Getting this far is no mean feat but navigating the assessment centre can, for many, be the fall at the final hurdle. Sam, a trainee solicitor in Shoosmiths' Nottingham office shares his tips for standing out on an assessment centre and nailing the day!
There is no one right way to approach an assessment centre as every firm will have different nuanced ways in how they assess you. In this article I aim to give you my first-hand account of ways which you can prepare and what you can do on the day to better your chances of success.
Do your research
It goes without saying that you should have some knowledge about the firm to which you are applying from the initial application process. When it comes to standing out from the crowd and evidencing an understanding of a firm's specific way of business, further research and analysis is key.
Consider using resources beyond those which are most readily available. A firm's website can give you lots of soundbites to feed in to interview but it is unlikely to help you come up with anything novel.
Resources such as The Lawyer, LawCareers.net, LEX 100, Chambers and even Companies House are good sources of information and testimonial on firms. You may find it useful to do your own 'SWOT' analysis, enabling you to form a more reasoned view on what the firm is looking for and in turn help you express why you are a good fit.
Some firms may give you materials in advance for the purposes of preparing a presentation. You should spend some serious time going over the materials, using any research undertaken to your advantage.
Don't see it as a competition
Whilst you are effectively interviewing alongside a dozen or more other candidates, you should be careful not to treat it as a competition (even though, in effect, it is). There are usually a mix of personalities at an assessment centre. It is not unheard of for some candidates to try and play mind games or more commonly, to try to dominate the group activity (or equivalent).
You can only be assessed on what you do and say, so, saying nothing will score you nothing. Equally, you don't want to be remembered as the person who alienated other candidates, talked over others or got embroiled in an argument to the detriment of the exercise. Striking a balance and, where appropriate, acting as a facilitator of conversation (most importantly driving conversation forward) is, in my opinion, the perfect middle ground.
Stay calm and relaxed...
It might be easier said than done, but staying relaxed and keeping a clear head will ensure you come across in a self-assured, more genuine way. If you come out of one exercise feeling that it didn't go particularly well, do not let it play on your mind and stymie your performance in following exercises - offers are made on an overall assessment and not just on one metric.
The interview, for many, will be the most dreaded part of the day. My advice is to, where appropriate, create an open dialogue between you and your interviewer(s). Don't be afraid to ask questions where, for example, you would like some clarity as to what is being asked of you. Some interviewers may be disarming and allow for a conversation, others may want you to answer their questions and nothing more. Whichever the case, you should take your cues from your interviewer(s) and remember that they will likely interview many other candidates that day so avoid stock answers where possible.
...But not too relaxed
It is easy to get lured in to a false sense of security during the day - especially in any networking sessions that might break up the exercises. Usually, a mix of staff will be present to network with. Whilst you should let your personality show, you should treat any and all conversations with the same level of professionalism, whether with a Partner or a Trainee - Trainees can feedback in to the decision making process too!
Above all, let your personality come across
Getting to an assessment centre means that you clearly come across well on paper. The assessment centre is now the chance for you to show your personality as well as your intellectual prowess. The assessors will constantly be thinking "how would this person fit in to our firm?" It is up to you to show them.
If you're attending a graduate assessment centre this summer, you may also be interested in reading more posts with advice about standing out on the Shoosmiths careers blog.
If you have any specific questions, you can contact the graduate recruitment team via twitter or email.