The Student Column: 10 top tips on how to succeed at an assessment day

Warren Wellington studied Law at the University of Leeds. He completed vacation schemes with Norton Rose Fulbright, Shearman & Sterling and in the London and Singapore offices of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). Warren began his London training contract with HSF in September 2016, and has kindly shared with us his advice on how to excel at an assessment day.

1) Do your research

You have been invited to an assessment day, so it is likely that you have already conducted extensive research into the firm and general business news. However, this knowledge needs to be constantly revised and updated. You can accomplish this by adding the firm’s name to Google alerts which will notify you of recent updates. Also, reading the Lex column of the Financial Times and the business section of The Guardian are both great ways to stay commercially aware. Your knowledge may be subject to probing at the interview stage, so go that extra mile and research at least four recent news stories and firm transactions in detail to avoid being caught off guard.

2) Eat and sleep well

Put the late nights on hold in preparation for your assessment day. It will take the sting out of waking up early on the big day and may improve your reaction time when answering unexpected questions. Some assessments may last a full working day. That’s right, 9.30am to 5pm. To last the day without losing enthusiasm, I recommend eating a wholesome breakfast first thing in the morning.

3) Arrive early

Plan your journey well in advance and give yourself at least 30 minutes spare. This allows plenty of time for public transport shortcomings (we all know how frequent those can be). It also gives you extra time to make small-talk with other candidates upon arrival. Doing this can relax your nerves as you will often find that the other candidates are just as nervous as you are. You may even find that you share certain interests, which can make negotiating during the group exercise far more enjoyable.

4) Be yourself

You were invited to an assessment day because the law firm is interested in you! It follows that your assessors will want to get to know your personality. The best way to shine is to simply relax and be yourself. It is also important to strike a balance between being professional and personable. This will assure your interviewer that they can comfortably share an office with you and present you to clients.

5) Manage your time

Bring a digital watch, set time limits and stick to them! Often you will be given very little time to read lots of information. Spend the first few minutes making sure you understand your instructions before even highlighting key parts of the text. Make notes as you read and be sure to dedicate at least one quarter of your time to structuring your answers. Trust me, it will pay off.

6) Lead and cooperate

The most important aspect of the group exercise is to demonstrate your ability to work as part of a team. You may find the people you are grouped with to be aggressive, overbearing, calm or quiet. Regardless of who they are, for the next twenty minutes or so I recommend that you treat them as colleagues, not competition. Remain composed and engage all of your teammates throughout. Leadership can be demonstrated through the simplest of things such as encouraging others to share their perspectives, setting out a structure for the negotiation or putting yourself forward to be time-keeper. Whatever you do, make a genuine contribution and avoid arguments at all costs.

7) Be clear and concise

If your case study features a written exercise, then be sure to get straight to the point. Lawyers are expected to present complex ideas succinctly. Showing that you have this ability may just distinguish you from other candidates. Practise summarising lengthy articles from The Economist to give yourself an edge when it comes to writing style.

8) Prepare for the unexpected

Think on your feet when presented with new facts about the case study or unusual questions during your competency interview. This is not to say that you should respond on impulse. Talking through your thought process with the interviewer is a great way to demonstrate that you react well to change, but if you are really stuck, taking a sip of water can help to bide some useful time.

9) Think of the day as a marathon, not a sprint

You have more chances to perform well at an assessment day than you would at a standard interview. Apply yourself throughout the entire day, regardless of whether you think you underperformed during one stage of assessment. Some firms will weigh each stage differently whereas others will weigh them equally. Either way, you should give each area your absolute best effort as all of them go towards presenting a balanced picture of you.

10) Gain as much as you can from the process

Assessment days are a great way to learn about yourself and the firm. The firm will have spent a painstaking amount of time to ensure the process draws out the best of what both you and the firm have to offer. You can infer a lot about the firm through their presentation, networking event, guided tour etc. By asking genuine questions you will come across as enthusiastic and learn what it is that attracts you to that type of firm. Regardless of whether you are successful or not, make sure you ask for feedback and apply it in future!