Assessment centres are nothing to be afraid of; they’re an excellent opportunity for you to showcase a wide range of skills to your potential employers. But if you really want to impress at an assessment centre, you’ll need to put in some preparation beforehand.
Do your research
First of all, you should find out as much as you can about the assessment centre. Most law firms will give you some information about what the assessment will involve. If they don’t, you can always ring up and ask. Some people also recommend using the internet to find out about previous assessment days and past candidates’ experiences—you can read one student’s account here. However, don’t expect the assessment centre to run along exactly the same lines as previous assessment days.
You’ll also need to do some research into the law firm. Ideally, try to speak to some who has worked for the employer or attended a previous assessment centre. You should try to find out as much as you can about the firm: Who are their clients? What makes them different? What’s their workplace culture like?
Think about your own strengths too: what makes you a great fit for the firm and why should they employ you? Most importantly, keep in mind the selection criteria they specify in the training contract, pupillage, or vacation scheme application. What skills do you need to be a successful solicitor or barrister? Every exercise and interview will test you against these skills.
Many employers will give you details of the types of tests, exercises and tasks you might face at their assessment centre, so you might also want to prepare for these individual exercises.
The one exercise you will most likely come across during an assessment centre is an interview of some sort. You’ll definitely want to practice answering some of the questions you might be asked.
It’s also worth thinking of things you want to mention during your interview;, for example, certain skills or relevant experience. Some people even compile a bank of “skills and experience” examples that they can draw from in the interview. This will be particularly useful if you have to face a competency-based interview.
Not all interviews will be one-on-one, so you should be prepared for the fact that you might be interviewed by more than one person or even a panel. You should also devise a list of questions you want to ask the employer at the end of the interview.
Group exercise preparation
It’s harder to get ready for group exercises, although the group situations you might have been put in at university, college or in the workplace will have given you some preparation. Group exercises will test your teamwork, leadership, persuasion and negotiation skills, so try and think of ways that you could give those skills a workout beforehand.
You might want to stage a couple of debates with a group of friends or try and get more involved in classroom debates and seminars discussions—it's good practice for group exercises.
Practice psychometric tests
Some employers will include psychometric tests as part of their assessment centre. These usually assess either ability or personality. Whilst there isn’t a great deal of preparation you can do for these, it is well worth doing a few practice tests beforehand to familiarise yourself with the format and speed of the test. Various websites, such as SHL and Assessment Day, have practice tests that you can try out.
Whether you’re given a topic to prepare for beforehand or will be required to put together a presentation on the day, you’ll need to practice giving presentations. Make sure you know how to structure a presentation and have practised speaking in front of an audience.
Final assessment centre preparation tips
1. Make sure you know exactly where the assessment centre is and how you’ll get there on the day. It’s important that you’ve figured this out beforehand in order to be as relaxed as possible when you get to the assessment centre.
2. Plan out what you’re going to wear. Your outfit should be clean and well-fitted and your shoes should be polished. You might even want to get a haircut—first impressions do count.
3. Read and re-read all the instructions for the assessment centre. Check that you’ve got everything they have asked you to bring.
4. Draw up a list of questions you might want to ask trainees, partners, barristers or other members of the firm. There’s a very good chance that there will be a social event during the assessment centre and questions are useful conversation starters.
5. You should try to be relaxed and focused rather than afraid. Every assessment centre will be different, so the main thing is to be on your toes and ready to react to whatever curveball they throw your way.
Next article: Assessment centres: the lowdown