I applied for a university position and gave the named three persons as a reference: A, B, and C. I am not very much in touch with A, B, C, but I already have permission to use their name as reference.

Would the university I applied to let me know that they sent a request to those persons – and whether they answered or not? For example, would they state that they contacted A and C and only A has sent us the reference letter?


2 Answers 2


Normally no, the university contacts any or all of a, b or c as they see fit.

They do not have to tell you who or when they contacted them.

They may contact a in the first round and b or c in the second - if you get that far...

  • On the other hand, if you ask them nicely, your references might agree to tell you when they've been contacted.
    – JeffE
    Jun 1, 2019 at 12:53

No. The candidate will not be notified when, or if, the reference letter writers are contacted and asked to provide letters.

There are also some rare cases where we might ask for a reference letter from someone the candidate did not list as a reference but who we believe may provide an important perspective. This latter concept becomes even more important during the promotion and tenure process when it is often the case that some letters are explicitly required from people not listed by the candidate. If you move into academia, you should get used to the idea that external reference letter writers will have an important influence on your career trajectory, that you sometimes can pick them and you sometimes cannot, and that you will usually not know that they were asked to write a letter for you unless you (bravely) ask them.

  • 2
    There are also some rare cases — Not so rare, really. At most US institutions, every tenure decision requires multiple letters from references not listed by the candidate. (At my university, "multiple" = "a strict majority")
    – JeffE
    Jun 1, 2019 at 12:56
  • Yes for sure. My point is that it is rare when hiring a faculty candidate to ask for a letter from someone not on the candidate's reference list. And I agree it is definitely not rare when the hiring decision will come with tenure!!
    – alerera
    Jun 2, 2019 at 18:46

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