What to expect in the selection process for commercial banking graduates

Tailored advice for commercial banking graduates: what to expect and how to prepare for the online tests, interview and assessment centre
Team GradAustralia
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The hiring process

You’ve cleared the online application hurdle and now you’re through to the ‘performance-based’ part of the recruitment process – doing tests, interviews and group exercises. This can be tough and somewhat daunting, but like anything in life the right practice and preparation can put you in a good position for success.

Ready? Let’s do it!

Part 1: The online test

Most (if not all) commercial banks will provide you with an online test either automatically after you submit your application or once you’ve passed the initial application screening. These tests can vary but a vast majority of them are often provided by an organisation called SHL. You can take their practice tests here.

Online tests are usually divided into a few sections, including a verbal reasoning test, numerical reasoning test and some form of logic test (such as recognising the next step in a pattern). Sometimes banks will also include a personality or psychommetric test which can help determine how well you might fit into the bank’s culture and work with your team.

The key to these tests really is just practice and experience. Some might find these tests easier than others, however with enough practice you’ll be smashing through these in no time. As a result, the best way to get better is just by ‘doing’. We strongly recommend you do as many of these practice tests (in the link above and with a broader Google search) until you feel comfortable. This will help you stay in control of your nerves and time management when doing the real thing.

That being said, there are a few tips on each of the tests to keep in mind:

  • Verbal reasoning: These are all about comprehension, understanding and distilling the essence of a statement or question without assuming or drawing implications. With each question, you’ll generally be given a paragraph to read. Following this, there may be a true or false question based on the information provided. Usually there is also a third option of ‘can not tell’ or ‘not enough information to determine.’ This is where it can get tricky. Some statements can imply a certain answer without explicitly stating it. If this is the case, usually you’ll say that there is not enough information to determine whether the answer is true or false. Make sure to read these paragraphs carefully and cut through to the stated meaning of each sentence. Do this and you’ll be fine!
  • Numerical reasoning: Quick maths! That’s the name of the game. Don’t stress, the maths involved in these tests is fairly basic (think primary school or early high-school). They usually involve a graph or table with a number of questions based on that data. (for example, what was the total value of product A and B produced in year 2014). You’re able to use a calculator in these tests, so the main challenge is about time management. Usually you’ll have about one minute per question (20 questions in 20 minutes) so in your practice runs you’ll want to try and shoot for those numbers. With enough practice you’ll be breezing through these no problems.
  • Logical reasoning: Ever done an IQ test? The logical reasoning tests are kind of like some of the sections of an IQ test. For most questions you’ll get a bunch of shapes in a sequence, and you’ll have to pick what comes next or what should go in the gap. Just like the other tests, the best way to get better at these is practice, practice, practice! The only tip we can give you with this is to not panic, and take a scientific approach to the pattern recognition. Start with a hypothesis for what the pattern (or sequence of logic) could be and test that amongst the potential answers (the good thing is it’s multiple choice!). If that doesn’t work, try another hypothesis. Through this trial and error and having a set of multiple choice answers, this will be a piece of cake with some practice under your belt.

Don’t forget that you’re not expected to get every single answer right in this process. So don’t stress – you can afford some lost marks and still get through the assessment. Stay cool, manage your time well and practice up!

So there you have it, that’s the online test in a nutshell. If you really get stuck on these try getting help from some friends as you practice – after all, you are great at collaborating right? With that being said, make sure you do the real test yourself and don’t try and get around the system by getting your gun friend to do it! A lot of recruitment processes include a second online test at the the assessment centre (where you can’t bring your mate along). This is to make sure that you’re the person that actually did the original online test – so you’ve been warned!

Part 2: The phone or video interview

You’re now up to the midpoint of the process, a half-step between the online application and the big assessment centre! The phone or video interview is usually reviewed by HR and the grad recruitment team. Usually what they’re testing for is how well you understand the bank and division you’re applying for, whether your experience aligns to what’s expected of the program and if you have the right attitude and ‘cultural fit’ for the organisation.

Most commercial banks now conduct this interview through an automated video process – called a ‘digital interview’. This involves a number of pre-recorded questions which you respond to in a frontward facing camera either on your computer or mobile. It’s just like a video call (think Facetime or Skype) except instead of your friend or relative on the other end, it’s a robot with specific questions. Here are must-read tips on how to nail your video interview.

So, what sort of questions can you expect in the digital or phone interview? As mentioned, the key thing banks are testing for are experience and cultural fit. Consider this the same as a normal behavioural interview.

Before we get into the classic ‘tell me about a time you’ questions, there are a few general areas that you should be prepared for:

  • Motivations: You’ve been through the online process and may have already been asked some of these questions in your written application. Nevertheless, you can always expect this question to pop up in any behavioural interview. Why do you want to go into commercial banking? Why this division specifically? Why not other banks? It’s important to clearly distill what appeals to you about your chosen bank and graduate program and be armed with this crystal clear response in behavioural interviews.
  • Experience in current and previous roles: How do your skills align to this role? Tell me about your current role? How would you summarise your previous experience? Talk about how your previous experience allows you to better meet the needs of our customers? Be ready for a whole raft of ‘experience-based’ questions and find the best way to describe and sell your skills. It’s also useful to think about how your experience aligns to the selection criteria of the bank (such as customer service, analytical thinking, stakeholder management and so on).
  • Strengths and weaknesses: A straightforward area of questioning that can be a little tricky, is describing your weaknesses. For strengths, it’s important to demonstrate some evidence for each strength rather than just stating ‘I am very analytical’ (as an example). How are you analytical and where have you shown this? Which roles? What projects?

For your weaknesses, you obviously don’t want to highlight some glaring weakness that has no path to resolving it. You want to strike a balance between showing that you’re self-aware enough to understand your shortcomings while not painting any of these as recruitment deal-breakers. You also don’t want to transparently turn a ‘weakness’ into a strength with something like ‘I am too successful.’ It’s valuable to also show what lessons you recognise from this weakness and how to manage it to perform at your best. An example of this may be recognising that your high-level of enthusiasm means you can sometimes jump too quickly into a task without taking the time to properly structure and plan it. While you may get the job done just as well, it’s important to take steps before beginning a new task to ensure you have a structured approach to it.

Now that you’ve got those introductory questions nailed, let’s move onto the typical behavioural examples you should prepare for. When you prepare your answers for these, it’s useful to consider the ‘STAR’ method of response. This is an acronym for four key steps to structure your response. It stands for:

  • Situation: Describe the situation and context you were in or the specific challenge you faced. It’s important to be specific about the event rather than a generalised description of what you have done in the past. What were the issues you were facing? What made them complicated? Who was involved? What was your specific context and role?
  • Task: Next, outline your responsibility and specific task in that situation. What was the objective for yourself specifically, and how did this relate to the broader goal of the team? Maybe you had to help your group complete a project under a tight deadline, resolve a conflict with a colleague or hit a stretch sales target.
  • Action: Talk about the actual steps and specific actions you took to address this situation. Be detailed about this and keep the focus on your specific role (not the team’s). It’s important to channel your inner selfish tendencies and show your interviewers how you specifically added value in this situation. Use the word ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ in this context to make sure it’s clear that these were your actions.
  • Result: Now highlight the outcome of your actions. Don’t be too shy about taking credit for things that you actually did. What was the end outcome and what were your achievements? Try to make sure the answer contains multiple positive results and quantify their impact where possible e.g. sales increased by 25 per cent.

Using this method is a good way to structure your answers but try to also keep this as concise as possible. Rambling does not help you get a clear message and impact across!

So, now that you’re armed with your trusty STAR method, you can expect some common areas for ‘tell me about time you...’. We’ve listed the main ones below:

  • Leadership: Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership? How did you respond to a situation that didn’t go to plan?
  • Teamwork: Tell me about a time you had to manage the dynamic of different team members? Have you ever been in a group with an unproductive person? How did you handle this situation?
  • Challenge or resilience: Tell me about a time you had to overcome a challenge? Give me an example of when you worked the hardest and felt the greatest sense of achievement?
  • Conflict resolution: We have all had to deal with a customer who has unreasonable demands – think of a time you had to manage this. What did you do? Tell me about a time you had to manage different stakeholders who weren’t seeing eye-to-eye?

If you come up with a bunch of answers to a spread of these categories you should be in a good position. What’s even better, is this preparation can be used in your assessment centre in your behavioural interview there! So while you may think you’re over prepared for a digital interview with all this content, you’ll be thanking yourself when it comes to the final stage.

Speaking of which…

Part 3: The big day – assessment centre

You’ve made it through the digital interview and have now been called in for a half-day bonanza called an assessment centre. While some may think of this as a pretty gruelling and stressful day, it’s important to keep perspective and try and have a bit of fun with it. The interviewers and assessors will know you’re nervous (they’re used to it!) so don’t think that you have to be perfect. What’s more important, is you’re now at the final stage, and what happens next is all within your control. All you have to do is be prepared, relaxed and perform on the day.

So, what can you expect in these assessment centres. They’re usually comprised of three key components on the day:

  1. Behavioural or experience-based interview
  2. (either one-on-one or with a couple of people)
  3. Group exercise
  4. Individual exercise (could be in the form of another online test or perhaps a presentation)

While these are generally what’s included, make sure to ask the graduate recruiter what you should expect in the assessment centre prior to attending. This will make sure you have a clear idea of what to prepare for.

Behavioural or experience-based interview

We’ve already covered the behavioural interview in the digital interview section (above). If you’ve already completed all this preparation then you just need a refresher for the assessment centre. All the same principles and content applies. This time you’re just face-to-face and may have more than one person chatting to you.

Group exercise

So, let’s move on to the group exercise. How do these work? Usually you’ll be put into a group of four to eight other candidates. This will be in a room with a number of assessors watching. This can be a bit off putting and weird, as there will just be a bunch of people sitting around silently watching you work with your group. However, the sooner you can get comfortable with that the better! Put those people out of your mind and focus on the task at hand.

Normally at the start of these group activities, you’ll be given some information that everyone gets some time to read. This will typically take the form of a business problem that the bank is facing. Maybe it’s a question around how to increase their customer satisfaction, respond to new technology or whether they should compete in a certain market. Whatever the question may be, there are usually a number of options that the exercise provides to you and your group – each with its pros and cons. The challenge now is for you and your group to decide which option or options are the best way to go forward.

Sounds simple enough right? The tricky part in these group exercises is knowing when to talk and when to listen. You obviously don’t want to dominate the discussion and talk over everyone else but equally you need to make sure you get your input and not be the silent person in the corner. What you’re trying to balance is how to present yourself as an assertive, logical and confident graduate while also being able to listen to others, take on feedback and guide the group to the most logical and rational outcome.

For this there are a few key do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Do:

  • Give others a chance to speak and let them finish their opinions and arguments.
  • Proactively and confidently provide your own opinions and create logical and sound arguments for each.
  • Ask others for their input and opinion if they’ve not had a chance to speak.
  • Stand by your opinion as much as is appropriate (without being inflexible) if you think it is the best way forward.
  • Try and create a framework to reach a decision. What criteria should we use and how would this best achieve the objective? Providing a platform for decision-making is always helpful to progress a discussion and not let the group get stuck or bogged down with one dominant person.
  • Actively build a consensus around the best way forward and promote everyone’s input into this process.

Don’t:

  • Talk over others and dominate the conversation to the point that no one else can speak.
  • Be arrogant, cocky or dismissive of other people’s input.
  • Be too timid or quiet throughout the discussion.
  • Get bogged down in the detail and stress about choosing the right option too much.
  • Every group exercise is different but if you stick to these general principles and find some practice examples to think-through you’ll be fine!

Individual exercise

This will usually either be another online test to verify that you were you when you did the original test, or an exercise similar to the group activity (but just for yourself to complete). If it’s the online test – cool beans. You’ve done this before and should breeze through this no problems. Do some practice tests before the assessment centre if this is the case.

If it’s an individual activity, then you can usually expect another problem like the group exercise. You’ll be given a bunch of information to read through. This usually frames a question or problem to solve. In the time given to you, you’ll need to read through this information and prepare a response or presentation for your recommendations.

Once again, we have some do’s and don’ts to help guide this process.

Do:

  • Plan your time management for how long you’re going to read versus how long you’re going to create the presentation. Keep an eye on your watch and stick to this plan, as there’s nothing worse than getting the end of the time limit with only a half-finished response!
  • Stay calm and filter through the key information versus the unnecessary stuff. You want to distill the key questions and problems you need to address and make sure you have a plan to answer these.
  • Structure the sections of your response and argument before diving into the detail. Spending some extra time on a clear plan goes a long way. Make sure to factor this into your time management.

Don’t:

  • Spend too long reading and getting bogged down in the detail. Often these exercises have a heap of unnecessary information intentionally to trip you up. Stick to your time limit and get to the meat quickly.
  • Write your response on the fly or make too many assumptions in your argument. You want to base your response on the facts and information in the material provided. This doesn’t mean you can be creative in your solutions, provided your solutions are based on the right evidence.
  • Rush through your presentation when you finally give it. You often have more time than you think, and it’s important to come across as measured and persuasive in this final stage.
  • So there you have it! That’s the assessment centre in a nutshell. It’s not that bad is it? If you prepare for all these components and practice it all up, you should be in a great position to secure that precious job offer. Hurrah!

Next steps

So that’s commercial banking in a nutshell!

Hopefully this eleven part series has helped clear-up what a career path in banking could look like, whether this is right for you and how to get into it. If you’ve decided this is for you, then full steam ahead!

Most commercial banks open for graduate recruitment in February (closing towards the end of March) with careers fairs beginning in early March. For the banks, there isn’t necessarily any major advantage in applying early. However, they do review these applications as they come in, so the earlier you can get in the better! Click here to apply for graduate jobs and internships.

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