Five ways to impress at an Investment Banking assessment centre

The Investment Banking assessment centre is your chance to impress in person and as such is the most important aspect of the entire application process. But it’s also one of the most difficult, not least because it brings you into contact with the toughest barrier to your success: your fellow candidates.

The good news is that taking your assessment centre performance from average to stand-out is just a few steps away.

1. To beat your competitors, you need to help them

Group exercises are not The Hunger Games. The most impressive candidate is not the last one left standing among the ravaged detritus, it’s the one who can add to other people’s ideas inclusively.

That word 'inclusive' should be foremost in your mind. You need to take a look at the group dynamic and specifically encourage any quieter members of the group to express their ideas or suggestions. You also need to check yourself to make sure you are talking to and communicating with everyone in the group. It is a natural human tendency to engage with the person most similar to you, be that because of their gender, background, heritage or university. The best candidates will include everyone in their decisions.

In terms of the content of your communications, you need to take other people’s ideas and build on them - this is what collaboration means. It’s human instinct to believe power resides with the person who suggested the idea, and that you will lose your power - and the assessment centre - if you back down from your idea.

I have seen many group exercises descend into chaos as two confrontational candidates lock horns over a minute detail, both refusing to concede to the other lest this be seen as deference or weakness. In actual fact, a great candidate will praise another’s idea and add their own suggestion to build an inclusive plan together.

2. Train the brain

Psychometric tests are a regular feature of assessment centres and they are used to both verify tests taken earlier in the process, and discover how assessment centre pressure will affect your performance. If you know you haven’t taken a test in a couple of weeks, make sure you include practice into your preparation. At any rate, a determined banking candidate will already be honing their verbal and numerical skills every day. If you are not spending 20 minutes of your day on this, then I really recommend it.

3. Improve your public speaking skills, by not speaking

Most assessment centres contain a presentation element and this is a fantastic time for you to shine. How you speak will be just as important as what you say. Pop onto YouTube and watch Chief Executives of the big banks giving speeches, and look to mimic their style.

They will speak slowly, with structure, and will never waffle. A good speaker knows when to shut up and stop talking, which can only be decided if they have structured their content. Just as in an essay, select three points you want to make, number and order them in your mind and in your notes and when you have used those points, bring your talk to a close.

Another top tip is to make eye contact with as many of your audience as you can, especially those who are at the extreme ends of the room. A human is instinctively more interested in what you have to say when they have eye contact with you. Next time you are in an audience and feeling bored, I can bet that you are on the edge of the audience, and the presenter isn’t looking at you.

4. Practice the job the assessment is for

As assessment centres are ultimately designed to discover whether a candidate will be able to do the job well, they often contain an element inspired by that job. Therefore, you need to practice the job that you will be doing so you are prepared for the exercise.

If you are applying for a trading role, start using fantasy trading platforms to immerse yourself into that way of thinking. If you are applying for an analyst role, give yourself 30 minutes to research an industry that the bank operates in and ask yourself whether there is a commercial opportunity there. The time pressure will make you realise which facts and information are the most imperative, so that when you come to a simulated investment exercise in an assessment centre, you already know which information to zero in on, and which to discard.

5. Be nice

Assessment centre exercises and tests have a lot of time and care taken over their structure so that experienced professionals can make the best decision for the candidate and for the bank. However, every minute you spend within 50m of the venue should be treated as an assessed part of the day. Everything you do and say will be judged.

Every year candidates miss out on internships because they were rude to reception staff, ate breakfast during the introductory speech, made ill-judged comments in a lift or left litter and rubbish in their wake. It is a stressful day, but in the working environment respect is paramount - be as nice and accommodating to everyone as you can.

For more information on the kind of activities you can expect at the assessment centre, click here.