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How to ace a law interview and assessment centre

Jaymes Carr

Careers Commentator

First impressions: how to nail your law job interview

A job interview is, essentially, an opportunity for you to show off your skills, talents, and experience while demonstrating your knowledge of the job and asking any questions you might have about it. In this section, we’ll focus primarily on the main question you can expect to be asked during an interview: why do you think you’re suitable for the job? Here are some tips to make sure you can knock it out of the park.

Research the job!

We know – this seems like an obvious tip. However, recruiters often express their amazement at candidates who arrive to interviews with only a superficial understanding of what their target job will entail. You should instead possess an in-depth knowledge of the job description and be ready to convince the jury, with evidence, that you’re the best person to take it on.

  • Start by reading the job description, paying particular attention to any academic requirements, as well as essential and desirable attributes. Be proactive and reach out to graduate recruiters or company contacts if there’s anything you want to clarify. You can also check if GradAustralia or LegalVitae has a profile of the company.
  • Get a feel for what life will be like in your target job by talking with personal contacts in similar roles or checking out the grad stories and graduate job reviews on GradAustralia.
  • Find out more about the organisation, such as what types of clients it works with, where it is based, and what types of projects it takes on.

Deepen your understanding of the job

When it comes to demonstrating your suitability for a particular role, the general rule is this: the more specific you can be, the better. Of course, this means arriving at a deep understanding of what the role will require – and this will usually require you to go beyond the job description by asking questions like those below:

  • How much of your working day will be spent working alone, and how much interacting with others?
  • Will you only have to deal with your immediate team and supervisor, or will you interact with internal or external clients?
  • Is this job more focused on meeting immediate, conflicting deadlines in a fast-paced environment, or longer-term planning and development work?
  • How flexible will you have to be, e.g. in terms of travel, working hours, changing projects or picking up new skills at short notice?
  • What industry sector(s) will you be working in/for? Will you need to develop a working knowledge of, say, the finance sector or the retail industry?
  • Will training and development time be built into your job, or will you be expected to learn extra skills and keep up to date with new developments in your own time?

Bringing it all together into your own pitch

By combining what you’ve learned from the position description and your own supplementary research, you’ll arrive at a strong sense of the talents and attributes you should emphasise in the interview. For example, you might reach one of the following conclusions:

  • I will be working for both internal and external clients, so I’ll need to show that I have good interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, build relationships and negotiate with tact and patience. The recruiter will also want to see that I’m presentable, confident, and friendly.
  • I’ll be working to tight deadlines so I’ll need to show that I can handle pressure and manage competing priorities.
  • I’ll be working closely with community stakeholders, so I should talk about my contributions to volunteer projects and extracurricular involvement in community activities.

Assessment centres

Law firms are beginning to use assessment centres in their recruitment processes. However, assessment centres are prevalent in all other industries for student and graduate recruitment.

What is an assessment centre?

Candidates are invited to assessment centres to undertake a combination of individual and group exercises. They are used by organisations to help reduce the number of applicants and compare them on the same day. The length of time you’ll be expected to present at an assessment centres varies widely, from as little as a few hours to as much as three days.

How to prepare

One of the main objectives of assessment centre recruiters is to see how you perform under pressure. As such, you should anticipate some degree of stress. People perform better when they know to expect stress and have done everything they can to manage it. You should also know what the schedule for the day is, read any preparatory material, and double-check the dress code (typically formal suit). It can be daunting, but remember that this is a chance to show off your skills and also assess whether the firm is right for you.

Things that you can do in advance include:

  1. Know what is happening in the world. A general understanding of world politics and business will give you a broader understanding of most topics that can arise during formal and informal conversations.
  2. Know what is happening in the sector. Be sure to know the most relevant updates. Research whether or not the organisation in question has been involved in any landmark cases or recent decisions of great importance. You should also familiarise yourself with any broader industry trends and news stories. Is the High Court deliberating on an important case? You should make sure to have an opinion. This may not be obviously relevant, but it’s the kind of thing that a recruiter or fellow candidate might bring up in conversation.
  3. Know the competitors. This will help you answer any questions about where you think the future of the organisation will be. Will they follow a competitor who is doing well or are they doing things differently?
  4. Practise. Assessment centres often subject candidates to psychometric tests, verbal reasoning tests and numerical tests. You would do well to practise each of these – there are many online resources that you can draw upon. Alternatively, you may contact a careers advisor for advice on how to prepare.
  5. Present. Some recruiters will ask you to prepare a presentation for delivery at the assessment centre. This will allow them to test your communication skills. Their attention will focus on the structure of the presentation, as well as its content and delivery.

On the day

Don’t be surprised if, on the day, you find yourself joined by a large group of people all applying for the same role. There will also be an organiser and various representatives of the organisation. It’s natural to feel some anxiety, but bear in mind that your nervousness is usually related to how people will react to your performance. The performance itself is a separate issue – something relatively within your control – and, if you’ve prepared well, then you have nothing to worry about.