Article written by Leah Minett, Birkbeck University, LLB Law.
Assessment centres are a fairly common occurrence for most law firms, and tend to be the final stage before receiving an offer for either a training contract or a vacation scheme. There are usually quite a few rounds to go through before you get to assessment centre stage: these often include an online application form, a situational strengths based test, and a virtual interview. If you’ve made it to the final round assessment centre, congratulations! This is no easy feat and deserves recognition for having succeeded in the prior rounds. If you have an upcoming assessment centre invite and are wondering what to expect, below are a few top tips to keep in mind.
While many firms have gone back to in-person assessment centres, some are still done virtually. The format will generally be the same, however online assessment centres will usually have less networking time and therefore often tend to be shorter (many last either a morning or an afternoon, as opposed to an entire day). If you have a virtual assessment centre, make sure that you are ready to sign in 30 minutes before your scheduled start time. There are a multitude of things that can go wrong virtually, so it’s important to make sure that you are prepared. Check in advance that you have been sent all of the login information you need, and test your Zoom/Teams meeting links in advance to ensure that they are all working. Make sure that you are sitting in a quiet place away from any distractions, so that you can speak freely without interruption. If your assessment centre is in-person, make sure that you allow plenty of time to get there, and aim to arrive slightly early to avoid any last minute issues. In-person assessment centres tend to take up most of the day, so ensure that you arrive promptly and are free all day.
The structure of the day will vary depending on the firm, however the majority of assessment centres will be made up of up to four components:
While some firms will give you information in advance, others will not tell you what to expect until you arrive in the morning, so don’t panic if you feel that you are going in somewhat oblivious to what you will be doing. Make sure that you have checked your emails in advance for any preparatory information, and just turn up with an open mind ready to take on the tasks once they are provided to you.
Case studies are a common part of assessment centres, and are designed to simulate real-life trainee tasks that you may work on. Case studies do not require any legal knowledge, so if you are a non-law graduate, don’t panic! You will not be expected to have an understanding of the topic at hand, and all relevant information will be provided to you: the only knowledge that you will need will be provided within the material supplied. For example, if within your case study materials pack you are provided with articles about EU sanctions affecting the given area of law, you will then be expected to consider how this may affect your client in the scenario.
An example scenario within a case study may be that you are a trainee that has been asked to carry out due diligence on a firm that your client wishes to acquire. You will have been provided with extensive information on the target company, and may also be given newspaper articles mentioning the company. Again, the materials provided may also include information on relevant law if there is anything that you need to be aware of. Your task might be to review all of the supplied documents and present your findings to a panel. Or, it might be set out as an interview, where a partner is asking you questions to test how well you can decipher information and pick out the relevant points.
Regardless of the format of the case study and the individual task provided, the most important thing to remember is that the law firm is not wanting you to fail: the tasks will likely seem overwhelming, and there may be a lot of information to review, but the goal of the case study is to see how well you can pick out key information within a set amount of time. So don’t panic, ask questions if you need to, and ensure that you are answering the questions asked of you.
For a lot of the tasks that you will encounter within an assessment centre, there will be a set amount of time to complete the task which may not feel like long enough! This is completely normal – you are not expected to know everything and recite the documents back to the panel, but you need to make sure that you have managed your time effectively. It’s very easy to be given one hour to complete a task and find that 50 minutes in you still have five pages of information to review, so make sure that you have considered how long you have from the outset. It’s advisable to skim read the documents first so that you are aware of how much info there is to review, and so that you have a rough idea of what the key points are that you will be expected to discuss at the end of the task. Make sure that you set a timer from the point that the task starts, so that you can keep an eye on how long you have remaining.
While the law firm is looking to see your key strengths within an assessment centre, it’s also very important to ensure that you present yourself well and that you are smartly dressed. For most firms, you will start being assessed from the minute you walk through the door: how you present yourself, the questions you ask, how you communicate with others, and how you decipher information will all play a part in the firm’s ultimate decision on whether to offer you a place, so it’s important to make sure that you are presenting yourself well. While it may differ from firm to firm, generally it is recommended to wear smart business attire, but do make sure that you have read the preparatory material before attending.
Whether your assessment centre is online or in-person, it’s advisable to take a notepad and pen. If the graduate recruitment team are explaining an upcoming task to you, make sure that you have made notes to refer back to during the exercise. Some firms allow you to take your notes with you into your interview/case study presentation, so it’s important to make sure that you are prepared and are utilising this opportunity.
The interview segment of the assessment centre can take different forms depending on the firm: some firms will have an interview with graduate recruitment while others will make the interview a part of the case study assessment. Regardless of what the format of your assessment centre is, it’s important to make sure that you get your personality across in this section of the assessment centre. This is the time for you to showcase to the firm why they should hire you. If it is an interview where they are asking you questions about yourself, be sure to include examples of past experiences that showcase your personality and your experiences. If it’s an interview within the format of a case study, be sure to be warm, professional, and make sure that the answers you are giving are clear and concise. This section of the assessment centre is a chance for the firm to understand who you are, how you perform under pressure and why you deserve a place at the firm. Stay calm, don’t panic, and engage in conversation. It’s always a good idea to make sure that you have a few questions lined up in case they ask you if you have any questions at the end.
While it’s natural to feel nervous about an assessment centre, it’s important to try to enjoy the process. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and not perform to the best of your ability, but make sure you remember that you made it to this stage for a reason. The law firm is clearly very interested in your application if you have made it to the final stage, so try to remember this and stay positive. If you are enjoying yourself and always have a smile on your face, this shows, and will help the firm to get a true picture of who you are as a candidate. Remember, the firm that you have applied to wants you to succeed. Stay positive, keep smiling, and make sure that you enjoy the process!