A further comment on “Don’t ask for letters of recommendation up front”

I recently argued that asking for letters of reference to be submitted with applications for tenure-track positions devalues the time of highly productive scientists:

Letters of recommendation should be requested by the committee, and they should be requested after the first cut.

A senior researcher who’s a friend and colleague recently told me that for the last few years, she has simply not applied for any position that asked for letters of reference up front. It’s not hard to understand why. After a while, you start to feel that you’re imposing on your references (in reality, it’s the search committees who are imposing). In my case, I’ve submitted well over a hundred such applications, which means that each of my three references has supplied over a hundred letters (and thank you for that).

Importantly, this means that there’s an additional cost to asking for letters of recommendation up front, beyond wasting the time of applicants’ references. It means that hiring committees are missing out on applications from some highly qualified scientists who might otherwise apply.

If you’re going to be heading up a search committee any time soon, require applicants to supply only the names and contact information of their references. After the initial screening of applications, have someone on the committee take the damn hour to send a form email to the references of applicants who made the first cut.

Dear Dr. __________,

Dr. __________ __________ has listed you as a reference for their application to an open position at the _________ Department at the University of ____________. Please submit a letter of recommendation to _______________@___.edu, making sure to address the following criteria:

And so on. If your online application system is set up right, this could even be automated. At worst, though, it would take one person an hour to send all the emails for the entire search.

Copy paste copy paste send. Copy paste copy paste send.

Respect the time of your fellow scientists. Take the damn hour. Request letters of recommendation after the first cut.


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