Why Law Firms Use Assessment Centres To Select Trainees
With so much written about interviews, it’s easy to assume they are the most important part of a firm’s recruitment process – the ‘make or break’ of securing your training contract. So why, then, do law firms use assessment centres? Are they a mere back-up? Another way of shaving down the application numbers, perhaps?
Assessment centres are composed of a series of pre-arranged tests and skill exercises often culminating in the interview itself. However, rather than viewing these individual exercises as the ‘poor relations’ of the final interview, high performance at every stage of the process is crucial to success. In fact, assessment centres offer a number of very real advantages to employer and potential employee alike that the interview alone can’t provide.
Their purpose can largely be seen as two-fold:
1) Providing further skills assessment
Interviews, when done well, are great. They offer a genuine opportunity to find out about a candidate’s suitability to a role and a company. But they are not without their drawbacks. It can be argued, for example, that they favour a particular style of candidate – one who is good at building immediate rapport, good at responding to (often) fairly predictable questions and who doesn’t let initial nerves get the better of them.
Whilst these are useful qualities to present, it does provide a fairly narrow skills focus, and doesn’t account for many of the other skills that are actually needed in the job. The ability to work well in a team, perhaps. Or the high level of competence needed to interpret complex data and written information.
Aside from this, because of the nature of interviewing, they can also be very subjective experiences. So much depends upon the particular relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. Results and outcomes can be turned on their head purely by putting a different personality in the interviewer’s seat.
The beauty of assessment centres is that they introduce a more objective element to the recruitment process. They place the candidate in situations where their abilities can be judged in a much fairer way, drastically reducing the chance of individual bias. And they do this whilst examining a much wider and realistic spread of skills, aptitudes and competencies.
This is undoubtedly the reason why more and more law firms have introduced specific assessment tests and exercises such as the increasingly popular Watson Glaser Test.
2) Providing a deeper insight into the firm
There is only so much you can assess about a law firm by walking into an interview room and shaking hands with one or two current employees. An assessment centre, however, offers so much more of an opportunity to really find out about a firm, its culture and its values, so that you are able to form a considered opinion on whether or not it is a good place – the right place – for you to start your career.
Most assessment centres will start with a company presentation, allowing you a deeper insight into their commercial activities whilst addressing subjects such as what it is really like to work for them. They will also provide you with the opportunity to liaise with other trainees (and possibly more senior employees), maybe over lunch or through a specific Q&A session.
Choosing a law firm is a very personal decision. And firms want to give you this opportunity to find out about them, as they want you to make the right choices. It is not within their interests to offer a training contract to someone who, ultimately, isn’t going to be happy working in their firm.
So while the thought of attending an assessment centre may sound daunting, consider the advantages that it brings you. Not only is it a showcase for your wider skills but it allows you to gather the information you need about the firm. It is essential, however, that you prepare thoroughly for every element of the day as interview performance alone will not be enough to secure your future within the company.