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I have decided to apply to a few faculty jobs, and all of my faculty references have agreed some time ago to support me (my masters and PhD advisors who I talked to a year ago).

I have submitted 5 applications so far and plan on submitting another 5 this season. But I am not sure when I should contact and ask my references to submit their reference letter.

Does the application system request their reference letter as soon as I apply? I have no idea if they've been notified of my applications. Is it okay to just apply first and then ask them for specific letters once the application gets reviewed (I'm sure that not all my applications will make it past the review stage)?

Does every application requires a reference letter, or do my references only get asked by the system if the application seems promising? Or should I email each of my references directly after I apply to request their recommendation letter, and if so, where do I tell them to send it?

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You should contact your potential references now. You need their permission to list them as references before you submit any applications.

Does the application system request their reference letter as soon as I apply?

Every department is different. Some do, some don't.

Does every application requires a reference letter, or do my references only get asked by the system if the application seems promising?

Every department is different. Some ask for letters for every candidate; some only request letters for candidates that satisfy minimal qualifications (like having a PhD); some only request letters for candidates that pass a more rigorous initial screening; some may even wait until after interviews. My department automatically asks for letters for all minimally-qualified untenured candidates, but we only request letters for tenured applicants when we decide we want to interview them.

Or should I email each of my references directly after I apply to request their recommendation letter, and if so, where do I tell them to send it?

Every department is different. Some will tell you to ask your references to send letters when you apply. Most departments will ask for contact information and request letters directly from your references.

In any case, each department will provide their own instructions. Follow them.

I've recommended the following protocol to my students for several years. When you decide to apply, you create a shared spreadsheet (on Google Docs, for example) with one row for each application target, and columns listing the university, department, a link to the ad, instructions for submitting letters (as supplied by the department), submission deadlines, and each of your references. Ask each of your references to indicate in their column of the spreadsheet (1) when anyone asks them for a letter, and (2) when they have actually submitted a letter. That way, you can keep track of the status of your applications and letters, your references have a unified record of where and when they need to send letters, and your references can be properly (but not too publicly) embarrassed if miss a deadline.

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  • Thanks @JeffE for the detailed information about how your students manage their spreadsheet.
    – Larry O
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 18:39
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It depends on each institution. In some searches, the online application system submits a reference request immediately after you apply for the job. In other cases, the search committee will ask for recommendations only if you are short listed. In other cases, you have to submit the letters with your application.

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  • is this also the case for adjunct faculty?
    – Larry O
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 1:49
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    Yes, all of these options are also possible for adjunct faculty applications. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 2:00

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