I often get to the stage in the recruitment process where the prospective employer says ‘okay, how about some references’?
My candidates are often worried about this because they are in a current role, working closely with a partner or senior lawyer who will not be happy that they are leaving.
Rest assured, most people are really good about being referees and often in law firms a partner will be happy to help, especially if you are going to a client or potential client.
Some employers are happy to make an offer subject to satisfactory references but in the current ‘employer’s market’ we are seeing more and more that the employer wants at least one reference before any offer letter is generated.
Many employers, such as the banks and other listed companies, have as part of their HR policies that at least one reference must come from the last employer and be from a person who you reported to directly. Think about who you will ask to be a referee even before you apply for a job.
Often there will be a senior lawyer/ senior associate you may have worked with who you can confide in. Even if you haven’t spoken to them about looking for another role generally they will more than happy to help you.
So what is a ‘satisfactory’ reference? Generally, a referee will be asked to comment on the type of work you have done for them, the quality of that work, your written and verbal communication skills, your commerciality, strengths, areas for improvement, ability to manage people or be managed, what motivates you and whether they are happy to recommend you to the prospective employer.
If the referee comments largely positively on all of these things then that is usually deemed ‘satisfactory’. There are often the odd negative things said in a reference check but if the comment is not of a real concern then employers will often be satisfied. Most employers know that lawyers as referees often have very high standards.
Many employers regard the reference as important because it can also be used as a management tool. For that reason they may like to speak to your referee themselves. In doing so the new employer can find out, first hand, a whole heap of information that can help them get to know you and how to manage you. In general, if you are applying for a role through a recruiter, the recruiter will carry out the reference checks. You should advise your referee to expect a call.
If you have come from overseas and you don’t have any local referees, don’t fret.
These days, with email, Skype and mobiles, it is easy to speak to someone overseas for a reference. Once you have the offer of employment it’s time for the hard part — resigning. Never resign until you have a written offer of employment.