Since the start of the hiring season, I've seen around 20-30 job openings that looked interesting for assistant professor positions in my area of computer science.

However, it's somewhat awkward to ask my recommendation letter writers to send letters to 20 different places. (Is it not?) How many places do people usually target simultaneously?

  • Can't you just write in your CV that recommendations are available upon request? - so that recommendations are sent only if the other side is interested in your CV ..
    – AJed
    Nov 8, 2013 at 19:33
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    @AJed: No, you can't. Many faculty recruiting sites require applicants to submit the names of their references with their CV. Refusal meas the application is not complete, which means the hiring committee may never see it.
    – JeffE
    Nov 9, 2013 at 3:17
  • @JeffE: so can you clarify more please? The applicant put the names of the references, but these references will not write anything except if the hiring committee asks them too (i.e., if the committee is interested) .. right?
    – AJed
    Nov 9, 2013 at 3:53
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    That depends. Some systems automatically request letters from everyone the applicant lists. Others wait until the hiring committee pushes the "letters" button, and then requests letters from everyone the applicant lists. Every department is different.
    – JeffE
    Nov 9, 2013 at 13:32
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    @AJed At least in my experience in mathematics, the expectation is that the letters are there when the application is submitted or it is incomplete. There are simply too many applicants to worry about the extra step of deciding you to get letters for and who not. Nov 12, 2013 at 16:13

3 Answers 3


Your chance of getting any particular job you apply for is small. To make your probability of success significant, you need to multiply that by many applications. Your recommenders know this is the situation. Try to make things as easy for them as possible. E.g., they would probably prefer to send out 20 letters at once rather than being contacted by you 20 times in the space of a month.

  • you mean add, not multiply :)
    – user13107
    Nov 11, 2013 at 6:21

Don't hesitate to apply to a job because of the burden on letter writers. Applying to 20 or 30 schools is quite normal (and I know people who've done as many as 100).

  • Firstly, letter writers know it comes with the territory.
  • Secondly, the thing you should focus on is making each individual letter less of a burden. It's normal for them to send their letters to an administrator in your department (or sometimes the one where you got your Ph.D.) and to have the administrator send out the letters. You can also use a service like Interfolio, where they only have to submit once.
  • I know people who've done as many as 100. That is ludicrous. If a student asked me to submit 100 letters (even the same letter), I'd say no. It would be for his/her own good -- you can't possibly know enough about 100 different schools to be able to know whether you'd want to work at all of them or not (and I don't by the "a job is a job" rationale). Nov 9, 2013 at 15:17
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    @ChrisGregg: You certainly shouldn't apply to a school you know you don't want to work at, or where you could have figured this out without much effort. However, if you really want an academic job and don't stand out as a star, applying to 100 schools may be your only viable route. Occasionally someone applies to too many schools due to a lack of confidence and gets a lot of offers; that's a waste of time and effort, but not a disaster. On the other hand, when someone applies to 100 schools and gets 1 or 2 offers, I'm glad I didn't advise them to apply much more sparingly. Nov 9, 2013 at 15:44
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    @ChrisGregg I agree that it is slightly ludicrous. However, it's not as crazy as it initially sounds. In mathematics, everyone uses MathJobs, so you can apply for 100 jobs and your letter writers only need to upload once. Given that there are about 350 tenure-track and 130 postdoctoral jobs on the site, 100 isn't even close to applying everywhere at random. I don't think it's unreasonable to apply to a school not knowing a lot about it and doing some more research if one gets signals of interest. Nov 9, 2013 at 16:31
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    Seconding Ben W.'s comment: indeed, mathjobs.org certainly makes things easier for letter-writers in mathematics, at least unless extensive customization of letters is desired. Nevertheless, one should be aware that many community colleges and very small colleges do not use mathjobs.org at all. And, certainly in math these days, the job market is very tight, so applying to at least 50 places in the U.S. is entirely reasonable, and conceivably rather optimistic. Nov 9, 2013 at 19:09
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    @ChrisGregg: you can't possibly know enough about 100 different schools to be able to know whether you'd want to work at all of them or not Wow. This comes off to me as pretty elitist. I teach physics at a community college in California. There are 112 community colleges in California. I was overjoyed to get my job, and at the time when I first went on the job market, I would have been overjoyed to get a tenure-track job at any one of the other 111 -- yes, including schools like Copper Mountain College. Many people's first job is a part-time position that doesn't even pay a living wage.
    – user1482
    Nov 9, 2013 at 20:59

If you're coming out of a graduate program, your department or an office in your university may be used to handling the process of sending out letters. Another alternative is to use a service like Interfolio that allows your letter writers to upload a single letter. You can't see the letter (that's what you want), but you can cause it to be sent to whomever you want.

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