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Sometimes job-seekers are asked to provide a list of references vs. providing recommendation letters. The employer might then email the references asking for what is essentially a recommendation letter for the candidate.

In these cases, what is the typical (expected?) response time? In other words, as a previous student's/employee's reference, how soon after receiving a recommendation request from an employer should I make sure to provide the requested recommendation?


Example Scenario

I got such a request last Wednesday for a former field technician. I responded 5 days (3 business days) later on the following Monday. I got a response from the person hiring saying essentially "thanks, but we offered them the job on Friday." The potential employer didn't mention any sense of urgency in the email. Was 3 business days really too long? Am I expected to respond to these requests essentially immediately (within 48 hours)??

  • I'm providing this scenario for context, but please answer the question more generally. Thanks!
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    Sometimes hiring committees misjudge the process. The chair might request a reference in advance of a decision meeting since they believe there is going to be indecision. When the meeting roles around, everybody might agree to move forward without a reference. – StrongBad Mar 20 '17 at 19:17
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    Is this about people applying for academic or non-academic jobs? We might not have so much insight into the latter; Workplace.SE might be better. – Nate Eldredge Mar 20 '17 at 19:32
  • @Nate Well, academic-associated jobs. I get listed as a reference for numerous former students and research employees for a whole range of positions (e.g., undergrad programs, grad school, research techs jobs, internships, lab manager positions, government, etc.). I posted here because as an academic, I want to know what other academics have experienced. Also I want to know how other academics approach such hiring practices themselves (e.g., searching for techs, managers or students), since many of my students tend to hover around academic institution jobs after leaving me. – theforestecologist Mar 20 '17 at 19:38
  • @StrongBad I assume that in such cases, most hiring committees won't take the time to "cancel" recommendation requests -_- – theforestecologist Mar 20 '17 at 19:40
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    @theforestecologist yeah most hiring committees do not respect the time of anyone but themselves. Just be glad they did not ask for letters for all candidates. – StrongBad Mar 20 '17 at 19:45
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It is insane if they only gave you 3 business days to respond, particularly if they didn't tell you, but even if they had. I don't check all my inboxes every day! Normally I'm given a few weeks, and the deadline is in the email requesting the reference. If there's no deadline, I write immediately something like:

"This is one of my former students and I can say off the cuff that you should probably hire them, they were great with me. But I've got a lot of writing deadlines on my plate at the moment. When exactly do you need a formal reference by?"

They can then respond saying:

  • that's enough, we just wanted to be sure you knew who this person was, thanks!
  • the actual deadline.
  • asking to phone you because they need advice quickly and are very sorry to disturb you etc.

I've had all those responses.

I would be suspicious in the case you describe that there may have been discriminatory hiring, e.g. of an internal candidate. You may want to let your referee know that this is not normal. Lawsuits are seldom worth the time, but I hate to ignore unfair hiring practices, and do at least try to scare firms when I think I might have seen one. On the other hand, your referee may have known there was a fast turn around needed and forgotten to tell you. But the HR office really should have told you.

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