Graduate assessment centres at investment banks
Thorough preparation will give you confidence at banking assessment centres.
Assessment centres for graduate jobs in investment banking, fund management or asset management typically last a full day. In this time, you’re likely to undertake a variety of activities that allow you to demonstrate the skills and values needed in the role. You could encounter group exercises, presentations, aptitude and psychometric tests and social activities. You may also get a virtual tour.
Virtual assessment centres in banking and investment
Many recruiters moved their assessment centres online due to the pandemic and now use digital platforms to host them. The activities involved are likely to be similar to those you’d experience face to face, although technology will play a central role throughout the day. Specialist assessment platforms became more common during the pandemic, so your assessment centre may not be held in a tool you’re familiar with, such as MS Teams or Zoom. During the day there will be time to test your device and any tools and links being used, and you’ll have breaks from your screen too.
Even if you feel comfortable using online platforms for lectures and tutorials, it’s important to be as professional at a virtual assessment centre as you would be in person. Practise with the device and internet setup you plan to use and get feedback on how you come across on camera. Our article about virtual assessment centres addresses some practical concerns specific to virtual assessment days.
What are graduate recruiters looking for at an assessment centre?
Whether the assessment centre is face to face or virtual, assessors want to see:
- your enthusiasm and drive to work for this specific employer and this role.
- your research on the company and the job.
- that you have the required competencies, eg organisation and communication skills.
- personal qualities, such as sound judgement, integrity and the ability to work with others.
Every test, exercise and interview will match you against selection criteria outlined or implied in the recruitment literature, so make sure you are familiar with what firms are looking for.
Group exercises on investment banking assessment days
Group exercises include discussion groups, exercises that involve role-playing a specific brief, leadership tasks, and, most commonly, job-related scenarios that test your ability to operate in a task that approximates the area you have applied for. At a virtual assessment centre, this activity could involve breakout rooms. Assessors may move around these rooms to observe what different groups are saying and doing, so it’s important to stay focused at all times.
Whether you’re online or face to face, remember that your actions and words must help the group to complete the task and demonstrate your skills and personal qualities. Be considerate of others’ views and offer to do a role involving responsibility such as time keeping or taking notes.
At some assessment centres you’ll be asked to give a presentation. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:
- Make sure your presentation has a clear structure. This will help your audience follow and you to keep your place.
- It’s fine to use notes. Use whatever form you feel comfortable with (if you are presenting virtually, you could stick these notes to your laptop screen). Aim not to rely on a full script as this can hold you back from conveying your personality.
- Don’t attempt to fit in too much information or your audience will switch off. For example, if your presentation time is five minutes, aim to present four big ideas or messages.
- Much of the message of your talk will be transmitted non-verbally, so your body language and the tone of your voice can make a huge difference to your presentation. If you’re presenting online and it’s not clear whether you should have your camera on, ask for guidance.
- Practise your presentation in an environment that’s similar to the one you’ll be assessed in. For example, you could use the digital platform the recruiter will be using. This will give you a sense of what the real experience will feel like and what you’ll need to do to feel confident.
- If you’re presenting online, you’re likely to be invited to use slides or images to support your words. Keep these simple so that they reinforce your points rather than distract your audience.
Passing psychometric tests
Banking recruiters use a range of tests to explore different aspects of your skills and personality. You may complete them before the assessment day or during it, but either way, make sure you know what kind of test to expect and take time to practise so you’re not distracted by nerves.
General ability tests assess your intelligence. Expect to be asked to use complex information, in the form of words, numbers and diagrams, to solve problems using logical or lateral thinking.
Tests designed to examine specific abilities are also common. These are most likely to be numerical or verbal reasoning tests, which will be specific to the job you have applied for.
Personality tests help to give them a better picture of the kind of person you are. They are not in-depth analyses of your innermost thoughts and there are no right or wrong answers. To be successful, honesty is the best policy.
Critical thinking tests (also known as situational judgement tests) focus on how you tend to respond to different situations. You’re likely to be presented with a scenario and asked to choose from a range of possible next steps, or to rate a selection of possible solutions.
Game-based assessments are an emerging trend in graduate recruitment. Despite their name, they’re not aimed solely at IT roles; instead, they’re used by recruiters – including investment banks such as NatWest Group – to explore candidates’ skills and problem-solving abilities in a less formal way. You’ll take part in a series of online activities that will measure aspects of your skills based on how you respond to the different scenarios you encounter.
As with other kinds of kinds of assessment testing, you’ll be more confident if you’re prepared – not by taking up gaming but by seeking out mock assessments and asking for guidance if you’re unclear what to expect.
It’s easier said than done, but aim to be yourself and try to relax – this will make the whole experience much more enjoyable. As an added bonus, you’ll have a much better chance of making a good impression.
‘Candidates shouldn’t be too distracted by nerves,’ one recruiter told us. ‘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.’
Preparation will reduce your nerves and help you focus on being your true self. Take every opportunity to practise for the assessment via mock tests, interviews and presentations, and test your technology to make sure it won’t let you down on the day. Save any passwords, links or phone numbers you’ll need for the assessment day in an easy-to-find location on your device, and check them in advance.