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The norm in my field is for every job advert to require 3 letters of reference.

From my point of view, this is a massive waste of effort.

I am going to put out my first ad for a postdoc, and I am considering not asking for reference letters unless the candidate reaches the shortlist.

What are the pros and cons of this?

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    Does your field regularly have "shortlists" for postdocs? You might be overestimating the number of applications you receive. I am applying for postdocs, and most ask only for references (not letters) at the start. A field tag would be helpful Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 22:15
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    @AzorAhai-him- In my experience this isn't just field dependent, but also country dependent.
    – TimRias
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 18:24
  • @TimRias Very true. Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 22:00

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Whatever you do, make it clear in any advertising what is required. I'd at least ask for contact information for references, but letters would probably be preferable.

If you don't have comments from people that know the candidate and probably trust them, then all you have to go on is data and what they say about themselves. The latter may not be entirely trustworthy as they have a vested interest in the outcome. The "tone" of reference letters, along with what is said, can give a better reading of the candidate and how they are perceived.

But, again, if you only want letters from those short-listed, mention that in the ads.

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While I fully agree with Buffy's existing answer, I want to add the following:

Your institution may have regulations regarding the number of and time of receipt of reference letters for postdoc applications.

In other words, you might have no choice. Some universities require a certain number of references to be received before the closing date of the application. Others require you to provide contact details upon which HR solicits the letters before shortlisting takes place. Others only require reference letters after ranking the candidates as a sort of last "sanity check".

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