I am currently a lecturer at a UK university, and I got an oral offer from another university. I was called by their HR today saying that their official is condition on satisfactory reference checking with my current line manager, who is the HoD of my current department. In my case I do not know my HoD is willing to provide a reference letter, as I am pretty sure that he will not be happy knowing I want to leave.

I am wondering if this (requiring reference from current line manager) is a common practices for UK universities? If there is any alternative solution to it? Thanks for your suggestions in advance.

  • I can't speak about UK universities specifically, but it is pretty common generally. If you want to leave, you will have to deal with it. Otherwise the other place is sort of trusting you blindly, which they may not be willing to do.
    – Buffy
    Jul 12, 2019 at 23:09
  • Ask your head of department about it. Jul 13, 2019 at 4:07

3 Answers 3


It is common practice in UK universities. It would also be considered bad behaviour if your HoD was unwilling to provide a reference, or if he wrote a bad letter out of spite or revenge or similar. Of course, there are people who take it personally and are unpleasant when people leave so there's no guarantee he would be reasonable.

You should be prepared to have a discussion about why you want to change universities. Is it a promotion? Or is there a research group that is closer to your field? Presumably you applied for the job for some reason. You haven't said why you think he may not be happy. If you have been there only a short time, there might be some bad feeling. But people move all the time for all sorts of reasons.

  • Thanks for your input. I do not have any personal issue with HoD, but I do intend to leave within two years. I wanted to leave because I had some disagreements with the head of the group, which makes it quite difficult for me to work there. But that is sort of irrelevant now as I have made my decision.
    – ljl
    Jul 13, 2019 at 21:12

Yes, it is common practice for UK universities to state that 1 reference must be from your current line manager, but whether this is actually enforced for academic jobs is a different story. You might want to confirm this with your new head of department (or whoever it is that you have been negotiating your position) rather than with HR.

When I filled out a form to apply for my first UK Lecturer job many years ago. I simply ignored this restriction and nobody cared: I got the job anyway.

A few years later, I applied at another UK university and the same thing happened: they requested the references already during the job application and it explicitly said that one of them should be my current line manager. As before, I listed whatever references that I thought would be best, i.e. people who actually know about my research, and, just as before, it didn't cause any problems and I got the job.


I would try talking to HR and letting them know that you prefer not to give that reference as you are searching secretly. This is of course the norm in corporate jobs, so HR may be much more understanding than you realize. Suggest some alternates (old advisor or a peer who knows you're looking). At least, it is worth a shot. See what they say, before you just give in.

  • I don't think this is a good suggestion, given the UK norms that @JenB mentions in her answer. BTW, when you say "this is of course the norm in corporate jobs" are you thinking specifically of how things work in the UK?
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 15, 2019 at 6:23

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