As I'm approaching to the end of my PhD, I recently applied for a postdoc position. Before applying, I contacted the scientist offering the position, sending my resume and some publications which are of interest for the position. He encouraged me to apply as my experience would be important for his project and he also scheduled an interview at the end of this month, saying that he's making a decision in April.

However, he didn't ask me for recommendation letters, he just told me to apply online just to make my application official. The online form only requires a resume, any other document is optional.

Neither him nor the position advertisement specyfied any information about recommendation letters (e.g., the minimum number, or whether I should upload them online or just provide the emails of my references).

Is this common in research (the position is in the USA)? Should I ask him more info now or wait untill the interview?

3 Answers 3


While it seems unusual, I'm going to guess that he knows what he wants and needs. I wouldn't send things that aren't asked for in this case, as you seem to have already made it over the line. An accidental statement in a letter might actually hurt you, but I don't see how you can be "more" accepted than accepted.

If asked, send them of course. But you will likely learn more at the interview.

Depending on his funding, he may have wide latitude in who to hire and how to do it.

  • "An accidental statement in a letter might actually hurt you" I agree, that's what I'm concerned of as well.
    – NearIR
    Mar 14, 2019 at 18:28
  • On that note, everytime I talk my supervisor (I already talked about him in another question...) about some position, he always wants to talk to the employer "to find a project that is of interest for both the parties". Since he wouldn't be funding my postdoc, I don't believe that he has the right to do so. Hence, I'm concerned that this may hurt me as well (even more than an "accidental" statement in a letter). If asked for references, wouldn't it be wise if I cut him out and only involve my other advisors?
    – NearIR
    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:31

I agree with Buffy that it seems unusual, and I think it's quite likely that you'd be asked to provide references or recommendation letters at some point in the process. If your letter writers have already written letters for you, you can probably just apply and relax. If not, I'd suggest asking the scientist ahead of time if they'd be needed, and if so, in what quantity. That way you avoid risking having to scramble for letter writers, or risking giving your letter writers short deadlines.


Just put a section with the names and contact info of a few references at the end of your resume. It is certainly quite common for jobs in the US to not ask for reference letters up front. They may want/need them eventually before the offer can be made. Or they may want to personally call your references to ask about you, and will worry about that at the last minute.

If the school is in a state with at-will employment, and treats postdocs as staff, they can lay you off anytime with two weeks notice. Hence the PI is more free to do pretty much what they want in hiring, including not bother with references (aside from rules about requiring proof of the PhD and such). Other schools handle postdocs with specialized contracts and have a lot more institutionalized hiring system with more paperwork and formality.

  • 1
    It's not a school but a lab, and I'll be hired as staff.
    – NearIR
    Mar 14, 2019 at 18:27

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