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Virtual Assessment Centres – Top Tips from Future Watson Farley & Williams Trainee Solicitors

Book open Reading time: 13 mins

Hear from Watson Farley & Williams graduates on their experiences with the assessment centre and hear the top tips they gained along the way to help you navigate the process. 

What was it like to participate in a virtual assessment centre at Watson Farley & Williams (WFW)? How did it differ to an in-person assessment centre?

Diana: I personally had a great and stimulating experience at the WFW virtual assessment centre. There was enough time in between the tasks to take a break from your screen, grab a snack or a drink before getting started again. Anthea and Lucie, the Graduate Recruitment team, were very welcoming from the beginning and really encouraged us to ask questions in case something wasn’t clear! I personally think the main difference to an in-person assessment centre is, most evidently, the direct contact you have with the firm’s office and people. It is also easier to put your personality across in-person rather than on screen, but I think this wasn’t that much of a shock since we have been using Zoom for lessons at university. I think an advantage of online assessment centres, however, is their accessibility as you don’t have to travel to London for the day, which is a much better option if you live further away or are on a year abroad now.

Matthew: Aside from the obvious involvement of technology and the requirement to complete the tasks online, the virtual assessment centre at WFW was conducted in an almost identical manner to an in-person assessment centre. The number and content of the tasks was exactly the same as that of an in-person assessment centre, as was the structure of the day and time allocated to each assessment. 

Perhaps one noticeable difference between virtual assessment centres and those that are in-person is the inability to interact with other candidates throughout the day outside of the tasks. The Graduate Recruitment Team allowed us to go into ‘Breakout Rooms’ between tasks, however, without any monitoring to talk with our peers. If given the opportunity to do this, I would highly recommend it as you will feel much more at ease and can share a joke about how each task went.

Alex: The Graduate Recruitment Team at WFW made the whole virtual experience very seamless, indicating at the outset the timings and structure of the day. A virtual assessment centre does reduce the contact you have with members of the firm compared to an in-person assessment centre, as there was limited opportunity to have discussions in-between tasks. The absence of an individual interview at the assessment centre stage is something rather unique to WFW as a firm. I was, therefore conscious of the fact that a virtual assessment centre would make it more challenging to convey an understanding and appreciation of the firm’s work. However, the group tasks provided ample opportunity to show enthusiasm for the firm and a capacity to work effectively in a group setting.

Francois: Overall, the virtual assessment centre was a very positive experience. I had my apprehensions as it is a little more difficult to show your personality on a video call, but we were provided plenty of opportunities throughout the day to show the best of our abilities. The main difference to an in-person assessment centre is picking up on cues during group activities, as it is very easy to inadvertently talk over someone else! I was lucky to be with a very friendly group which made communication easier, but it is a point to be mindful of throughout the day.

How did you prepare for the virtual assessment centre?

Matthew: I prepared in much the same way as I would have prepared for in-person assessment centres. I think the most crucial and obvious preparation you can do is to know the firm inside out. Your first port of call should be the firm’s website, which will have the most detailed and up-to-date information about the firm’s offices, practice areas and recent news. It is also useful, however, to gain an independent perspective of the firm from other legal publications, as well as to compare it to similar law firms. This includes sources such as The Lex100, Legal Cheek, Chambers Student and The Legal500. Furthermore, reading these publications will give you an understanding of how WFW differentiates itself from its competitors, which is key to comprehending its competitive advantage. It is similarly important to have a thorough understanding of current affairs and their business implications in the weeks leading up to any assessment centre. It is also worth looking at some news specific to the firm – this may be news in the energy, transport and real estate sectors! Having a broader understanding of current affairs and being able to link them to the work that lawyers at the firm do will demonstrate the all-important skill of commercial awareness.

Carita: Once I got the email that I was invited to the assessment centre, I immediately started thoroughly researching the firm and making detailed notes on its main practice areas, its culture and the details of the Training Contract. When researching how to do well at the assessment centre, there are many useful resources online now such as Facebook groups, LinkedIn posts and Instagram accounts and university resources that provide really great advice and information about assessment centres that helped me prepare for the potential tasks.

William: First and foremost, preparation is key and a good understanding of what the day will entail is vital. Prepare as you would normally for an in-person assessment centre by researching the firm and its key practice areas, as well as keeping up-to-date with current affairs. Plenty of resources are helpful in this research stage, including the firm’s website as well as condensed student guides such as Chambers Student and The Lex100.

Henry: Although it might seem tricky to know how best to prepare for a virtual assessment centre, the firm was helpful in providing a breakdown of what we could expect on the day. I would recommend reading this information carefully and preparing accordingly. Importantly, while it might sometimes seem that Graduate Recruitment Teams are trying to trip you up, this is not the case at WFW. The team, made up of Lucie and Anthea, are very friendly. Therefore, feel relaxed and head into the assessment centre ready to showcase your many skills. 

Francois: Two things that I believe helped me prepare for the assessment centre:

(i) Asking a friend who is already in his Training Contract about how and on which skills candidates are evaluated in an assessment centre. As non-law students make up a substantial part of every assessment centre, no one will expect you to recite the Companies Act by heart. Having an understanding of how law firms operate, however, and how they fit in the business world is essential.

(ii) Reading industry insights from reputable sources (which can be WFW’s own Insights Hub, but large management consulting firms also have useful resources). As WFW is a very sector-focused firm, I expected at least part of the assessment process to be centred on the firm’s areas of expertise. Researching specific industry insights rather than general business news will save you time and ensure that everything you read will be relevant to the tasks you may be given during the day.

What is the best way to navigate technical hiccups/difficulties in a virtual assessment centre?

Diana: I think the best way to navigate any technical difficulties is through preparation before the assessment centre itself. For example, if you know that your Wi-Fi is slightly off in one part of your house, try setting yourself up in a better location. Another helpful tip is ensuring you can use your mobile data hotspot if your Wi-Fi completely gives way. On the day itself, taking initiative is important too. First, try not to panic: everyone has experienced technical difficulties at some point on an online platform. Ensure that you note down the contact numbers of the Graduate Recruitment Team so that you can get in touch with them if there is an issue. 

Matthew: On the day, make sure your laptop is fully charged and you have a strong and stable internet connection. If you do have any technical difficulties, try not to panic, and don’t get flustered. The first thing to do is contact the Graduate Recruitment Team or whoever is organising the assessment centre, to let them know the problem and what steps you are taking to fix it. This will reassure them that you haven’t gone AWOL and they can think about any alterations they need to make to ensure you have the same experience as everyone else. You can briefly apologise for the hiccup, but the Graduate Recruitment Team will not be annoyed and will have experienced similar technical problems in the past.

Alex: With the WFW assessment centre, you are given advanced access to the platform used to deliver the day. If you have the chance to log into any system early, this can help provide some peace of mind and start the day off on the right footing. To prepare for potential hiccups during the day, it is important to note any contact numbers or procedures in place so that you can make those running the day aware of the situation. 

Francois: I was lucky not to have any technical difficulties during my assessment centre. However, the day is very well organized, and either the Graduate Recruitment Team or the platform provider will be able to assist you in case you run into any technical difficulty. Make a note of the phone numbers given at the beginning of the day in case you have an issue and remember that the Graduate Recruitment Team will always be here to help as they want you to do you your best.

What aspects of the virtual assessment centre did you enjoy?

Diana: I personally really enjoyed the parallel between the assessment centre and the work you will have to complete as a future trainee. It is truly the best way to show whether you will like the work you will potentially be exposed to on the Vacation Scheme itself too. The tasks themselves are very varied, so you really are given a good overview into what is expected of you going forward. I also really appreciated the transparency from the Graduate Recruitment Team. You never had to second guess what they wanted from you from a particular task, so you can truly focus on the work set in front of you! 

Matthew: The virtual assessment centre at WFW was structured as an evolving client scenario which gave an element of fluidity to the day. I really enjoyed this format, as each task felt like a progression from the last and contrasted with alternative assessment days where the tasks can seem disjointed. I particularly enjoyed the group task in which we were given information to read through before having to put together a presentation with other members of our team. This was challenging in the time frame we were given, but it was interesting to hear insight from different individuals and we subsequently received positive feedback on our performance.

Carita: I enjoyed the group discussion as I was able to interact with other attendees online and able to collaborate fully and exchange ideas. I also appreciated that the Graduate Recruitment Team provided feedback on the day specifically on how the group carried out the various discussions as they are aware that candidates would welcome the comments for further applications. 

Francois: I really enjoyed the case study group discussion! In my opinion, it’s the part of the Assessment Centre where you can show your personality and ability to work in a team, which are some of the main aspects the Graduate Recruitment team will be looking at during the day. Having someone new join the call to ask questions at the end of the exercise was a little daunting, however it forced us to think on our feet and show our ability to deliver under pressure.

What challenges did you face during the virtual assessment centre, and how did you tackle these?

Diana: I think the main challenge for me was managing stress and keeping focused on the task at hand. Overthinking is so common, and it is easy to fall into the trap of questioning whether you’ve given the right response. Managing it is so important, however. I personally took advantage of the breaks we were given to leave my workspace and chat to my housemates.  Another thing I found quite challenging was the timing: you must be prepared to finish the task in the time you are set. Using timers throughout the day is my biggest advice – leave 2 minutes at the end to read through too and to check for mistakes! 

Matthew: Having not studied Law at university and completing the assessment centre during the final year of my Geography degree, I think the main challenge I faced was self-doubt. Despite there being a number of other non-law students, I still had an initial worry that I was at a disadvantage. I was immediately reassured when the Graduate Recruitment Team reminded us that absolutely no legal knowledge was required for the virtual assessment centre. This was encouraging and helped tackle this apprehension.

Alex: In comparison to other assessment centres I have experienced, the groups you are placed into are quite large. Given the virtual setting, some of the discussions in the group exercises may not have flowed as naturally as when everyone is present in-person, whilst it is harder to avoid talking over each other. When coupled with the time constraints placed on each task, it could be a challenge to find the right balance between letting everyone contribute their views, exploring certain issues in more depth, and making the decision to rule out options which some in the group may favour. You may feel that certain points are being laboured over for too long or that certain key points are not being adequately addressed. Such scenarios will inevitably occur when placed into a large group dynamic. It is therefore important to be flexible and ready to adapt your approach so that you can continue to make valuable contributions to the discussion.

Francois: I took advantage of the structure of the virtual assessment centre, dropping off from the call between each activity to reset and compartmentalize any mistake I may have made to that specific activity and avoid being thrown off balance for the rest of the tasks.

Reflecting on your participation in the virtual assessment centre, what do you feel is the one thing  you did (either before or during the assessment centre) that helped you do your best?

Matthew: I think the one thing I did during the assessment centre that helped me do my best was to listen. Firstly, I really listened to what was being asked of me and what was required for each task. When nervous and eager to impress the assessors, it is easy to get carried away focusing on something that isn’t relevant or something that has not been asked of you. The assessors are not trying to trick you! Clearly listen and follow the instructions given and you will be fine. Secondly, listen to what other people have to say. In group exercises, everyone is desperate to contribute and provide their opinion. It is therefore easy to get into the habit of waiting to say your point without considering what other people are saying. If you genuinely listen to what others have to say, you will be able to participate more meaningfully in the conversation and may even change your perspective about what is being discussed. This will impress the assessors, who want to see that you consider others’ opinions and can work constructively in the team, whilst acknowledging that you cannot know everything.

William: Throughout the virtual Assessment Centre it is important to be confident and make the most of the short amount of time you have - you will be surprised how quickly the day will pass! In order to do so, it is useful to listen carefully to the specific skills being assessed in each task. Make sure you speak up in group tasks and put forward the salient points you want to raise but, equally, listen to others and adapt your approach if necessary. It is also helpful to make use of the allotted breaks in the schedule to get fresh air and clear your head.

Francois: I think getting advice from someone who has already been through the assessment centre process and is now on the other side, if possible, is invaluable. It helped me put the tasks I was given during the day into perspective and to tailor my preparation around the expectations of the Graduate Recruitment Team.  You can always try contacting people via LinkedIn – you have nothing to lose by asking, even if you might not get a response.

Finally, what other advice would you give to other candidates who are due to participate in a virtual assessment centre?

Diana: My number one tip is to do your research. This includes not only the Firm itself but also, when you are informed, the timetable of the day and if there is any pre-preparation needed. All this will allow you to be as calm as possible for the day ahead. Make use of the transparency of the Graduate Recruitment Team and always check with them if there is something you missed or you don’t understand. Lastly, good luck with the virtual assessment centre – I really hope it goes well! 

Matthew: Whilst a virtual assessment centre may seem like a daunting prospect, if you have reached this stage of the application process, the Graduate Recruitment Team are clearly impressed with you and believe you have the potential to succeed at the firm. You should be reassured and confident and remind yourself that you deserve to be at this point. The virtual assessment centre is a long and taxing day, which will require you to concentrate for long periods of time. Therefore, ensure you get a good night’s sleep before the day so you give yourself the best chance possible of succeeding. On the day, be punctual and polite and make sure you ask for clarification on any instructions that you are not clear about. Additionally, try your best to remain positive even if you feel like a particular task did not go as well as you had hoped. The Graduate Recruitment Team will evaluate you over the course of the whole day.

Carita: Be yourself, be confident and smile. ​​By being authentic, it will help demonstrate your interest in commercial law and the specific firm to which you are applying.

Alex: Ensuring the instructions provided for each task are clearly understood seems simple but is so important. Every instruction is provided for a reason and will indicate the focus of what is being assessed. It is also unlikely any group-oriented task will have a black-and-white answer. The majority of the tasks are designed to invoke discussion and differences in viewpoint. If you support your conclusions with reasons and take into account other points of view, you should be fine! 

William: My top tips for successfully navigating virtual assessment centres are:

  • Focus on clear communication; given the virtual format, conveying your thoughts clearly and concisely will be key
  • Keep a pen and paper handy at all times
  • Make sure to jot down instructions, note key timings and be organised
  • Relax and be yourself
  • Remember that you have been selected to get to this stage so try to enjoy the day where possible!

Francois: My advice is to be friendly to the Graduate Recruitment Team and the other candidates. In addition to evaluating your technical abilities, the Graduate Recruitment Team will also judge whether your personality is a good fit for the firm. If you are likeable throughout the assessment centre, it will definitely help the Graduate Recruitment Team make that decision!

Feeling ready to put the graudates advice into practice? Check out the live opportunities at Watson Farley & Williams here