I am currently in an institution wherein most of the academic body in my department (Electrical Engineering) have a rather poor (and that's putting mildly) mastery of English.

My concern is if I miraculously manage to get a letter of recommendation from one of them, will the admission committee try to get in touch with him/her for further inquiries? Because I don't think (It is certain) they will manage a detailed and meaningful discussion (which is what I think the committee wants) without some external help, which I highly doubt they'll even bother to seek.

So, to reiterate the question, does the committee generally try to reach the referees? What would you advice someone in a position like mine to do?

Thanks for reading.

  • 4
    I would guess the committee, after receiving a letter of recommendation, hardly ever gets in touch with the recommender.
    – GEdgar
    Jun 26, 2020 at 11:12
  • Thanks, this has most definitely given me some hope.
    – Hilbert
    Jun 26, 2020 at 11:19
  • 4
    Don't discount the possibility that (someone on) the admission committee can communicate with your recommenders in their preferred language. They might have trouble finding a Kituba speaker, but if they want to talk to your recommender in Russian or Chinese, they will have no trouble finding someone who can do so. Jun 26, 2020 at 21:19
  • That sounds like a very valid fear and if I found myself in your situation, I would ask my referees to let me know if they were contacted. If they asked why, I'd tell them I had doubts about the admissions committee's ability to understand… Jun 26, 2020 at 22:46
  • 2
    About 3 contacts per 10 reference.
    – PatrickT
    Jun 27, 2020 at 8:37

4 Answers 4


I have written many letters of reference.

I have also been contacted, over the phone, by HR or admissions who wish to discuss the candidates, just to expand on experience or whatever.

So, if they wish to contact the people who you put as referees, then they will do so.


This isn't something you need to worry about. It is unlikely that they will do so, but possible. If they do, the language issue will not reflect badly on you. The people are peers and will understand that language can be an issue and will compensate for it. If your letter writers are positive about you in writing, it will be clear to the caller that they are positive about you when speaking.


You have not stated where you are applying to. I can imagine that practices vary by geography.

However, in 25+ years of industry, academic, and related work, primarily in North America, I have found that it is exceedingly rare for hiring or admissions committees to reach out to providers of written references (this is in contrast to a habit in industry of asking applicants for the contact information of references to speak with by phone instead of asking for written references).

I recall only 3 cases where I have been a bystander or participant to such a reachout. In two cases it was to confirm the reference provided was valid in the first place, and in one case to factually confirm a presumed typo that made one sentence in the reference letter have an anomalously negative tone.

Normal admissions or even jobs committees do not have the time to seek a supplementary "deep and meaningful" discussion about applicants. In addition, there would likely be concerns about procedural fairness in who and how would lead such a discussion, who would participate, and the possibility of bias if one person was reporting the outcome of a discussion to the committee. (As someone who has also hired in the private sector, I think those concerns are overblown, but so be it.)

Finally, it's not applicable in your situation I presume, but I would add that of course for senior, prestigious posts (deans, named professorships, etc.) there is sometimes back-channel discussion with people familiar with a candidate who may or may not be providers of formal reference letters, but that is in the context of a committee forming its own dossier about 1-2 leading candidates, a different story.


Currently, in the U.S., in mathematics, I think to contact some applicants' references but not others' would be viewed as inappropriate, unfair, etc. Applicants should be on a level playing field, with "level" in a very strong sense of fairness and equity.

  • So “level” also means each application is written to the same standard? That is often why referees are contacted.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 27, 2020 at 6:50
  • @SolarMike, for me, the "standard to which an app'n is written" is part of what I assess. I'm not going to try to repair or improve any application, otherwise, why not try to improve all? Jun 27, 2020 at 15:51
  • Or contact for further information about something that is particularly relevant... at least that was why I have been contacted in the past by those HR or recruiters that knew what to ask about.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 27, 2020 at 16:02

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