Assessment centres can be a very daunting experience, but they are also a good opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and skills.
The format of assessment centres vary depending on the firm, so it can be difficult to prepare. If you are not told what the format will be, it is worth asking in advance by sending a quick email to the head of graduate recruitment.
One thing you can prepare before an assessment is your appearance. Treat an assessment centre like an interview. You should arrive about ten minutes before the indicated time, dressed formally in a suit. Keep make-up and jewellery to a minimum.
You should also do your research on the firm. Look on their website to find out the areas they specialise in, charities they support, and the values of the firm. This will help you to tailor your answers and ideas in the assessment centre to the firm.
From my experience, assessment centres will include some or all of the following tasks. During each task, you will be marked against a list of competencies, to see if you have the necessary skills to become a trainee.
A group task
You will be divided into small groups of 4 or 5 and usually you will be asked to plan an event or solve a problem together. You will be given some instructions and asked to discuss ideas in your group. You may also be asked to present your ideas at the end of the discussion.
Your team-work, communication and time-management skills are being assessed closely in this task. It is very important to remember that you are NOT being marked against the other members of your team. Each of you will be scored individually on your performance, so try to work well within the team rather than stealing the limelight.
- Listen to the other people in your group. This can be shown by body language such as leaning in towards the person who is speaking, nodding and making eye contact.
- Keep an eye on the time. It is easy to dwell on the finer points and forget the bigger picture. Wear a watch to the assessment centre and at the beginning of the task, offer to keep an eye on your watch and let people know when you are running out of time.
- Be yourself. Firms are looking for someone to fit in with their team. If you do not get selected, it may be that you are not the right for the firm.
- Try to draw quieter members of the group into discussion, and promote their ideas as well as your own.
- Have an opinion. You need to take an active role in the discussion, even if you are not the team leader.
- Talk over others. It is not a competition to see who can shout the loudest.
You may be asked to prepare a presentation before or on the day. Usually, the presentation will only last 10-15 minutes. The task is designed to see how well you can communicate and present information, and your ability to produce interesting content.
- Prepare some topics before the day that you are passionate and confident about. Keep the topic simple.
- Make eye contact with people in the room.
- Stick to your time limit.
- Invite questions at the end of your presentation. Try to pre-empt any questions you may be asked an prepare questions
- Pick a subject that you do not understand, or that you are not interested in. You are more likely to get flustered and answer questions incorrectly on a complex legal topic that you do not understand.
- Read from a sheet of paper or PowerPoint slides. Instead, prepare bullet points or cue cards that guide you through your speech.
A Written Test
A written test may ask you to read a contract or lease, and explain it in lay-man terms to a client. Alternatively, it may be a psychometric test, critical thinking or a verbal reasoning test.
Tasks that ask you to explain something in writing are looking at your ability to understand information and explain it in simple terms. You should aim to be concise.
Verbal reasoning tests are designed to test your ability to analyse and interpret information. You can practice verbal reasoning, critical thinking and psychometric tests online at www.assessmentday.co.uk
- Practice tests beforehand. You can do this online, or you can print a version and put yourself in exam conditions so that you can get a taste of what it might be like on the day.
- Keep an eye on the time during tests. Do not spend hours pouring over one question; it will only be worth a few marks!
- Panic if you feel you have not performed well. There are usually a number of tasks in an assessment centre where you will have the ability to demonstrate your skills and strength.
Usually an interview at an assessment centre will be based around your CV and application form. You are likely to get asked the obvious questions of ‘why law’ and ‘why this firm’.
You may also get asked some competency-based questions such as, ‘name a time when you had to balance a number of different tasks and what was the outcome’, or ‘name a time when you worked well in a team to solve a problem and describe your role’. Before the interview, it will be a good idea to make a list of skills such as team-work, time-management and problem solving; then think of some specific occasions where you feel you have demonstrated those skills.
- Look at things which stand out on your form such as a particularly bad grade in one subject. You are likely to get asked about these so prepare an answer.
- Read around hot legal topics or commercial issues in the news. You may get asked your opinion on these.
- Do your homework on the firm. You will need to tell the interviewer what you like about the firm and why you are attracted to them in particular. For example, do they offer the chance to spend a seat abroad? Or do they offer close partner supervision during your training contract?
- Try to make things up. Interviewers have a keen eye for this and you are likely to trip yourself up.
You are constantly being watched, even during more informal parts of the day such as lunch.
This is a good opportunity for you to find out more about the firm and meet some of the team. You may decide after the assessment centre, that it is not the firm for you.
Do not panic if you feel you have not performed well on a particular part of the day. There are usually a number of different tasks, so you will have opportunity to shine in other areas.