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What to expect at an investment banking assessment centre

Good luck getting a graduate job in an investment bank. Competition remains fierce, with a typical applicant success rate of between 1 and 2% for internships and graduate roles. 

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However, if you demonstrate early potential in the AI powered CV sift and score exceptionally highly in the online tests and interview, you may be invited to an assessment centre. If this happens, be confident in the fact that you are in a small minority; most students are rejected much earlier in the application process. 

When you arrive at the assessment centre, you'll usually be told that you're not in competition with the other candidates and that there are places for everyone. Irrespective of the truth of this statement, you need to take it on board. Succeeding at assessment centres means working collaboratively and professionally while also attempting to stand out at every opportunity.

Assessment centres in banks are divided into segments: 

  • interviews

  • case study exercises

  • group tasks

  • presentations

 At each stage, you will be tested on your capabilities relating to the role, so it is crucial to prepare thoroughly and be familiar with the purpose and impact of the position, team, and division you are hoping to join. 

You may also experience ‘unassessed’ opportunities to interact with current staff between the assessments, so prepare to ask meaningful questions and be memorable for the right reasons. 🔥 

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Case studies in banking assessment centres 

The case study exercise assesses your analytical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. It's used both in group tasks and individual assessments. 

For banking roles it is typically based around the launch of a new product, investment strategy or is based around trading decisions. You will read information on a company or client project, then create a solution or strategy to resolve the challenge and devise a way to maximize positive outcomes and ongoing success. 

Digest the information. Think broadly about the desired outcomes, both short and long term. Remember, the assessors will be scrutinizing you based on the characteristics and attributes that are key to the role you're applying for. Be conscious of this throughout. 

If this is completed as an individual exercise, consider at least three potential solutions and the pros and cons of each. You should carefully assess their relative merits in as much detail as time allows. How impactful are the pros, and how harmful is each con? This approach will allow you to propose a strong solution, based on the information provided, but also to justify your idea. 

Group tasks in banking assessment centres 

The group task presents challenges and opportunities that allow you to shine as a potential future banking professional. 

The theme could be a case study type exercise requiring specific solutions to role related challenges or a prioritising task where you need to agree on the order of importance of various actions to improve efficiencies or deliver a particular outcome for a client. 

Success here is about contributing but not dominating, inviting and giving feedback on ideas and being prepared to lead and steer the conversation when necessary. It is crucial that you contribute meaningfully, both with constructive ideas of your own and in response to input from other group members. Don’t be that person who makes a lot of noise but doesn’t really say anything. Be open to constructive criticism and ask for details and developmental suggestions. Compromising to allow your idea to improve is a strength, not a weakness. Do not be passive and sit back or assume that being the timekeeper is sufficient. Your soft skills will be scrutinized throughout.

Presentations in banking assessment centres 

Presentations may nor may not be related to the case study exercise. They may be prepared in advance or at short notice on the day depending on the employer’s preferred approach. The expected length and complexity will therefore vary, but the aim is always the same:  to assess your ability to be flexible and remain calm under pressure. 

To deliver a successful presentation think carefully about the attributes and characteristics necessary for success in the role. This is your opportunity to confidently articulate your ideas and justify your proposal. Future bankers are confident in their delivery and able to articulate complex ideas and reasoning in a convincing and logical way. Highlight what the key elements will be, share these in appropriate detail, then conclude with a reminder of what you said. 

You will almost certainly be challenged, as you would in the job by demanding clients or colleagues. Calmly explain your reasoning providing more detail if necessary. Show you are open to alternative suggestions but don’t be afraid to question them. Assessors are looking for a fine balance of confidence in your own abilities and a willingness to take constructive criticism in order to learn and develop. 

Common mistakes include not using the time allowance and focussing excessively on less important content. Practice your technique before the day and scrutinise your performance so you can eliminate ‘erms’ and ‘ahhs’ and introduce occasional tactical pauses

You will be completing all these tasks under time pressure as part of a busy and demanding day, but if you have been invited to an assessment centre the employer has recognised your potential as a future star employee so be confident! 

Peter Fox is a freelance writer and careers adviser based in Durham University in the north of England.

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