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When applying for an academic position, usually you provide a list of names of people who can give you a reference or letter of recommendation e.g. postdoc advisor or someone you often collaborate with. In this case, obviously you first ask the person if they are willing to do this.

However, for applications to academic positions in some countries, e.g. Switzerland, there's a different system. One is asked to provide the names of potential external referees, i.e. people who work in the same field as you and can evaluate the quality of your scientific output. These are people who don't necessarily know you personally, i.e. the kind of people you would suggest as potential reviewers for one of your articles or grant applications.

My question is this: in the latter case, is it usual or necessary to contact the people before suggesting them as referees? Obviously you wouldn't do so for an article or a grant application, but what about when it's for a job application?

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I think the best people to ask would be those who have asked you for this requirement on your job application. There may be a contact in HR or similar you can speak to who can answer any questions you may have, or there may be an online guide on their website for prospective applicants.

If these don't offer any clarification I would suggest not contacting the people you name on your application, just like when recommending reviewers of papers, as this is more or less the sort of role they would be performing.

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As I don't know about the academic practice in Switzerland, I may contribute some theoretical thoughts.

What is the benefit of having people evaluate one's achievements or products in general when they do not know you in person? I guess the key is to have them unbiased. Then it will be better to name them without contacting them in advance.

A drawback may be, that if you name a person who has no time or interest in judging your scientific output it may look unprofessional if you provided their name without checking for their willingness to do that task.

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It is always best to notify your referees before you share their names on an application. I send a polite email requesting a recommendation letter from my referees, so that they have it on hand if they are contacted.

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