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Is it common for labs with postdoc positions to ask candidates to request recommendation letters to be sent rather than directly asking from the references?

I've noticed a pattern where labs that ask for letters to be sent to them are less likely to consider me for the position seriously, i.e., either hire or decline within a timely manner and not to ghost me. I also have had PIs inviting me to their lab without asking for a letter, but I have not had luck with someone who asked to send it to them.

This trend has led me to believe that those asking for letters to be sent might not be seriously considering me and are simply collecting them as a backup. This has become problematic since repeatedly asking for letters has led to one of my references not sending the ones I ask for but sending the ones the faculty asks about me. I would appreciate your take on this as a faculty or former postdoc.

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    It seems plausible that the people who directly ask the references for letters would do so only after reviewing other parts of your application and deciding that you should be seriously considered. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 21:10

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I would attribute the difference to whether the person who makes the hiring decision is working in an environment where (i) hiring goes through a shared portal that allows applicants to enter the names of letter writers, and then automatically notifies these letter writers, or (ii) hiring is done on an individual basis, based on the decision of the PI, who then simply tells the appropriate administrator to hire that person.

I don't think that your inference from procedure used to outcome is valid. I'd think the two are entirely unrelated.

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I think this merely illustrated some administrative differences. There are many places that first collect all candidate information, then remove unqualified persons from the list, to finally send out requests for the letters of all candidates. Only after that, the shortlisting process begins.

In other words: without knowing the system that the other places are using, we cannot know for sure, but I believe that there's an effect on the likelihood. I wouldn't read too much into it.

Good luck with your applications!

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