On Friday 29th January 2016 Commercial Awareness For Students interviewed Joanne Smallwood. Joanne is a graduate recruitment specialist at Bond Dickinson LLP and she has been with the firm for nearly 6 years. She is responsible for Bond Dickinson’s graduate recruitment process.

1. How can candidates’ best prepare themselves for assessment centres?

  • Continuous research on the firm’s culture is essential for success at assessment centres.

  • Law firms are looking to see if you possess a broader understanding of the firm’s goals and ambitions. Being aware of important firm news is imperative. Some good sources for research include: Lawyer2B/The Lawyer, Chambers & Partners and Legal 500.

  • Remember the basics: find out exactly where you’re going prior to the day, find out information about the people who are going to be conducting your interview. On the day, make sure you turn up early with everything you may need!

  • If you are unsure about anything, remember you are always welcome to ring graduate recruiter to ask questions about the assessment day if you cannot find the information anywhere else.

2.  What are the key competencies that you look for during your assessment centres?

  • Laws firms assess the key transferable skills that will be essential throughout your career. This means that students who have not studied law at undergraduate level are not at any disadvantage at assessment centres.

  • Law firms primarily look for drive and enthusiasm in candidates. This is shown by demonstrating a genuine interest in the firm, engaging with tasks and asking questions.

  • Team-work is a fundamental skill that law firms look for. Throughout your career you will be working with other people from a variety of different backgrounds and law firms need to see that you’re a team player.

  • Other key competencies recruitment teams look for include, problem solving skills, communication skills and commercial awareness.

3. Can you give us an example of a time where a candidate excelled during one of your assessment days? Did that candidate do anything in particular which made them stand out from the crowd?

  • The candidates that stand out are the ones who are most engaged. They are the ones asking questions, talking to people, finding out as much as they possibly can about the firm’s culture and it’s future plans.

  • Those candidates excel because they see the assessment day as an opportunity to find out more about the law firm. They are the ones who find themselves engaging with others and showing off their skill set effectively.

  • In group exercises it’s not necessarily the person that talks the most that stands out for the right reasons. Not everyone is or can be a natural leader. As long as candidates are engaging with the task and with their group, it’s the quality not quantity of their contributions that make individuals stand out from the crowd.

  • It is nerve-racking but try to make sure that you use the opportunity to make yourself stand out.

4. What are the most common mistakes candidates make during assessment days?

  • The most common mistake candidates make is not being themselves. Law firms need to see your personality. Regardless of the pressure, if you can’t be yourself around others in that environment then you should consider whether that firm is the right place for you.

  • In group exercises it’s not necessarily the person that dominates the task that is considered the best candidate. Group exercises are there to assess how you work with others. Don’t feel the urge to take charge of the group just for the sake of it. Candidates should engage with the other candidates and give everyone a chance to speak.

  • Remember: there’s no such thing as a silly question – the mistake would be to sit quietly and not engage.

5. If you could pick out two key pieces of advice to pass on to students regarding assessment centres, what would they be?

  • Be yourself – it calms you, it allows you to figure out your natural position within a team which leads to you performing really well.

  • See the assessment centre as an opportunity, not as another hurdle – If you reach an assessment centre you’ve already done very well. It’s an opportunity for you to show off your skill set but also to assess whether the firm is right for you.