How to Navigate the EMEA Recruitment Maze and Land Investment Banking Offers in Europe and Beyond – Part 1

62 Comments | Investment Banking - Assessment Centers & Competency Questions

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EMEA Investment Banking RecruitingYou don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

-Zig Ziglar

I was in my junior year at university when I started thinking about jobs after graduation – and suddenly realized that I didn’t know much about the recruiting process or how to actually win the attention of banks.

And the more people I talked to, the more I realized how much the recruiting process in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) differed from other regions.

The main difference is that it’s much more of a numbers game than what you see in other regions – so many people from all over the world apply that you need to set yourself apart (preferably without using illegal insider information).

To do that, you’ll have to master the application itself, the ability tests, the interviews, and the assessment centers.

Recruiting, Applications and Timing

First, note that most banks in London start their recruiting in August – which means you need to be on top of things from early on. All the banks have slightly different deadlines as well, so you should look up the dates in advance and track everything in a spreadsheet.

The biggest difference between the US and Europe is that everyone can apply to graduate programs offered by bulge bracket banks, regardless of where they attended university or business school.

Technically you can do this in the US as well, but let’s face it: if you apply through a bank’s website, you go to a no-name school, and you haven’t networked much, you might as well be submitting your application into a black hole.

You do still have an advantage if you’re from a top school, but you won’t be competing against only that smaller pool of applicants from well-known universities – so you need to make sure your application is perfect when applying, or you might be rejected for a punctuation or spelling error.

Application Perfection?

Most applications start by asking for your basic information and contact details. Always use a professional-looking email address – firstname.surname@email.com – rather than something like greenpanda1768@email.com.

This sounds silly, but in Europe they often reject you for completely nonsensical reasons that have nothing to do with your abilities.

After filling out your contact information, you need to choose the role that you’re applying for – select just one role here.

It’s better to focus on one role like this rather than applying to IB, S&T, ECM, DCM, and so on because doing so makes you look unfocused and unsure of what you want to do.

Most financial institutions only allow you to submit only one application form per recruiting season, so you need to get this right – you can’t just press Ctrl + Z and undo your application once you’ve submitted it.

Next, you need to provide information about your secondary school and university and give a detailed breakout of courses and grades. Unlike the US, they actually care about your academic performance before university, how you performed on your A-Levels, and so on.

There’s not too much to say here, but make sure you also include significant projects, dissertations, or case studies that could help your cause. If you’ve done something finance or business-related in a class, make sure you include that and write about what you did in-depth since every little detail will help you.

After the education section comes the one about your work experience, which is somewhat repetitive since you list everything here on your CV anyway.

You can get away with copying and pasting what’s on your CV into this section, but you should focus on how your previous experience gave you the qualities that the bank is looking for.

Recently, many banks have started asking you to list your responsibilities, the skills you developed, and what you learned on the job.

So think about what bankers want to see – burning the midnight oil, interest in finance, leadership, attention to detail, and so on – and spin your previous experience into sounding relevant.

The last section after this asks you for miscellaneous information such as software you’re familiar with, computer skills, and foreign languages.

In Europe your foreign language abilities are extremely important and if you know multiple languages you have a much better chance of breaking in; it’s not a requirement necessarily, but you need another way to stand out if you only know English.

Competency-Based Questions

Up until now, you’ve pretty much just restated your CV and entered a lot of repetitive information.

The real fun begins when you enter your responses to the competency-based questions, which are similar to “fit” questions in interviews but are in written form instead.

You’ll get between 3 to 5 questions (occasionally more than that) per application, and you’re limited to 90 to 250 words per answer. That makes it significantly more difficult because you must be concise and convey a lot of meaning without many words.

The two main categories of questions are industry-based and story-based:

Examples of industry-based questions:

Examples of story-based questions:

  • Give an example of when you had a tight deadline and had to complete a project with limited time and resources.
  • Give an example of when you were working in a team and the project did not go well – what went wrong, and why?
  • What is the leadership experience you are most proud of? What did you learn from this experience, and how does it set you apart from others?

Always draft your answers using Word because it’s extremely easy to make spelling and grammatical mistakes if you fill out the form online – and even a single misspelled word might result in your application getting rejected.

To answer these questions, use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format:

  • Situation: We were working on a group project in a team of 4 and one team member had a family emergency and could no longer contribute anything.
  • Task: We had to finish everything on-time with limited resources and one fewer team member.
  • Action: I rearranged our project to focus on the most important parts, decide to omit a few sections, and re-assigned team members to work on the most critical parts.
  • Result: We finished 90% of our original goal despite losing one team member, and were ranked 2nd out of 25 groups in the class.

Once you get through the fun of these competency questions, you may also have to upload your CV / resume and/or cover letter. These have already been covered to death on M&I so I’m not going to repeat anything here – see all the templates and tutorials and follow the tips within.

You may be able to get away with slightly wordier cover letters in EMEA, but you should still resist the temptation to go on and on for pages because they’ll stop reading after page 1.

As a final step before you submit your application, copy and paste the entire form into Word and use that to check for typos and other grammatical errors – you may even want to let it sit for a day and then print it out and go through everything again.

That may sound ridiculous, but a single misplaced comma or period may cost you a spot at top investment banks because firms in London are so picky.

Round 2: The Ability Tests

If your application is accepted and/or you meet the minimum criteria – in the UK, a 2:1 or a 1st Class Degree – you will then get asked to take ability tests that assess your verbal and mathematical abilities.

Don’t panic if you don’t receive a link right away – some banks read the applications first and send the invites, some send invites right away, and some even wait until later rounds to send the invitations to these tests.

Usually you have to take a numerical test and a verbal test, and sometimes you have to take additional logic tests as well.

Numerical tests check your understanding of simple business data – you might get market share information, FX questions, and industry graphs and you typically get 20 minutes to answer 20 questions.

The calculations are not difficult, but you need to think quickly and answer ASAP without dwelling on the rationale because you’re under extreme time pressure.

Sometimes you can jump between different questions on the test, but on other tests you might have to go through the questions sequentially – be aware of which test type you’re taking before you start because that will affect your strategy.

Example Numerical Test Questions: They might show you a chart of 4 companies’ current stock prices, the % change since yesterday, and the dividends payable for each company.

Then they might ask a series of questions about that data: If the share price increased 50% over the share price a month ago, what was it a month ago? What’s the difference in price between 200 shares of one company and 100 shares of another company? What’s the total value of the dividends payable for 1,000 shares of one company?

The math is not difficult – the time pressure makes it difficult, and if you’re not good at mental math then you’ll need to practice that before taking the exam.

On the verbal tests, you’re given a series of text passages, each one with 4-5 related questions, and you have 20 minutes to complete all the questions. You have to go through all the questions and state whether the statement is true, false, or you cannot say based on the passage.

Example Verbal Test Question: They might give you a passage about economic policy – maybe, for example, the impact of tariffs on a country’s economy – and then ask you whether that policy has increased per capita GDP there. You would have to scan the passage quickly and answer “True,” “False,” or “Cannot Say” based on what’s written there.

Logical tests have around 24 questions that you must complete in 10 minutes – that’s less than 30 seconds per question, so you must be speedy and move on quickly if you can’t figure out the answer.

Usually you get a series of diagrams or images, and you must identify the missing diagram or image among a set of possible answers.

If you want the best practice around, sign up for the online aptitude tests and package deals offered on Job Test Prep.

Their site and their courses are the single best way we’ve come across to prepare for these tests and pass with flying colors.

Round 3: Actual Interviews

Once you pass the application screening and these ability tests, you’ll be invited to one or two interviews (note: again, some banks switch the order a bit and may do interviews first or concurrently with the ability tests).

In the first-round interview, you usually speak with someone from the recruiting team and most of the questions are fit-based: it’s almost the same as the competency questions you already answered.

So be prepared with your story and with examples of leadership and team situations, the usual strength and weakness-type questions, and any other anecdotes that would be helpful.

You should use the STAR technique once again and practice telling different stories with this strategy – after enough practice it will become natural and you won’t even have to think about it.

In the second-round interview, you speak with someone from the group you’re applying to rather than HR – sometimes it may also be a 2-on-1 interview with at least one interviewer who’s a recent graduate.

You should still expect fit questions, but it’s more important to demonstrate your interest in the job and to relate your previous internships or work experience to the role.

So if you walk in with previous S&T internships and you want to be an investment banker, you better be prepared to explain what caused this change of heart and how your experience is still applicable.

Technical questions may also come up, but generally interviews aren’t quite as technical in the UK (your mileage may vary elsewhere in Europe).

Round 4: Reality TV Shows Assessment Centers

And then once you pass the interviews, you move onto round 4 – where you get to join the cast of a reality TV show and try not to get voted off the island.

Just kidding – although once you hear about what’s involved at assessment centers and what you have to do to succeed, you may wish you were a castaway on a reality TV show instead.

For Even More Practice…

For even more practice with numerical, verbal and logical aptitude tests and assessment centers in general, check out Job Test Prep and all their test prep offerings.

They have our highest recommendation for online tests and assessment center prep – and their courses are the single best way around to prepare for EMEA recruiting.

About the Author

grew up in Bulgaria, and then went to London to study and work in venture capital. She then relocated to Paris to pursue a postgraduate degree, and has also worked at one of the largest European asset management firms while there.

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62 Comments to “How to Navigate the EMEA Recruitment Maze and Land Investment Banking Offers in Europe and Beyond – Part 1”

Comments

  1. prospectivebankster says

    What is the American equivilent of a 2:1? Is it 80%? If you are under this threshold, is there anyway to break in?

    • says

      2:1 is more like a 3.4 – 3.7 in the US system, but that’s only a rough approximation since the systems are different.

      If you’re under that threshold you just have to network a lot more aggressively, possibly go to grad school, and / or start working elsewhere first to have a good shot.

      • Leo says

        Realistically, a 2:1 is incredibly common in Britain, and you will struggle to find a job with a 2:2, so I think it may be less competitive than that GPA. I am at a top 5 university and I think our proportion of 2:1 or 1st is 85%. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to obtain that, so academically it’s less competitive.

        • says

          Interesting, although I would say that at many top US schools the proportion of GPAs is similarly skewed due to grade inflation. Where I went to school it was tough to get less than a 3.0 because of the way they curved grades…

          • FJ says

            They usually get someone from your country to review your application, someone who knows the system and knows what´s good. They will also give you a conversion table in the application process that will state the minimum depending on the country, but many banks don´t follow it 100% (I think JP Morgan does). Just click the part saying that you do have those grades and then specify the real ones in the application. I got an internship even though I was well below the cut for my country, but I´m in engineering in one of the top schools of the country, so even though my grades look like crap, someone from my country knew they were OK. This might not work if you are from a weird country or an unknown school in that country though…

  2. Joan says

    Hi Brian, I’ve been reading your blog for sometime now and have to say it has really helped me through my own recruitment days . I am from Africa, Kenyan to be precise and have just gotten an offer from an European IB operating in emerging markets in Africa. These types of firms are not common and this is the first article I’ve felt captures our recruiting situation, this is why I hope there will be a part 2 to explain what happens next after getting the offer. Is it normal for the firm to not communicate for over a week after getting an offer? Does everyone who participates in a graduate program get a permanent job within the organization? These may seem like obvious questions but in Kenya such programs usually are a form of getting unpaid interns without the security of moving into the firm. Thanks for the articles. Joan.

    • says

      No such thing as a “permanent job” anymore, and especially not in finance. It is normal to get an offer and then not hear anything for awhile (weeks/months) so I would not worry about that. They may not want you to stay for years and years after joining but usually it’s at least a 2-year program at banks.

    • says

      Opinions vary, but I would say the UK market is more competitive due to a higher # of applicants relative to the # of positions, and a greater diversity of applicants from all over the world. Whereas the US is mostly limited to US applicants and has a number of other financial centers besides just NY (unlike the UK where it’s really just London).

  3. Jack says

    Can I apply to UK banks in August and then apply to other banks in US/Asia later? I am aware that the recruiting system is separated between EMEA and US/APAC, so does that mean you can apply to more places if you are conscientious?

      • Jack says

        But they set a limit on the number of regions/divisions you can apply to, so I was wondering if I can get around the rule by simply applying to separate application systems.

        • Adam says

          If the banks have separate application systems by region then almost certainly you can get away with applying to multiple regions even if the bank says you can’t. HR teams are not coordinated enough to check for this.

  4. Rohan says

    “Next, you need to provide information about your secondary school and university and give a detailed breakout of courses and grades. Unlike the US, they actually care about your academic performance before university, how you performed on your A-Levels, and so on.”

    I have to disagree on that one.I think in europe they dont care much about grades(in usa they do i think).I have seen many french and swiss people saying that past work ex and finance internships are important , more than GPA/grades.If your GPA is high , then well and good , if its low dont worry too much

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Thanks for your input. It depends on the individual I think because the European firms I interviewed for cared about grades.

      • Adam says

        In the UK they care about grades, in France et al I think they care about work ex and where you went to school more perhaps.

          • Salvator says

            I dont know how much they care,but definetely I had to put my high school grades in every EMEA application I made…
            EMEA applications are much longer…

          • M&I - Nicole says

            Thanks for letting me know. Though if I were the interviewer, I would place way more emphasis on your work & univ experience

          • Chris says

            It depends on the country.
            For example in France, they do not really care about the grade but where you studied. Basically you can only break into IB if you come from certain schools. If you are in one of those schools you just need to graduate (more than 10/20). The grades are useless (most of the French people applying in IBD don’t really disclose their grades).
            In other countries such as UK or Germany they do care about the grades and where you come from (Oxbridge, LSE are a safe bet in the UK ; WHU, EBS and so on in Germany)

  5. Darrell says

    Hi Brian

    Any advice on where can i get help on practicing numerical and verbal reasoning tests? I have done a few when applying for internships this year and it seems i have not made the cut.

      • Darrell says

        Hi Nicole

        I have done that before, and they provided tests with just 5 questions and are way much easier than the real ones. The real ones are like 3-4 times much harder. This happened with credit suisse and deutsche when i was applying for their internship.

          • Darrell says

            Any books you have in particular to recommend? I would definitely buy them if you list the specific titles here =) Would love to practice them over the winter break.

          • FJ says

            There are only 2 test providers for all the banks in Europe, so the logic behind the questions is always the same and it´s easy, you only need practice to become fast. What I did is apply to as many banks as I could, big and small and rank them in inverse order of preference, and do the test in that order. So for example you start with Rotschild and finish with GS and MS. I did pretty badly on the first ones, always run out of time, but in the last ones I actually finished 1 or 2 min before completely sure about the answers. It´s really boring and annoying, cos you´ll have to do 15-20 tests, but you´ll ace the last ones.

    • Joan says

      Hi Darrell, you could use shl people management tests they are pretty comprehensive though they don’t give any answers just the score. Kent university website also has some okay tests.

      • Darrell says

        Hi Joan

        Any links you can pass to me regarding SHL people management tests? i tried googling for them but to no avail on these particular tests.

  6. Alpha says

    Cool write up,thanks.

    When you say recruiting season starts in Aug,does that include applying for internships and are they common practice in the UK? Further,does the recruiting season overlap for IB,IM/AM and HF,or are there different dates for those?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes that includes applying for internships. Deadline for UK internships are around Nov so the season has started. Yes, they overlap at times. Pls check respective banks for details

  7. Dave says

    Great article. One of the best published recently IMO.

    Having gone through the internship and graduate recruitment processes of many banks in Australia, I can say this article is highly relevant for the Australian market also.

    A tip on using word as a spelling/grammar check tool. It doesn’t flag errors in use of past and present tense as demonstrated by “Action: I rearranged our project to focus on the most important parts, decide to omit a few sections, and re-assigned team members to work on the most critical parts.”

  8. Flipit says

    Hi Leni,

    Great article. Just wanted to say that some banks have a different process – only a number of interview rounds with people from the business (no HR, no Assessment Centre). Also, my interviews were 90% technical and 10% competency based, but it probably depends on your level of experience.
    One more thing, it is critical to apply early in London – and I mean not more than three weeks from the application oppening dates

    @ Brian – At the bottom of the article you should have put a link to your interview guides (the 400 Qs). I think they were a decisive factor in helping me get a full-time job. Seriously, I can’t think of a question, which falls outside of those you have mentioned (may be you could add something about the value break concept in the restructuring part of the third set of questions). Congrats on the great website – keep up the good work.

  9. istanbul1453 says

    Hello, does anyone know about the intern:fulltime conversion rate for off-cycle internships in London at 1) BB’s and 2) European Banks?

  10. KK says

    Could I apply for Internships in US, UK and Aus? Could I get rejected in one location and not the other? Moreover, where is the best market for job right now in terms of competitiveness.
    Thanks. It was a very informative article.

  11. Student says

    Hi,

    Great website!

    I have been invited to Merrill Lynch assessment center (Wealth Management). Thus, I wanted to ask whether should I expect to get a case study little related to WM (e.g. M&A etc.). What kind of cases are plausible? Generating an investment idea or giving an investment recommendation would be the case?

    My second question would be: are your chances depends on the fact when are you invited to assessment center (e.g. Is January sort of late?)

    Thank You in advance.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Haven’t been in ML assessment center so I can’t say so readers might be able to offer you more insights

      Second question – yes

  12. Student says

    After an assessment center, I have heard back anything in 3 working days. Would it mean necessary that I am most likely rejected?

    Should I write a thank note where mention that other banks have also expressed interest and I have invitations from them?

    The toughest part is waiting…..

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Not necessarily – be patient

      Write a thank you note but no need to talk about other banks unless they ask

  13. MC says

    Any tips on how to answer the industry-based competency questions? (e.g. Why does a firm stand out from amongst its competitors?/What would you gain from working at our firm?)

    Also, great work guys, helping me and a lot of others to secure the top jobs!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d focus on recent deals they’ve done and talk about that. I may also go through the firm’s investor relations presentation (if it is public) to understand more about the firm and why it is different from others. They usually highlight that in the investor relations section

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