I was wondering if people know how much it matters if letters of recommendation arrive late? Or does that not matter if the main application (my materials) were on time?
Date: 04 Dec 2012 09:08
Number of posts: 4
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I have heard that as long as one or two letters are in, that is okay. But for the most part it depends on the school.
I think that if the main materials are in, a person's stuff will be considered, or he or she might be contacted to get the letters in. The only potential hitch, I think, is that with more and more places going to online submission portals, the applications that are not complete may not be immediately forwarded to the committee for review. At my institution the search chair will usually go in and download everything. We have a spread sheet that summarizes each applicants materials, checking off what's in and what's missing so we can follow up to get whatever is missing. A deadline for a job search is not like a deadline for other things. I mean, even stuff that arrives the day after the deadline or whatever will still likely be looked at. (It is not like if something is late the whole deal is "off").
Here's how it worked in the search I sat in on. About two days after the app deadline the committee members logged in and reviewed all of the applicant's materials including letters. The committee worked with the information that was there to whittle down a long short list.
A few people who made the long short list were missing letters. At that point, the search committee asked for letters directly from the recommenders who had not submitted. Most of the time, we received the letters quickly after requesting them directly from the recommenders, and the lateness of the letters were not held against the applicant. Usually the letters served to reinforce the decision that was made based on the rest of the materials (and primarily from the CV).
On that note, cases in which a letter serves as a major deciding factor are rare. The vast majority of letters are uniformly very positive. A very small portion of letters (<5%) identify 'issues' (trouble working with others, trouble following through, etc) and a very small portion (<5%) of letters are so detailed and positive that they indicate an unusually stellar applicant ("In my 25 years as a professor, having supervised dozens of students, this is the #1 most talented student I have ever had in my lab." or "The professors in department X agree that this individual was such a stellar student that he/she has set a new benchmark of productivity and success that members of the department still refer to xx years later"). The expectation is that letters will be uniformly very positive and refer to the candidate as smart, hardworking and a team player and become somewhat of a default that search committees see. It is only those unusually top 5 and bottom 5% of letters that end up getting noticed by the search committees and may serve as a deciding factor one way or another.