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.

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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 (in person or virtually) 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.

Virtual assessment centres for actuarial, insurance and retail banking graduate schemes

Several employers across the retail banking, insurance and actuarial sectors are running their 2020–2021 assessment days virtually due to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. These typically take place via a digital platform such as Zoom or MS Teams. Virtual assessment centres typically last up to three hours, but Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest have specified that theirs are a full day.

Virtual assessment centres typically include similar tasks to face-to-face ones, meaning that you’ll prepare in a similar way. However, you’ll also need to consider how you can present yourself well on camera. Our article specifically about virtual assessment centres contains advice on how to make the best use of the technology available to you.

While you won’t have the chance to visit the employer’s offices as part of a virtual assessment day, recruiters will strive to give you an insight into their values and culture so you can decide whether you’d enjoy working there. For example, a Q&A session with current graduates may be scheduled as a substitute for more informal interactions over lunch.

  • Lloyds Banking Group says: ‘The day isn’t just about us assessing you - you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about Lloyds Banking Group, our values and our culture. You’ll get to meet (virtually!) the assessors who are colleagues at Lloyds Banking Group, and some of our current graduates who can tell you about their own journey and answer your questions.’
  • Lane Clark and Peacock (LCP) says: ‘The intention is that our online assessment days will still give us a chance to meet and get to know you, while giving you the opportunity to hear about our offices, locations, people, culture, how we work, and a general feel for LCP.’

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 (whether virtual or in person) include a mixture of the following:

Group exercises: These can range from discussion tasks to case studies (see below). In a virtual assessment centre, group exercises are likely to take place using breakout rooms if the online platform has this functionality. Aon has mentioned that it splits candidates into slightly smaller groups for an online group exercise than it would at an in-person assessment day, to ensure everyone has the chance to speak (as a virtual environment makes it harder to read body language, meaning interruptions are more common).

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 or problem solving) 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. 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.

Interviews with senior managers: Most employers use a member of their recruitment 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 (or video) interview with a member of senior management – and this is usually held on the assessment day.

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 previously said that if it had two vacancies and three candidates stood out it’d likely take all three.

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 when chatting to recruiters, taking part in group exercises and asking questions of any graduate employees you meet.

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.’

Article last updated 17 February 2021.

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