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I have Skype interviewed the best 3 applicants for a PhD position, offered with my startup package as assistant professor in a USA university (ranked between 30 and 70 nationally). The candidates are all pretty much there. I am slightly leaning toward a candidate, just because he is doing an internship in the lab of a professor whom I know and who carries on research in a field very close to mine. The internship lasts 6 month, and he only did 3 months there. The candidate already provided the 3 requested letters of recommendation, but none of those is from the above-mentioned professor, probably because he has only been there for a short time. Note that I do not personally know this professor, do you think it is ok if I contact him by email to provide me an honest impression he got of the candidate?

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    I would call the professor. People are sometimes more candid over the phone. – Richard Erickson May 10 '17 at 14:59
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    Maybe the student has a reason behind mot including that professor as a reference i.e. doesn't want to tell him that he is applying for PhD at a different school etc. – The Guy May 10 '17 at 16:01
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    You could ask the candidate if he has an objection to your contacting the professor. – Solanacea May 10 '17 at 18:47
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I don't know about HR standards for PhD candidates versus faculty positions. However, I have chaired faculty search committees and the general practice for equal opportunity hiring is that you treat all of the candidates the same. So, going above and beyond for one candidate over the others could be viewed as unfair.

If that is not really an issue for you in this case, I agree with The Fire Guy's comment that the student has a reason for not including this professor as a reference. Since you do not know this professor personally, there could be a number of issues at the workplace that could lead to an unfair assessment of the candidate. Although it could be that the candidate hasn't worked with that professor long, like you suspect, it could also be that there are personality differences between the two or the professor may be an unreasonable supervisor. Also, the candidate might feel that their applying to work with you may cause problems at their current position, if this professor knows about it. If you feel that the professor's feedback is important, you could ask the candidate if he or she is okay with you contacting the professor before hand.

When I have applied for jobs, I would have been put off if I learned that the employer was contacting people who were not on my reference list. How would the candidate know that this professor is the only one you contacted?

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    "[T]he general practice for equal opportunity hiring is that you treat all of the candidates the same." I am familiar with the issues that make that kind of directive desirable, but on the other hand, in a faculty job search you obviously don't treat all the candidates in the same way: most of them are never discussed by the faculty, a small number are vigorously debated, a few are interviewed, and one is hired. Very unequal. I find it pretty strange that the idea of getting more information on the candidates you're interested in could be viewed as unfair.... – Pete L. Clark May 10 '17 at 19:29
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    ..."When I have applied for jobs, I would have been put off if I learned that the employer was contacting people who were not on my reference list." Really?!? I'd have been delighted -- it means they're taking my application incredibly seriously. When it comes to graduate admissions -- yes, if I happen to know a faculty member who knows the applicant, I certainly feel free to ask about them. – Pete L. Clark May 10 '17 at 19:32
  • You are right, that it could also be a positive thing, and I think it is different if the person checking references knows the faculty member they are contacting. When I made the comment, I considered that I have colleagues who have worked in departments where they experienced bullying, had arrogant colleagues, and/or there were divisive politics in the department. People also go on the job market secretively. I recently went on the job market secretively in mid-career and I would have been very upset if the new job was asking people in my department what they thought about me as an employee. – Nicole Ruggiano May 10 '17 at 23:54
  • Hence, contacting additional people could also do damage unnecessarily. I still feel that it is best to ask the candidate first if this is okay, since the person does not know the professor. – Nicole Ruggiano May 10 '17 at 23:56
  • "People also go on the job market secretively. I recently went on the job market secretively in mid-career and I would have been very upset if the new job was asking people in my department what they thought about me as an employee." Hmm, yes, I take your point. I was definitely not thinking about mid-career job searches (a scenario that is pretty far removed from the OP's). I agree that in some situations, the information that Person X has applied for position Y ought to be treated as confidential. – Pete L. Clark May 11 '17 at 0:11

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