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I am applying for a junior faculty position (i.e. tenure track assistant professor level) at a research-intensive US university this fall. As a part of the application process, the university asked for CV, cover letter, employment application letter, a list of referees at the initial phase. Now they have contacted me again and asked to submit three reference letters, a teaching statement, and a research plan via email in order to complete my application. Most interestingly for the reference letters, I have been given the options of having my references email them directly or I can forward them their letters. I can do whichever is more convenient to me. My concern is with the second option. If I ask my referees to send their letters to me, I can see what they are writing about me. Will they feel secured in such a way? Please advise how I should proceed in this regard.

  • Based on everyone's comments it is clear that having the referees send the letter directly to the hiring committee would be better. I agree. However, one more drawback with this option is that the administrative officer (always the case) will receive the emails from four people (me as well as three referees) for my application. Hope he/she will put these things together with great care. – Arafin Arif Sep 18 '15 at 23:55
  • That's pretty common. Another possibility is that your current department administrative staff is willing to collect LORs for you and send them out together. You might ask it's something they regularly do. One of my departments did this (though this was before electronic applications became the norm, and I don't know if things have changed). – Kimball Sep 19 '15 at 0:40
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You should ask your references to send the letters directly to the hiring committee. Your references will be more candid in letters that you have not seen and this will increase the credibility of the letters in the eyes of committee members.

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    In my experience, you must ask your references to send their letters to the hiring committee. – JeffE Sep 18 '15 at 22:55
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Before electronic applications, it was not uncommon to give reference letters to the applicant in a sealed envelope with a signature on the back across the seal. The idea is if you do not trust the person you are writing a letter for, you probably should not be writing the letter. The sealed letter lets the hiring/admissions committee know it is confidential. There were/are also reference forwarding services.

That said, it is best if the letter writer forwards the letter directly. For the few old timers, they can print the letter and stick in an envelope. I have not been given, or given, a stamped and addressed envelope for a reference letter in a long time.

The one advantage of collecting the letters yourself, is you know they are submitted. This can be overcome by following up with the letter writers to make sure they have submitted the letter.

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I know different places have different customs, and especially when people leave a position, they will often get reference letters to take with them so their former boss does not need to continue writing references ( rather lazy... in some cases I know people were even asked to write the letter themselves...)

If the University asks for you to choose one or the other... I'd go with having the referees send them directly. A direct reference is more reliable (because it can be more candid and you'll never know) but I suspect they probably allow the indirect one because some people will just have the letters and don't want to or cannot ask another favour of the referee.

Meaning: I'd regard the "you can send it yourself" option as a fallback only, for cases where the other one does not work.

  • Based on everyone's comments it is clear that having the referees send the letter directly to the hiring committee would be better. I agree. However, one more drawback with this option is that the administrative officer (always the case) will receive the emails from four people (me as well as three referees) for my application. Hope he/she will put these things together with great care. – Arafin Arif Sep 18 '15 at 23:55
  • I'm certain they're used to doing that. Usually they'll mail out to the referees and expect their letter in response. If you have any doubt, you can always ask your referees nicely to tell you when they've sent it (depending on your standing with them). That said: If a reference is late, the HR people will probably tell you, so you can ask the referee. None of that will your chances of getting the post because the action is always on someone else (as opposed to when the letters go through you) – Zak Sep 21 '15 at 8:23
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The best way is you send your latest updates to the referees and request them to look into the updates before sensding the recommendation letters. Though sometimes many applications ask for open recommendation letters where the referee send/gives the recommendation letter to the applicant and the applicant finally attached them to the application, but your case is different to it. So have faith in your referees that they have given good recommendations for you.

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    Reference letters are frequently preferred to be confidential by the hiring panel, but stating outright that they are confidential is or can be pretty misleading. Obviously, wherever OP is applying isn't too worried about the confidentiality since they allow or request that OP send the letters in on their own. Though it is frowned upon by some, many letter writers ask the candidate for draft text for the letter to help them get started (or remind them of the context). In such a case, confidentiality is more or less out the window. – Bill Barth Sep 18 '15 at 15:17

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