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Recent PhD

I had 6 letters this year and applied to a lot of schools requesting only 3. I picked the letters based on how the kind of school and my recommender matched (but I did always send in my advisor's). E.g.: when I applied to an open/open job, I chose the letters that were written by the well known but non-specialists in my field, because I thought they would have wider appeal. When I applied to jobs strictly in my AOS, I chose the 3 by recommenders in my specific field.
Not sure this is the best solution, but it worked out okay for me. And obviously, if you have 2 advisors, then you can only really choose for 1 slot. (Or maybe send in 1 advisor letter only.)


I have a few thoughts on this.
First, don't "cheat" and submit more letters stitched together because it looks like a cheat, and no one wants to hire a cheating colleague. Accept the fact that you can only submit 3 letters. Given the large number of applicants, whenever I even sense a suspicion of deceit I cast the application aside. I already have a deceitful colleague. I do not need another.
Second, it used to be common - or not rare - to have your principal adviser review your letters (which you cannot see), and tell you which one or ones to drop. See if she will do that for you. If you cannot trust your chief adviser, then you blew it.
Third, Recent PhD is right - pick the letters strategically to speak to the specifics of the job.

The other postdoc

My second year on the market I only submitted letters from one of my two PhD supervisors so that I had more space for other letters (e.g., post-doc supervisor, current dept. chair, externals). It didn't seem to hamper me in any way. None of my interviewers ever noted the lack (or perhaps even noticed it).

Although, now that I think about it, my CV doesn't actually list who my supervisors were. It simply lists internal and external committee members. My supervisors are listed first, but hiring committees might simply assume that only the first is my supervisor, and not worry about lacking a letter from the second.


Interesting, I applied to about 60 positions and rarely ran into places that only allowed 3 letters - I did get a lot that only allowed 5 and because I had 8 that required cutting things down. I think the type of school matters. Make sure you have a teaching letter if it is a teaching school, and an outside research letter if it is a research school. You could always mention in your cover letter (probably toward the end) that you have an additional letter from your co-supervisor which you didn't have room for.

Marcus Arvan

The other postdoc: As a counterpoint, one year I decided not to submit one of my committee members' letters (as I inferred from various things he said to me that it might not have been the strongest letter). That was the one year I got zero interviews. The following year I included it again and my interviews shot up. Obviously there are many possible explanations, but I cannot help but see it as a curious coincidence that the one year I left a letter out was the one year my # of interviews tanked!


What do people think about suggestion (1)? It's not *obviously* stupid (to me)... I'm wondering how others feel?


Hey Tim,

I think (1) is problematic for various reasons:

A. It requires the supervisors getting together, coordinating, and doing extra work. At least in my experience, that is a huge task to ask of most supervisors. (especially the coordinating part)
B. It is obviously not typical for two people to write a joint letter so it might come off as a little odd - search committees might wonder what each person "really thinks."
C. I sort of feel you get short changed - you had two great letters and now you only have one. It might help for some schools ...maybe -but you lose out on the other schools. (I guess you could keep the separate letters as well, but updates would be an issue.)

Daniel Jacobson

You need to get advice from someone who can read all your letters. Here's how I'd do it. Explain your situation and then ask, "Can you tell me which letters, if any, I shouldn't ever omit?"

That will allow your advisor to tactfully let you know what your strongest letter (or letters) are, without it seeming like you're asking the dubious question: Who wrote me a good letter and who didn't?

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