Training Contract Assessment Centres – the lowdown

A number of my Twitter followers have expressed their interest in preparing for sessions at training contract assessment centres (TCAC) in the hunt for a training contract.

As a paralegal focused on gaining experience and balancing work and study of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the College of Law I have not been exposed to this world of mystery where information of what goes on during these day long interviews is scarce. So I interviewed Oliver Bell who has landed a training contract at TLT Solicitors and is due to start in 2013.

What type of firms usually use a TCAC?

Most firms within the top 100 will use assessment centre and a lot within the top 200. As most graduates applying have identical grades and experience, these assessments are the only way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

How might you prepare before attending?

In depth research into the firm and a watertight answer as to why you want to go into law is essential. “A good technique for answering the competency questions (such as STAR) and plenty of examples will stand you in good stead”. Oliver also believes that law firms aren’t focused on an ‘old school’ way of thinking and it is important to research the modern commercial and legal world in the area that the candidate is hoping to practice.

Practically Oliver suggests that looking the part by dressing smart and preparing for ‘small talk’ subjects when placed in a social situation during the TCAC process, such as at lunch or in communal areas between tasks, will give candidates an ‘edge’ and importantly the opportunity to project their own personality.

What sort of questions might you expect?

Having attended several different assessment days Oliver does not believe that there are any standard questions and it depends entirely on the tasks that are set. “Typically, I found there will be around four tasks being:

1. Interview: requiring candidates to answer competency based questions of how they have shown leadership skills or overcome high pressure situations;

2. Data or ‘in-tray’ exercise: where the candidate has to prioritise information and justify decisions based on time keeping and management;

3. Drafting: such as writing a memo of common sense advice after reading a legal issue;

4. Debating and presentation: Oliver advises that this really made the difference for him as “murder mystery games were an opportunity to work as a team” and this made him stand out compared to other candidates who lacked such skills. Another example was a group presentation to sell fictional products to supermarket buyers, so examples from Dragon’s Den and the Apprentice are not too far off the skills candidates will be expected to put into practice.

Are TCACs a useful experience?

Oliver suggests that they are a good way for candidates to learn how they come across in high pressure and dynamic situations. It will be apparent to anyone who is timid or overbearing that they simply will not fit in and should learn from their experiences.

Are TCACs value for money when it comes to legal recruitment?

The cost to firms is high and will usually involve 10 members of staff for a whole or half day. However, getting a large number of candidates seen in one is probably cost saving with individual slots being saved for shortlisted candidates.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to prepare for training contract assessment centres or have a session coming up, check out Lawyer 2B, or follow me on twitter @legaltony for more information and updates on legal careers.

Anthony Lyons is a paralegal and training contract hopeful