It’s important to research the firm before applying, as it’s at this stage that you really need to know your stuff! Make sure you know the firm’s office locations (and exactly where the assessment centre is), the areas of law the firm specialises in and any large cases the firm has recently worked on.
Some firms will let you know the names of the partners present at the assessment centre; this is vital information. If you get your hands on the partners’ names, take time to do some research on them and find out what they specialise in. This will be useful if you get the chance to speak to them on the day.
2. Arrive in plenty of time
There is nothing worse than arriving at an assessment centre late and flustered; all the preparation you have done will go straight out of the window. Try to arrive about five minutes before the commencement of the assessment centre so that you have a few minutes to settle in.
If you arrive at the venue really early, go and grab a coffee nearby rather than going into the assessment centre; they will not be ready for you and it’s likely that you’ll make yourself more anxious.
You can never predict the questions and exercises the firm will throw at you, but you can do practice exercises that will help you on the day of the assessment centre.
Most careers services will be able to provide you with practice written exercises and psychometric tests, and there are a number of these available online too—Assessment Day is a good example. Online practice material might differ slightly from the tests at the assessment centre, but they will give you an idea of the format and the speed at which you will have to work.
You should also take some time to consider the selection criteria that the recruiters are using. Looking at the questions on their application form may make this clear to you. Otherwise, most firms will let you know exactly what they’re looking for on their website. The skills and competencies highlighted in the selection criteria will be the ones they will be assessing you against on the day.
4. Stay updated on current events
You’ve probably heard it a million times before, but it is really important to be up-to-date with firm news and current legal issues. Interview questions, presentation topics and case study materials are likely to originate from recent news stories, so you’ll be able to demonstrate commercial awareness if you know something about the topic already.
5. Read all the information they give to you
When you get a place on an assessment centre, the firm will probably send you more information about the day. It may include the exercises you will be doing, who you will be meeting, the location and the schedule. Make sure you read this information extremely carefully—it will help you prepare for the day.
There may be something in this pack that you have to do beforehand. Some firms, for example, will give you presentation topics at this stage, asking you to prepare a presentation and bring material to the assessment centre. If you can’t do one of the exercises at the assessment centre because you didn’t prepare for it, it could cost you a training contract or a place on a vacation scheme!
6. Take the opportunity to find out more
Recruitment is a two-way process, and an assessment centre is the perfect opportunity for you to find out more about the firm. There will be current trainees and partners on hand to answer any questions that you might have. Take the time to speak to them and find out why they like working there, and why it might be the right firm for you.
7. Don’t start the day tired
Be warned: assessment centres are exhausting, so make sure you get sufficient rest the night before!
If the assessment centre is far away from where you live, the firm might cover some of the accommodation costs of a hotel for the night before (this will be detailed in your information pack). Some firms, however, will not. If this is the case, you should find accommodation for the night before in order to make your journey shorter on the morning of the assessment centre.
8. Don’t be controlling
There will be a number of competencies the recruiters will be looking for at the assessment centre, but try not to let the need to demonstrate leadership skills take control in group exercises. Yes, recruiters want to see some leadership skills, but of equal importance are teamwork and communication skills such as good listening skills.
You should remember that the other members of the group are members of your team, not your competition. You should have your own points of view and be able to explain these to the rest of the group, but you also need to be prepared to engage positively with other ways of thinking.
9. Don’t get disheartened
There might be elements you think you didn’t do as well on, but don’t worry too much about it! Assessment centres are designed to allow candidates to demonstrate their strengths in different situations, and it is rare to find applicants who excel in every exercise.
Just because one exercise hasn’t gone as well as you’d hoped, you shouldn’t become discouraged. Instead, focus on how you can showcase your strengths in the next exercises.
10. Be yourself and enjoy it
It is extremely difficult to pretend to be someone you’re not during an assessment centre. You have made it this far in the recruitment process by showcasing your skills and personal qualities; so while an assessment centre is not the most natural of situations, try to enjoy it and be yourself. It will be your life experiences and personality that will make you stand out in the crowd, so don’t be afraid to show the recruiters your unique traits.