduating soon. Thus far I have applied for about ten positions (in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, etcetera) and although I am still waiting on some of my applications, I have been rejected without interview from the ones I have heard back from (which is the majority).
In brief conversations I have had with academics on this issue, they have generally hinted (albeit rather vaguely) that competition is not so high (say, compared with industry) and that I should be hopeful of landing a position. This is in spite of the fact that my grades are quite average and the feedback I received from one failed application was that my grades were too low. My academic advisor, however, advised me that the quality of my thesis (which I am currently writing) was of more importance and downplayed the importance of grades due to how they differ from country to country, university to university (among other reasons).
The problem seems to be that positions are seldom advertised and even if only twenty percent of graduates wish to pursue a doctoral position, that means that there are still a lot of people vying for say only one position.
I was wondering what the general consensus on this was and if I should maybe lower my expectations of getting a doctoral position if it is say only intended for the "best of the best"?