So you are a fellow law student pursuing a career as a solicitor or barrister? Climbing up that ladder of success, raising the bar and aiming high(er)? You have completed dozens of application forms, trying to sell your skills, trying to sell yourself, wondering whether you are good enough. And then you receive the long-awaited email. You have passed the first stage. You have been invited to an assessment day. It is funny how the mere sound of the phrase ‘assessment day’ makes our heart skip a beat. Dressing for success. Packing all of our knowledge – about our achievements, about the firm, about the world. And hoping that we will be better than others. Or that others will be worse than us at least. Deep down we know we deserve this. Yet somehow, the bare thought of having to prove it under so much pressure scares us to death.
Last week, I attended a wonderful event at the College of Law in Guildford. It was cleverly titled ‘Suit Camp’ and offered an exciting opportunity ‘for anyone wanting to practise their assessment day skills in a safe and supportive environment’. It did just what it said on the tin. Having been warmly welcomed by the organisers of the event, we went through a variety of activities which represented the atmosphere of a real assessment day. The great thing about it was that it did not count. The other great thing was that we received some excellent tips and advice on how to improve our performance. The activities throughout the day included a commercial awareness workshop, an in-tray exercise and speed interviews. I am not going to go into the detail of each activity to avoid spoiling the experience for those who are yet to attend one of the coming Suit Camps. I would like to briefly reflect on some of the tips which I picked up during the day.
1. Law firms/Chambers want you to be successful. They don’t want you to make a fool of yourself or fail. They have seen something in your application form which has made them want to meet you in person. Take advantage of this opportunity to shine.
2. Other candidates are just as nervous as you are. Anyone who cares about the outcome of an assessment day is bound to be nervous. Some are better actors than others. Some perform better under pressure than others. If you master the art of keeping nerves under control and pulling your brains together on the day, you raise your chances of being successful by at least 50%.
3. You deserve to be there. Anyone who has filled in one of those application forms knows what a nerve-wracking experience that is. Law firms/chamber read through hundreds/thousands of these. There must have been something in your application worthy of being noted. Something you have achieved in your life. This on its own is worthy of being confident for. Being modest is not going to bring you success. If the person who read your application chose you amongst others to attend that assessment day, it means they believed you have something unique. You have got to believe that yourself too.
4. You should know why you are there. Having been selected for an assessment day, you must really do your homework and research the firm/chamber. Find out what it is about the firm/chamber that attracted you. 99% of firms/chambers will ask. Do not simply have a generic answer. Tailor it. Personalise it. Show your passion, enthusiasm and commitment. Interviewers are not mind readers.
5. Commercial awareness, commercial awareness, commercial awareness. Certainly you don’t get to hear enough of this these days do you? Every firm/chamber will want you to have this. Find out what it is and how you can develop it. Read newspapers and websites. Do not satisfy yourself with headlines – go into the detail. Follow news items and think of all the commercial aspects. Read the legal press. Sign up for newsletters. Understand how a law firm/barrister chamber works. Most importantly realise that law firms/barrister chambers are, amongst other things, businesses themselves.
6. Listen between the words. When you are asked an unexpected question, first and foremost think about why you are being asked this question. What skill/quality does the firm/chamber expect you to show. Do not give impulsive answers. Think.
7. Think outside the box. Do not give generic answers. Everyone can do this. Try to convey your interest and passion for everything you are asked to talk about.
8. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Simply because you have been selected for an assessment day doesn’t mean you need not prepare. Take every opportunity to practise. Attend initiatives such as Suit Camp. Attend career events. Speak to professionals. Ask as many questions as you can. The more experience of these types of exercises you get the less nervous you will be when the big day comes.
Throughout the day at Suit Camp, what I found fascinating was how much everyone cared about their performance and how nervous they were, despite the fact that it was a mock assessment day; how well everyone performed. This is us, law students, we are a competitive bunch of students. We all dream for that long-awaited day when our hard work will pay off. And we will fight tooth and nail to see that day.
The truth is, assessment days are not the horrible, nerve-wracking experience everyone perceives them to be. I will never forget the first assessment day (sadly unsuccessful) I attended last year. I still hear the words of my mentor as I was getting more and more nervous as the day approached: “Consider this an opportunity to shine!” That’s what it is. A step closer to the big Goal. The goal we have all been striving to achieve over all these years. If we forget for just one moment about everyone else that is competing with us, and just be our confident selves, I am sure that any assessment day could in fact turn into a tremendous experience. No matter what the outcome is. Surely we all need to fail ones (or a few times) before we succeed. Only then will we appreciate the success once it eventually comes to us. Because it will. In that I believe. Of that I am confident…