When a candidate is applying for a faculty position and the university asks for their reference letters, does this say anything about the chance of getting an interview? Obviously it's not a bad thing. But have they made the short list? Does this mean the application wasn't desk rejected (but nothing more)? Are they in the top 25%? 50%? Something else? This is a social sciences department in the United States.

  • 3
    Most jobs I see in humanities ask for the letters from the get go. I'd guess if there were any shortlisting, it was just the cull of people who didn't meet the bare minimum of a PhD in hand, etc. Oct 19, 2017 at 16:21
  • I agree with @guifa. In my limited experience, only the very bottom-most applicants will not be asked for references -- the ones who completely misunderstood the job requirements, or who are completely unable to write in English, etc. It probably puts you in the top 80 or 90%, not much more.
    – iayork
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:15
  • 1
    @haff: did you get an interview?
    – Adam
    Jan 18, 2019 at 4:17
  • @sam Yes... and I got a job!
    – haff
    Jan 18, 2019 at 6:16
  • @haff: Congratulations! I have a similar situation like what you have described in your question. Did you get an on-campus interview from all of those places asked for letters? Basically, what is the purpose of collecting the letters? further shortlisting? Will they just look at the letters at this step, or will they check whole documents along with the letters?
    – Adam
    Jan 18, 2019 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


An assumption to my answer: That a school is exercising the (imo correct) decision to only ask for references from a limited part of the pool to save everyone time.

It says something but not very much.

I've been on several committees where letters are only requested from a limited subset of candidates, but that subset is fairly broad. It's not necessarily just the short-list, because letters factor heavily on who makes the short list.

Mainly, it says you have a chance, instead of no chance, but no more than that.


It doesn't necessarily mean anything. Some schools routinely request letters of reference for all of their applicants; some schools only request them after an initial level of screening. Others (in Central Europe) may not request the letters from the recommended reviewers at all, but instead recruit a panel of "eminent" researchers in the field to submit comparative letters based on the proposed finalists' applications.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .