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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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 in the organisation hubs .

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

Many employers across the retail banking, insurance and actuarial sectors now run their assessment days virtually. 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 , NatWest Group and Santander have specified that theirs are a full day.

Virtual assessment centres typically include similar tasks to face-to-face ones, meaning that you’ll need to 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, assessment tasks are likely to replicate real-life situations encountered in graduate roles, and you may be able to meet current graduates virtually.

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.’

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

Most assessment centres 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. You may find that groups are smaller than you might have expected or that activities take longer. While we’re all more familiar with online platforms than we used to be, the same challenges – such as interruptions, technical problems and difficulties in reading body language – remain. Smaller groups and/or longer activities help recruiters combat these challenges and give you more opportunities to shine.

Whatever task you’re given, the golden rule is not to dominate the room – but not to sit silently in the corner either. If you don’t feel confident leading the discussion, volunteer to be note-taker or offer to take charge of keeping people to time. This will demonstrate that you can identify solutions and work collaboratively.

Case study (or role play or problem solving) exercises – either individually or in a group: This 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).

For individual activities, you may be sent a case study in advance so you can prepare an answer. In group activities, the aim is to demonstrate how you work with others to reach solutions, so you’re less likely to see the case study in advance.

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. Alternatively, you might be asked to do an individual presentation – 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.

Game-based assessments (GBAs): Some recruiters have introduced game-like online activities to assess candidates’ skills and personal qualities. You don’t need to be a gaming or IT expert to do well in these kinds of assessments – they’re designed for applicants from all backgrounds and simply make use of gaming technology to make the application process more engaging.

GBAs tend to present different scenarios and track your responses to them. The scenarios may not be related to the organisation or even its industry, and recruiters won’t be looking for knowledge of these via GBAs. Instead, they will be assessing more personal qualities such as your ability to retain information, how well you work with others and your attitude to risk.

Interviews: Most employers use a member of their recruitment team to conduct a telephone or video interview earlier in the application process, but you may also be asked to provide video answers to a series of questions at an assessment centre. This is likely to be followed up with an individual interview at a later stage. Alternatively, you may have an interview with a member of senior management 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 checking what employers say they’re looking for, which will be outlined in the application process. Remember: recruiters don’t directly assess you against other candidates.

Answering the assessors’ unspoken question: how would you handle our 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 professional at all times, including during the application process.

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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