Hiring Postdocs

Recruiting the best possible postdoctoral trainees to contribute to your research program requires a strategic and thoughtful process. Your due diligence in identifying and selecting candidates best suited to meeting your expectations will increase the likelihood of you developing productive and satisfying relationships with your trainees and reduce the probability of conflict within your research program. 

At the University of Pittsburgh, postdoctoral training is a transitional career stage where a faculty mentor is expected to support his or her trainee’s career development and advancement. Consequently, it is important for you to reach a mutual understanding with potential postdoctoral candidates relative to the degree of instruction, direction, and professional development he or she can expect under your supervision. Ultimately, successful postdoctoral relationships are shaped by clarity of expectations, realistic goal setting, and respectful interactions.


Postdoctoral Requirements

  • Must have a recently awarded PhD degree (within the last five years), MD degree (within the last ten years), or equivalent doctorate degree (e.g., ScD, DVM, etc.) upon initial appointment at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Must be a full-time 100% research appointment
  • Must be a transitional position and viewed as preparatory for an
  • Independent career
  • Must work under the supervision of a faculty mentor

English Language Proficiency

The regulations require that all scholars in J1 status prove they have sufficient English language skills to function on a day-to-day basis in the US.

Scholars can show one of the following things to prove their language proficiency:

  1. They can take an approved English test (English3, Duolingo, IELTS, TOEFL) or provide results from a previous test taken within the last 2 years.
  2. They can show proof that they are from a country where the national first language is English or that they studied there for 1+ years within the last 2 years (this includes US institutions).
  3. They can have their educational institution provide a letter specifically stating their primary method of instruction is English (regardless of where the institution is based)

This proof is to be uploaded with the J1 Request as a required evidentiary document

Postdoctoral Classifications

Postdoctoral Associate is a postdoctoral appointment supported by research funds, external or internal, that stipulate payment of a SALARY in return for duties performed to meet the goals for which the funds were awarded or designated. Appointments are limited to four years at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Senior Postdoctoral Associate is an internal designation within the Schools of the Health Sciences that is used on an exception basis to identify postdoctoral appointments that exceed the standard four-year period. Senior postdoctoral associate positions must be approved on an annual basis and may be requested for up to three additional years beyond the standard four-year postdoctoral associate appointment period (maximum of seven years of postdoctoral training). Sample circumstances that may merit the approval of a senior postdoctoral associate position include:
    • Trainee is an excellent investigator, with the requisite publication and funding to warrant a faculty position, but who needs additional time to obtain a faculty position.
    • Trainee is considered to have the potential for a faculty career, but who has not yet been able to demonstrate the record of publication or funding to justify a faculty position at this time.
    • An additional period of career development mentoring would be beneficial in determining whether a faculty or staff appointment would be most appropriate.

Postdoctoral Scholar is a postdoctoral appointment supported by research funds that stipulate payment of a STIPEND where the trainee cannot be classified as an employee and fringe benefits cannot be deducted. Time limitations for postdoctoral scholar appointments are dictated by funding sources.

Postdoctoral Benefits

Postdoctoral Compensation

University Minimum Compensation Policies

  • The University’s minimum rate of postdoctoral compensation is $47,476 (threshold for federal exempt status).
  • Postdoctoral scholars typically receive an NIH stipend based upon their years of experience. Effective FY21, the NIH stipend level for an entry-level postdoctoral scholar is $53,760. https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-21-049.html
  • The NIH stipend levels are widely accepted to represent best practices in postdoctoral affairs and represent a competitive benchmark for all postdoctoral compensation.
University Compensation Increase Guidelines
  • At the time of their reappointment, postdoctoral associates follow the annual University compensation increase guidelines based upon the recommendations of their faculty mentors.
  • Postdoctoral associates in the schools of the health sciences, whose compensation is below the appropriate NIH stipend level for their years of experience, may receive a compensation increase above the University guidelines up to the next NIH stipend level. The compensation increases of postdoctoral associates, whose compensation is already above the appropriate NIH stipend level, are limited to the University compensation increase guidelines.
  • Postdoctoral scholars automatically receive the next stipend level based upon their years of experience. https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-21-049.html

Position Description

Although a postdoctoral appointment is a training position, it is recommended that you draft a position description (more commonly referred to as a job description). VIEW SAMPLE 

The position description should include:

Overall Summary

  • In paragraph format, describe the primary objective of the position and summarize the responsibilities and expectations.

Duties or Responsibilities

  • In bullet point format, describe the scope of duties and the level of responsibilities. Include the level of supervision and the degree of independence to be provided.

Expectations or Standards

  • In bullet point format, describe the performance standards, as well as the scientific and professional expectations of the position. Include the minimal and preferred qualifications for the position.

Diversity Statement

The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/ Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity, EOE, including disability/vets.


Opportunities Available

  • For example, indicate the prospects of attending professional meetings, opportunities to acquire experience presenting and publishing results, and support provided to secure independent funding. 

Career Development Support

  • Highlight our institutional commitment to postdoctoral professional development by referencing our Postdoctoral Career Development and Progress Assessment Process.
  • The Office of Academic Career Developement provides a variety of institutional resources to support the professional development of postdoctoral trainees in the Health Sciences.

Develop Recruitment Strategy

A proactive postdoctoral recruitment strategy will increase the likelihood of generating an inclusive and competitive pool of candidates from which to select. Only considering candidates whom you already know, those who have been referred to you, or those who have contacted you directly is a passive approach that will limit the diversity of candidates.

A proactive approach includes, but is not limited to:

  • Posting the position publicly online
  • Searching sites where diverse candidates post their CVs and research interests
  • Contacting other institutions with diverse student populations to request qualified referrals
  • Contacting professional organizations associated with your area of research to determine if they host a “career center” for trainees and whether they provide the opportunity for members to advertise open postdoc positions 

Departments are responsible for any expenses related to recruitment.

Free Resources 

Posting a Position

Searching CV Postings

Training Grant Directory


Objective Criteria

Developing objective criteria to use while reviewing the credentials of all candidates will optimize candidate screening. Your selection process may be subject to unconscious bias when objective criteria have not been developed in advance and these criteria are not applied equitably across all candidates.

  • Position criteria must be in compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity laws that exclude the use of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disabilities, etc.  Review the Interview guide for examples. 

  • Use job description, responsibilities, and competencies in constructing objective criteria

  • Consider what knowledge, skills, and behaviors are important in an ideal candidate

  • Consider which attributes are “trainable” and which are not

  • Prioritize these criteria before beginning to review CVs/resumes and apply equally to all candidates

Reviewing CVs/Resumes

  • Concentrate on factual information rather than appearance.  Candidates may have had varying levels of professional assistance in preparing their CVs/resumes

  • Look for indications of behavioral as well as technical competencies such as the ability to work collaboratively and independently

  • Check the authenticity of publications

  • Develop a scoring system using your objective criteria to rank the pool of candidates based upon their attributes

Identifying Candidates to Interview

  • Rank candidates by degree of attributes: high, moderate, and low

  • Select a reasonable number of candidates from the high-ranking group to potentially interview

  • Ask candidates to bring proof of degree, awards, patents, etc. to the interview


Preparing for the Interview

Interviewing your top candidates allows you to assess their scientific and technical skills, to determine their fluency regarding their publications, and to evaluate their communication skills. Advance preparation will ensure a systematic and inclusive process.

  • Review Equal Employment Opportunity laws that exclude references to race, color, religion, national origin, age, disabilities, etc.  Review the Interview guide

  • Review your objective criteria for the position

  • Determine universal questions for all candidates. See sample universal questions

  • Develop specific questions based upon candidates’ CVs/resumes

  • Prepare technical questions to analyze the candidates’ understanding of their areas of expertise and their technical skills

  • Prepare behavioral questions to assess interpersonal skills. See sample behavioral questions

  • Address any concerns that arise regarding gaps in education or training

  • Clarify both collaborative and independent abilities

  • Determine whether others will provide input, e.g., lab members

  • Consider how you will obtain feedback from others involved in the interviews

    • Obtain feedback individually to avoid a “group” influence

    • Individual feedback allows you to detect any unconscious bias

Conducting the Interview

  • Ensure consistency of interviews including in-person vs. virtual interviews

  • Consider a brief writing exercise using the same topic for all candidates

  • Utilize your universal questions, and specific questions arising from your review of the candidates’ CVs/Resumes

  • Test the candidates’ verbal fluency regarding publications, techniques, etc.

  • Check non-verbal body language

  • Use behavioral questions to probe for positive work ethics, degree of initiative, leadership and team building, and quality of interpersonal relationships

  • Use the career development plan form to discuss the candidates’ career goals and identify the candidates’ professional development expectations 


Checking references may be the most critical step to the hiring process. The perspective of a direct supervisor in regarding the candidate’s past performance will be a strong indicator of future performance.

Requesting References

Request the names, contact information, and relationships of three professional references for all candidates interviewed. References should include the last supervisor. If not, this should be discussed with the candidate during the interview.

If the candidate did not have a productive relationship with his/her previous supervisor, request sufficient substitute references to assess the context of that relationship.

  • A candidate’s “bad experience” in a prior employment setting should not necessarily exclude a candidate, however, these situations require extra scrutiny

  • A pattern of bad experiences is a serious concern

Conducting Reference Interviews

Confirm the referee's relationship to the candidate and level of interactions

Questions should be similar to those used during candidate’s interview

  • Adhere to EEO policies regarding questions to be excluded

  • Verify positions/dates referenced on CV

  • Confirm awards, publications, or other referenced accomplishments

  • Use several of your universal questions

  • Use several of your behavioral questions

  • Probe deeper with follow up questions when given brief generalized answers

    • “He/She is great” should be followed up with, “What did he/she do to merit that compliment?”

    • “Can you tell me more about…”

    • “What examples demonstrate that ability?”

  • Consider some of these as general questions for all references

    • “What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?”

    • “What environment would the candidate thrive in most and why?” (large or small research program, degree of independence/supervision, etc.)

    • “How did the candidate respond to supervision/constructive criticism?”

    • “How did the candidate contribute to team building?”

    • “What leadership qualities did the candidate demonstrate?”


Assessing Inclusive Outcomes

We are all susceptible to subtle and unconscious bias. Most commonly, we tend to relate to those who are most like ourselves in terms of gender, race, and nationality, etc.  To assist you in overcoming this challenge, maintain objective and consistent criteria throughout the hiring process.

  • Review your rating of candidates based on initial criteria

  • Review your reasons for eliminating candidates from consideration and determine if other candidates were treated the same.

  • Look for any patterns that may have developed in your selection or in the input of any others involved in the interview process.

  • Patterns do not always indicate a bias but they should be reviewed carefully.

Departmental Preparation

Institutional Approval

  • The draft appointment request is reviewed and will either be approved or rejected.

  • If approved, the department will receive notification. At this time, the department can officially extend the offer to the candidate.

  • If rejected, the department will receive notification why the request was rejected. If there are minor issues, the department should address the issues and resubmit for final approval.

Hiring Paperwork Process

Upon acknowledgement of approval, the department will process the hiring action via Talent Center for new postdoctoral associates and via OneDrive for new postdoctoral scholars.

Detailed instructions available at https://www.oacd.pitt.edu/administrators/appointment-procedures#Process


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