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I applied for a faculty position. One month later they asked my references for reference letters. I have not heard from them for a few weeks. I have not been asked for a phone interview yet. Is it appropriate to touch base?

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    There are job wikis (google: "nameofdiscipline job wiki") that are crowdsourced and tend to provide updates much faster than the search committee can or will. For example, if people have gotten on-campus interviews, the wiki might reflect that and you'll know you're likely not in the running.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 29 '16 at 21:25
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I am the chair of my department's faculty recruiting committee. Yes, you should definitely feel free to contact the search chair to ask about the status of your application.

My department started accepting applications last October for faculty positions beginning in Fall 2016. We automatically solicit reference letters for all assistant professor applicants, usually within a few days of the application. We have invited almost all of our interview candidates at this point, but we may still invite more, and in principle, we can even continue accepting new applications. Except for interview invitations, we normally do not contact applicants until the search formally closes, which will probably happen in mid-April.

It's probably safe to assume that if you haven't heard from a department (at least in the US) by now, they're probably not interested, but there are certainly exceptions. My own job search is an example. My current department invited me for an interview in late April, three weeks after sending me a rejection letter. ("We changed our mind; we'd like to interview you.") The framed rejection letter is hanging on the wall in my office.

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I don't think it's unreasonable to touch base, but let me be a devil's advocate: my rule of thumb is that you contact people about the status of applications when you have new information for them; the best example would be an offer somewhere else, but that isn't the only possibility. If you don't have new information for them, what purpose is going to be served by contacting them? What could they tell you that will change how you're going to live your life?

Given that they haven't contacted you directly (I'm assuming since you don't mention it), you should probably just assume you are not in serious contention for this job. Maybe you will be at some point later in the process, but if that does happen, it can be a pleasant surprise.

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  • I think the second paragraph is unnecessarily bleak. The point is that they haven't made a decision -- one way or another -- on your application. If you contact them, that's exactly the amount of information you could possibly get out of them: "We haven't made a decision on your application yet." I know it's difficult to have patience with these matters, but there is nothing you can learn by contacting them, so don't unless there is something you can tell them. Feb 29 '16 at 23:38
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    @WolfgangBangerth Maybe I'm just giving the search committee too much credit. They're pretty incompetent if at this point in the year they're not checking on the status of the people they're seriously considering. But my point was more about the psychological approach to these things. Let it be a pleasant surprise if things do work out. Mar 1 '16 at 2:25
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    @BenWebster I agree with you, but the perennial caveat about differing by subject and location would apply here. For some subjects this may still be early in the job application cycle - someone told me at Christmas there weren't even ads up for them yet. Some countries do things later, or start the academic year at a different time. And some places really are silly enough to operate on a different timetable to everyone else.
    – Jessica B
    Mar 1 '16 at 6:19
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You can certainly contact the department (or whoever from the search committee who contacted you asking for recommendation letters) and politely ask where the search process is.

For the search process that I'm currently involved in, you'd be told "We've invited candidates for on-campus interviews, but you weren't on that list." You might ask why others who weren't invited for an on-campus interview haven't been notified. One answer is that we might (in case someone declines to interview or people turn down our offers) go back to our short list and invite someone else. Another reason is that the human resources office is ultimately responsible for sending out "We had lots of very well qualified candidates, we're sorry that we didn't hire you this time." messages, and they'll wait to do this until after we've actually hired our candidates.

At a certain point it's likely to become public who will be interviewing on campus. If the department has a colloquium calendar, you can check to see if any presentations by faculty candidates have been announced. The field specific "X jobs wiki" pages often have useful information (although the rumors can also be incorrect.)

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In my experience, it is not unusual for universities who are interested in you to wait 3-4 months or more before contacting you (or to never contact you if they are not interested in you). It's perfectly fine to touch base politely. Chances are they were planning for a distant start date and haven't yet put together the search committee, started reviewing applications, shortlisting, etc.

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  • The fact that someone asked for recommendation letters (and assuming that these weren't a required part of the initial application) suggests that a committee is working on the search, although they may be very slow. Mar 1 '16 at 3:48
  • It depends on the institution. I've had many admin assistants request the references to "complete the file" before it is sent to the committee. Mar 1 '16 at 4:03
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    I agree that if the original ad asked for references, then some admin might contact you. In my experience when the ad doesn't ask for the letters, the committee will typically contact candidates they're interested in to get letters of recommendation. Mar 1 '16 at 4:05
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In what country did you apply for the position? In Germany it can take months between signs of life from search committees. You are not out until your application is sent back to you, I've seen this take multiple years. It could be that the people on the first shortlist all turn down the offer, so the search continues with the same group of applicants.

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