You got past the form, now you’re at a vacation scheme assessment day. How do you stand out and make sure you get the place? We’ll give you some clues.
Each firm will organise its Assessment Day slightly differently but, no matter what the format or structure, there are a number of things to bear in mind that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Most Assessment Days will usually include a group exercise, a face-to-face interview, aptitude tests, and a task, such as a presentation or a client interview, which is designed to test your legal knowledge and commercial awareness.
The most important piece of advice is to do some background research on the firm before the Assessment Day. The firm’s website is the best place to start, and it is crucial to make sure that you are familiar with the key practice areas of the firm, any recent high-profile cases the firm has worked on and the names of its major clients.
Whilst doing your research, you should also focus on what you think sets the firm apart from its competitors. This is very important, because you are likely to be asked during the Assessment Day why you have chosen that particular firm. Simply stating, for example, that you applied to that firm because you wanted to work in a large City law firm with international clients does not answer the question, as that is simply not specific enough, as it could apply to any number of different firms.
You should also ensure that you are keeping abreast of all the latest legal and commercial developments that may be particularly pertinent to that firm. It may be useful to have a number of particular news stories or recent legal developments up your sleeve that you have prepared in advance. This will demonstrate to the firm that you are both commercially aware and engaged with the legal world.
Work as a team
The Assessment Day will usually include a form of group exercise. This may be a scenario where you and the other candidates are divided into two teams and have to enter into negotiations with each other, or it may be where you are all working together to assist the same client.
The prospect of going up against the other candidates may seem daunting, and it can feel as though you are being pitted against each other to see who comes out on top. This is not, however, the aim of the game. The assessors are not looking to see how you perform against the other candidates. They are looking to see how you perform with the other candidates.
The important thing to remember is that you are being assessed on how you work as a team. The firm will not necessarily be looking for the loudest or most dominant person in the group. They will instead be focusing on how you respond to other people’s ideas and how you work with others to reach a solution.
It is crucial therefore that you show off your team-working skills. If one member of the group is being particularly quiet, try and include them in the conversation by asking their opinion on a particular point. Or if one of the other candidates makes a particularly good point, agree with them and try and expand upon their idea further.
Most Assessment Days will include a face-to-face interview with either an associate or partner. This provides an opportunity to talk about yourself and why you think you would be a good fit for that particular firm. This is likely to be the only part of the assessment day where you can prepare in advance for the types of questions you are likely to be asked.
Common questions that will crop up include why you want to work at that particular firm, and why you think that firm should hire you. This is where you can show off all the research you have done in advance. By citing key cases the firm has worked on or major clients the firm has worked with, and by articulating what you feel sets the firm apart from the crowd, you will impress.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer will usually ask if there is anything in particular that you want to know about the firm. This is yet another opportunity to show-off and it is a good idea to come prepared with a number of questions. It is important not to ask questions that can be answered by a quick look at the firm’s website. Instead, you want to ask questions that demonstrate that you have already done your research, and that you wish to know something a bit deeper.
For example, you could ask the interviewer about their own personal experience of the firm and why they believe it stands out from the crowd, or you could ask about the role and involvement of trainees on a particular case that the firm has worked on.
Legal test or task
Finally, the Assessment Day may include an interview or presentation that requires you to utilise your legal knowledge and commercial awareness. You may be asked to prepare something in advance or you may be given a task on the day.
This may feel like the most daunting aspect of the Assessment Day. However, the most important thing to remember is that they are not necessarily looking for the right answers. The firm will be assessing how you deal with tackling a legal problem, how you cope under the pressure and whether you can think on your feet.
If you are expected to give a presentation or carry out a mock client interview, the best advice is to stay calm. If you feel as though you cannot answer a particular question, don’t panic. By keeping yourself together, maintaining good eye contact and a steady tone, you will impress the firm even if you have not answered the question spot on. Remember that they are assessing you on how you will appear in front of clients and, therefore, your ability to stay calm under pressure is crucial.