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Graduate ssessment days for retail banking, insurance, actuarial and regulation.

Succeed at graduate assessment days for retail banking, insurance and actuary jobs

Many financial services recruiters use assessment centres to select the best graduates. Here’s what happens and what you can do to impress assessors and senior management on the day.

You need to answer the assessors’ unspoken question: will you embarrass us if we put you in front of clients?

The vast majority of large retail banks and insurance and actuarial employers hold assessment centres as part of their recruitment process. The assessment centre is usually the final stage and brings together the most promising candidates to undergo a number of tasks and exercises individually and in groups. To learn more about specific employers’ assessment centres, read the ‘how to get hired’ articles on their employer hubs.

How will Covid-19 affect graduate assessment centres?

In this article we talk about assessment centres as if they are going ahead in a face-to-face environment. As of October 2020, social distancing restrictions mean that employers may run assessment days online instead. However, much of our advice will be equally applicable. We also have a new article specifically about virtual assessment centres.

Every employer is different, so check graduate careers sites carefully for any details about what will be involved and contact recruiters if you would like more information about what to expect.

  • Lloyds Banking Group says: ‘We are currently reviewing our assessment days given the current pandemic, as the safety of our candidates and our colleagues is paramount. At the same time, we want you to have the best experience through your application process so we will share further information in due course.’
  • Aon says: ‘Given the current climate, we are planning for all assessment centres to be held virtually. The structure and format will be very similar that of an in-person day.’
  • NatWest Group says: ‘The assessment centre will run virtually using digital platforms such as Zoom. The tasks have been designed to explore how you work on your own and collaboratively with others.’
  • American Express says: ‘[You will] participate in a virtual assessment centre that includes competency based interviews, case studies and group discussions to showcase your communication, analytical and team interaction skills.’
  • Aviva says: ‘Our first stage interview is a video, and your assessment centre may be virtual too.’
  • Nationwide says: ‘For our 2021 campaign all our assessments will be completed virtually, you will not be asked to travel and attend assessment centres in person.’
  • Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP) says: ‘As a result of the ongoing Covid pandemic, we are expected to move to online assessment days, until such time as it is safe to reopen our offices. The intention is that our online assessment days will still give us a chance to meet and get to know you, whilst giving you the opportunity to hear about our offices, locations, people, culture, how we work and a general feel for LCP.’

Answering the assessors’ unspoken question: will you embarrass us if we put you in front of clients?

All retail banking, insurance and actuarial jobs involve a lot of contact with clients and customers. Assessors need to be sure that you can act professionally and create a good impression of the organisation. You can reassure them of this by being polite and appropriate in the informal lunch and coffee breaks and when asking questions of the graduate employees they bring to meet you.

What tests and exercises can I expect at assessment days for retail banks and insurance companies?

You can expect a mixture of tasks that will vary each year and, often, according to the specific programme you’re applying for. Most assessment centres include a mixture of the following:

Group exercises: These can range from discussion tasks to case studies (see below). For example, a previous task that Aon is said to have set for applicants involved being stranded on a desert island and having to prioritise a list of ten items. In 2018, Nationwide Building Society introduced an ‘escape room’ format to its group exercise, in which the logical challenges that candidates solve together help them find the padlock combinations to five boxes, which in turn help them discover the key to escape from the room.

Whatever task you’re given, the golden rule is not to be a loud-mouthed bully, shouting down the ideas of others, but not to sit silently in the corner either. If you’re worried that something you were going to say has already been said, say that you agree and build on the idea with something else. Volunteering to be note-taker or in charge of keeping people to time will impress.

Case study (or role play) exercises – either individually or in a groupThis is where you are given an exercise that simulates the sort of decisions you would be making as an employee. In an insurance or retail banking case study, you might be asked to analyse potential financial products (eg saving accounts, insurance policies) and decide which one you would recommend be brought to market (ie be put on sale to customers).

Presentations – on your own or in groups: You are usually asked to present your case study findings jointly in your teams to assessors and your fellow candidates. However, you might be asked to do an individual presentation on a given topic: for example, in the past, Aviva has given candidates an hour to prepare a presentation on an insurance company that has just been valued. Alternatively, you might be asked to prepare a presentation in advance – on a topic of your choosing or a given one, such as your thoughts on something that’s happened in the industry.

When preparing for your presentations remember that the assessors won’t be looking for highly technical analysis or knowledge. They will instead focus on how you think and how you come across during the presentation.

Aptitude tests – numerical, logical thinking and written: You might be expected to do a round of tests, even if you have previously done them as part of your initial application. This is to get a true estimation of your capabilities – there is no option of having someone else to help you with the questions!

The Aviva assessment centre has previously made use of ‘fast-track exercises’ where candidates are required to spot trends in a series of questions.

Interviews with senior managers: Most employers use a member of their HR team to conduct a telephone interview earlier in the application process, but it is standard for you to sit at least one face-to-face interview with a member of senior management – and this is usually held on the assessment day.

Virtual reality exercises: a small number of graduate employers, including Lloyds Banking Group, have started to include these as part of their assessment centres. Lloyds Banking Group deliberately doesn't give much away about its assessment centre as it doesn't want you to over-prepare, but this exercise is described on its graduate careers site as ‘an exercise in virtual reality where you will enter an immersive environment and be asked to complete an exercise within this’.

How are you assessed at assessment days?

Assessors (usually graduate recruiters and senior managers in the business) will score your performance against a list of set competencies – you can get a good idea about what these are by looking at the skills and competencies they tell you they seek.

Note: they do not directly assess you against other candidates. In fact, Nationwide Building Society has said that if it had two vacancies and three candidates stood out it’d likely take all three.

Remember: the insurance and retail banking assessors are on your side

Does all of this sound scary? Don’t worry – assessors want you to do well and will do their best to put you at ease. As one finance recruiter told us anonymously: ‘Nobody wants them to fail! We have invested so much money in the recruitment process leading up to the assessment centre; we genuinely want them to do well and be the right people for us to recruit.’

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