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References- What you need to know.

When the words ‘offer subject to references’ are uttered it can strike fear into any risk adverse lawyer. Here are 9 things you need to know.

  1. References are usually conducted at the end of a process just before or just after an offer is made. The only exception to this, is when they are taken at start of a process if you aren’t currently working to bolster your chances of securing an interview

  2. Employers will likely want to speak to two people who have supervised you and will usually ask you to pick the most appropriate people. Employers will consider a Partner and a Senior Associate or a Partner and a Special Counsel.

  3. No one should contact your references without your expressed consent. I recommend removing any contact details of referees from your Cv and replace it with 'available on request'.

  4. If you do give consent for your referees to be contacted it is good practice to speak to your referee beforehand and confirm that they are happy to be your referee and let them know to expect a call. If someone does not wish to be your referee for whatever reason (including firm policy), it is worth asking a different person.

  5. References are usually conducted by phone by your recruitment agent or a HR person, they are usually short 5-10 minute calls where people run through a set list of questions including asking the referee to confirm your employment dates, role and responsibilities.

  6. It can take a week or two for references to be taken as it can sometimes take a little time to track the appropriate person down. Try and be patient.

  7. Getting an unsatisfactory reference is a very rare event but unfortunately I have seen it happen. In a career spanning almost 15 years where I have placed hundreds and hundreds of lawyers I can remember a couple of occasions where a reference check has negatively influenced a recruitment process. If you are seriously worried about this, you should think carefully about how you proceed and it is worth you having a conversation with your agent or HR person. One observation I can make is that if you going to get an unsatisfactory reference you are likely to already know it is coming and it is very unlikely to come out of the blue or out of spite without any warning.

  8. References taken with current employers at the end of a process are taken after you have accepted an offer and resigned and most commonly are used to confirm the things on your cv- Ie: that you a lawyer with a certain level of experience, the areas that you have worked in.

  9. Whilst getting references can be a daunting experience, for the most part it need not be and should just be considered one final part of the recruitment process. It is worth remembering that most Australian employers will expect to take references to confirm you are who you say you are and you should not let the fear of getting them taken override you future career aspirations and excitement about any new job offer.

For more information on references including who to ask and when to ask someone contact me via email at

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