Assessment centres: advice for nervous applicants

Assessment centres are an important part of applying for a training contract or vacation scheme. Having been both a nervous applicant and a trainee supervisor, here are my top tips.

Burges Salmon trainees talking on sofas
11 November 2016

By solicitor Briony Barber

What happens at an assessment centre?

Assessment centres are an important part of applying for a training contract or vacation scheme. During the day, candidates participate in group exercises, individual tasks and interviews, as well as having the opportunity to meet a range of people from across the firm.

When I was applying for my own training contract, I was incredibly nervous before the assessment centre. Everything seemed intimidating and I was positive that the other candidates would be far better than me! Instead, I found that on the day everyone I met was welcoming and encouraging, and I was able to relax and focus on the tasks ahead of me.

As a trainee, I got involved in assessment centres as a supervisor. Having experienced being on both sides of the table, I’ve set out some advice and top tips for nervous applicants.

How can applicants stand out?

During the assessment centres I supervised, applicants stood out if they knew some facts about the firm and why they wanted to work here in particular. The best place to start your research is on this website, which showcases our work, strategy and values.

If you have a particular interest in a sector of the firm, don’t be afraid to talk about it. We have a range of specialisms across departments and trainees can get involved in an array of different work. If you have time, investigate any interesting work that the firm has done in that area recently.

Alternatively it can be just as exciting if you are unsure which field you want to work in. The six-seat system for trainees means you get more opportunities to experience different areas of the firm. Many trainees end up enjoying seats that they never anticipated they would, so an enthusiastic approach could be key to finding the best area for you. If you don't know much about a practice area or sector, take the opportunity to ask questions about it at an assessment centre.

Think about why you want to be a lawyer

Consider how you would answer the question of why you want to be a lawyer. The work we do is rewarding and stimulating, but it can also be challenging and demanding. The firm invests a lot of time, energy and resources for its trainees, so the focus is on finding applicants who have considered their options carefully.

During the assessment centre you will meet a number of lawyers and trainees. The trainees are there to help you out and answer questions, so make the most of the contacts that are available on the day.

Don’t forget that the day is also a chance to work out whether the firm is the right place for you. There are many law firms with many different ways of working, and some may suit you better than others. The best way to do this is to ask as many questions as you can and to listen carefully during introductory talks.

And remember...

Above all, be enthusiastic and get involved in whatever is happening! It can be hard to stand out in your initial application form, so try to view the assessment centre as an opportunity to show off your skills and the qualities that set you apart from other applicants.

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Assessment centres: advice for nervous applicants

Applicants stood out if they knew some facts about the firm and why they wanted to work here in particular.
Briony Barber, Solicitor

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