What to expect at your investment banking assessment centre

Stop right there! Take a deep breath, read this guide and you'll be all set for your graduate investment banking assessment centre.
Team GradAustralia
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Assessment centres are all about testing how you might fit in the bank, both in terms of your existing skill set, but also your compatibility with the culture of the organisation. The two biggies to prepare for when getting psyched for an assessment centre: case studies and group work (which can sometimes even come together!)

Case studies

A case study as part of an assessment centre isn’t completely about testing to see whether you can get the right answer, your interviewers also want to get an understand of how you try and solve problems.

In rarer cases, you might be sent a case study for you to complete at home over a few days or up to a week, before presenting your findings in person.

More commonly will be doing a case study within an hour or two as part of an assessment centre. With such a time frame, you usually won’t be expected to do full financial modelling, instead, you should make sure you focus on actually reaching a concrete recommendation and being prepared to discuss how you reached that conclusion. Interviewers are not only testing your financial acumen but your logic and reasoning skills and ability to present and communicate effectively.

What could a question look like?

Some common question types for an investment banking assessment centre might be:

  • Company X wants to acquire one of these 3 companies. Which one should they acquire, and why?
  • Company Y needs to raise capital – should they raise debt or equity, and what’s the best way to do it?
  • Company Z wants to expand – should they acquire another company, merge, or continue to grow organically?

As you can see, there isn’t only one right answer. But you do need to confidently argue for a particular answer, rather than talking through all the options.

Presenting your case study

Nailing the presentation of your findings is just as important, if not more so, than the work you’ll do crunching numbers and interpreting data. As we know, communication skills are crucial to your success as an investment banker. Presenting your case study is a key opportunity to show off that you have the confidence to present to groups and can articulately and clearly explain how you’ve arrived at a conclusion.

At the end of the day, smashing your case study is all about practice. But don’t just practice working through the findings, make sure you sit some friends down and have a go at presenting to them and answering their curly questions!

Group exercise

Just like a group assignment at uni, group exercises make rational sense but seem damn scary! The first thing to get your head around is what the assessors are actually looking for, which is to get a sense of your personality and how you’ll fit with their existing teams and culture. Be careful not to dismiss this part of the process, group exercises are a really crucial precisely because teamwork is at the heart of a successful investment bank.

Group exercises could play out in a few ways, but the most common is that you’ll be thrown a scenario to work through (like a puzzle) or a more traditional case study.

Do’s and don’ts

Do:

  • Speak up: You want to show the assessors that you can verbally communicate clearly and have the confidence to contribute
  • Demonstrate leadership skills: There are lots of ways you can do this, whether it be taking on a timekeeper role, proposing a way to solve the problem or offering to scribe.
  • Include others in the group: A great way to demonstrate your skills in leadership and facilitation alongside your capacity for empathy is to draw on people in the group that might not have yet had the chance to contribute. Make sure you do this supportively, by using their name and asking whether they had any extra thoughts they wanted to contribute or if they’re comfortable with the strategy before moving forward.
  • Stay focused on the big picture: It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds during a group exercise and forget what the assessors are actually looking for you to do. Highlight the objective or write it down as a group, and then show some solid leadership by making sure your group stays on course to meet that goal.

Don’t:

  • Be aggressive or dominating: Showing leadership skills doesn’t mean dominating the conversation or shutting others down harshly. Strive to be assertive, never aggressive.
  • Be a Negative Nelly: If the group is feeling overwhelmed by the task or stressed about time pressure, show off your resilience and positive energy by keeping the group upbeat and resisting the temptation to have a whinge.
  • Interrupt others: This is basic life skill 101, but when you’re feeling rushed for time and wanting to show off how brilliant you are, there can be the temptation to cut others off to make sure people hear your killer idea. Take a deep breath and be patient, even if your insight is worthwhile, you’ll lose points in the minds of assessors for being impolite to your teammates.

Here is our biggest tip: don’t just show off these skills during the ‘group exercise’ section of the day. Assessors will be watching how you interact with your potential future colleagues throughout the whole day, including during break times. So pack your personality and show off your strengths.

And don’t forget to keep in mind…

Assessment centres are also a really important opportunity for you to test out whether the bank you’re applying for is the right fit for you. As much as you can, treat the day like a normal workday. Did you like the physical environment, feel passionate and curious about the work you were doing, connect with the culture and staff? Assessment centres aren’t just about you impressing the investment bank, but about them impressing you too!

If you aren’t successful after the assessment centre phase, reach out to the bank to see if they can provide you with any specific feedback or advice for next time. If you treat the assessment centre as an opportunity for learning, it’s bound to be worthwhile.

Up next, check out the types of interview questions you might face as an investment banking graduate.