Everything You Need to Know About Interview Performance Tests

In the modern era of the legal industry, the written skills test (often referred to as a performance test) has ingrained itself as a staple of legal recruitment, offering firms another opportunity to make sure candidates have the certain types of knowledge required to succeed at their firm.

There are many reasons for the increase in popularity of these tests being assigned during the recruitment process, none more obvious than the fact that excellent written and oral communication skills often indicate some level of competence when it comes to managing clients. Additionally, studies show that take-home assessments can help evaluate candidates’ skills and forecast job success better than just interviews alone.

Unfortunately, there is no specific test or standard that all firms choose to follow when it comes to the recruitment process, which can lead young associates to stress even more for these already stressful processes as they are thrust on the backfoot from an ambush of writing assignments.

While not uniform, there are ways to prepare for your interview and these tests so that you can ensure that you are ready for anything firms throw at you and that you can stand out amongst the crowd.

What You Should Expect to See

As previously mentioned, there is no standard for how firms choose to evaluate candidates. As such, written tests may come in a variety of forms, the most common being through take-home assignments, asking for previous writing samples, and in-person writing exams.

Take-home assignments are the most popular form of writing assignments given, as they strike a good balance between actually testing candidates and gauging their ability to work with a deadline without being overly burdensome. Additionally, this type of assignment has seen an increase in popularity since it helps to reduce the amount of bias in the hiring process, forcing managers to focus solely on work product and merit rather than appearances.

Some firms choose to ask for previous writing samples, which is a great way to put your best foot forward in the interview process, as you can select a piece that showcases your skills and subject knowledge. As such, it is highly advised that you polish anything you send over or bring to your interview. Additionally, it may be a good idea to review the subject material of what you send over, as many applicants may get so caught up in making sure they provide a well-written sample that they forget they actually need to discuss what they write about in detail as well, showcasing both their written and oral communication skills.

Lastly, some firms may choose to assign some sort of brief written examination in person during the interview process. While this style of examination has seen less favor with the advancement of technology and decentralization of the recruitment process, these tests can often intimidate new recruits and test how adaptable they are or how quickly they can pick up on new topics.

Tips for Handling Written Skills Tests

Now that you know briefly what to expect, how can you best prepare for them so you can ace this alternative portion of the interview process? Below are a few of the most common tips we give young associates and hopeful lawyers looking to score their dream jobs.

Good Writing Comes through Revisions

This is drilled into many young lawyers’ heads during law school: good writing only comes through review. It may certainly be tempting to try and shove out any piece of writing you may already have or churn out in a quick timeframe to alleviate some of the stress that comes with the recruitment process. However, as previously mentioned, these exams are the only benchmarks firms have to physically assess your written skills prior to hiring you. If your sample features multiple—or, in some cases, any—errors, managers might be given the impression that you either do not have the requisite skills to create brilliant writing or simply do not want to put in the effort to double-check your work.

With an array of different spell and grammar checks offered online or through applications such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs, even those that can’t differentiate between an adjective and an adverb can make sure that they comb out any egregious errors from their samples before submitting anything.

Another tip for reviewing your writing is to try reading your sample aloud. Oftentimes, when looking at a screen, words might blend together, or your brain might automatically fill in any gaps or errors that someone with fresh eyes would catch. By reading things aloud line by line, you can make sure that you don’t have any small errors and that everything reads as well as it sounds. Additionally, this can give you some much-needed speaking practice, as you’d be surprised how taxing it can be to read something aloud at a proper pace, clearly annunciated.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

Each firm chooses to approach their recruiting process differently, which can lead to confusion and stress for those applying, especially since oftentimes it’s not just one firm’s interview they are juggling but multiple. As such, things like deadlines, requirements, and even the assignment itself might be hard to keep track of. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications, as different firms might be looking for different things.

Trust Yourself

At the end of the day, these tests are given for a combination of the following three reasons: to gauge that you have the requisite knowledge to succeed in the given role, that you can manage working and turning in product on a given deadline, and/or that you can adapt to or pick up on new concepts quickly.

While, not doing well on a writing test might signal a manager not to hire you, it may also be a sign that the job isn’t the right fit. You don’t want to be in a position where you will struggle, and it might work out better that you find out in the interview stage rather than a few weeks into the job. Ultimately, the test did what it was designed to, and both parties can continue their search for the right match.

So even if you think you “blew it” when taking any sort of performance test, don’t let that dwell on your mind too long or dissuade you from continuing your job search.


Valiant Search is an executive search firm headquartered in Albany, New York that recruits and places attorneys and legal support for law firms and legal departments. We can be reached at (518) 732-7848 or info@valiantsearch.com. For more information on Valiant Search, please visit www.valiantsearch.com.  


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