Top tips for interviews and assessment days

Wednesday 19 May 2021
You’re being judged every moment in an interview – here’s how to nail those moments and stand out from the crowd
Young woman in a group interview

You’re probably here because you’ve got your CV right, managed to use the right keywords and showcase your experience, and have landed an interview or assessment day. Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, we’ve got some great advice for you.

Our team at CMI hosted a webinar with three people who have years of experience in recruiting, including a top lawyer who has read countless CVs and held many assessment days.

Research the company – and the interviewers

“I’ve been doing assessment days for years,” says Nicola McNeely, partner at law firm Harrison Clark Rickerbys. “They are really intensive and they involve different stages – written exercises, group exercises, presentations, interviews, the whole shebang.”

She says that if a candidate wants to stand out, they need to prepare. You need to show that you’ve done research on the organisation and know who the assessors are. Spend some time looking at the company website, and get the names of your assessors from the email invitation to look them up on LinkedIn. They may also have profiles on the company website, which will detail more of their skills and experiences; if you can pick one that aligns with your own, you’ll have a great segue when speaking with them. Use the information, but try and litter it into conversation – you don’t want to sound like you’re robotically repeating the information word-for-word!

For Nicola, this research is crucial as it shows who does their due diligence and pays special attention to detail. “The worst scenario is somebody picking a topic for their presentation that is my specialist area of law... and they don’t know it’s my specialist area.”

Her advice is to over-prepare. “Find out everything you possibly can about them, what makes them tick, and what they’re good at.” This will help you to come across with an air of confidence, and using this information during your conversations will help you to come across as assured and knowledgeable.

Ask questions and be engaged

“I want someone that’s paid enough attention and given proper credence to the fact that we are spending our time trying to hire them,” says Nicola. “Ask the right questions – don’t be afraid to ask who’s interviewing you.”

The more you speak, the more memorable you are as a candidate – especially in an assessment environment where there may be a number of you at any time. But make sure you’re not speaking just for the sake of it; try and add thoughtful, relevant comments. This is also an opportunity to engage with the other candidates, show that you work well in a team, and that you can interact confidently with other people. It’s important to remember that all of your actions will be seen (and possibly judged) by the assessors, including informal moments where you’re taking a break or waiting for the next activity to start. By talking to other candidates, you get more opportunity to show your personality and attitude than if you were sitting silently.


Most assessment centres will be looking for:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Teamwork
  • Negotiation skills
  • Cultural fit
  • Problem-solving and resourcefulness
  • Customer focus
  • Role-specific technical skills
  • Leadership and influence

The same goes for interviews!

The environment is different in an interview, where you’ll have to make sure you’re connected with the interviewers directly. Use of eye contact, knowledge about the company, and confidence in your answers and skills are absolutely necessary when going into an interview. Now that many companies are hosting interviews online, this can be more challenging.

The interview starts as soon as the interviewer greets you, so make eye contact, smile and shake hands or offer whichever greeting is culturally most appropriate. During Covid-19 socially distanced interviews, it’s best to offer a friendly wave or even your elbow. Do also be courteous and wear a mask before you enter the building and throughout the interview, and take hand sanitiser with you. Be friendly and chat confidently while you walk to the room together or while waiting for the other interviewer to join the call. Don't fold your arms, slouch, or lounge, tap your feet, or drum your fingers.

Whether you’re going for an interview online or in person, you need to practise. Our rehearsal tool, Interview360, includes a comprehensive library of the most commonly asked interview questions along with key points to help you answer every one of them.

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