by Leni S. Comments (53)

EMEA Recruitment, Part 2: How to Dominate Your Assessment Centers and Land Investment Banking Offers

Investment Banking Assessment Centers“It’s not about the money. It’s about the game between people.”

-Gordon Gekko, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

The assessment center is the final sprint of the recruiting process – but it’s also a marathon in and of itself.

It’s the longest, most intense, and most tiring part of everything you do before receiving an offer.

And if you’re from the US and you think superday interviews are intense, well, you’ve never experienced the pain and agony that an assessment center can induce.

Here’s what to expect, and how you can make it through the process and land investment banking offers without losing your sanity – or getting voted off the island:

Why Assessment Centers?

The logic is simple: you can say whatever you want in an interview and BS all day long, but it’s much harder to fake it til you make it when you actually have to do the work.

Assessment centers let banks evaluate how well you’d actually perform on the job, because they make you create presentations, answer case study questions, and work together in a group – everything you’d do as an analyst or associate in investment banking.

You could argue that ACs are not representative of your abilities because of all the politicking and one-upping that goes on, but guess what?

That’s also part of what you deal with in banking – or any corporate job – so you better get used to it and learn how to play the office politics game.

What Are Assessment Centers?

After you get past the ability tests and the first round(s) of interviews, you’ll get summoned into the center for a day or two of “festivities”:

  • Interviews with HR and/or Real Bankers
  • Test Verification
  • Role Playing and Case Studies
  • Report Writing
  • Group Discussion(s)
  • Presentation(s)
  • E-Tray / In-Tray

The bank attempts to emulate what you’d have to do on the job, and then tests how well you’d perform over a day or two of exercises.

Whether or not you get an offer afterward depends not only on your work, but how well you interact with everyone else, how you handle yourself around senior bankers, and how much everyone there likes you.

How Do You Tackle Assessment Centers?

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each different type of exercise, and how to succeed throughout the entire day:

Interviews with HR and/or Real Bankers

Just as with the interviews before you arrive at the assessment center, you’ll usually speak with someone from HR and then one or two bankers from the group you’re applying to.

There aren’t many differences here, so see the previous article on everything before the assessment center for tips on what to say and how to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions.

It may seem repetitive to go through interviews yet again after you’ve already reached the assessment center, but banks always like to collect multiple opinions of you.

Sometimes they’ll even meet up afterward, trade notes, and look for inconsistencies in what you’ve said and see what everyone thinks of you – so make sure you tell the same story to everyone you meet.

Test Verification

Yes, believe it or not, you may actually get more numerical and verbal tests at the assessment center.

Some people are not so honest and cheat in the online versions of these tests – since no one is watching over them and since it’s all done remotely, taking the tests in pairs or consulting other sources for answers is not exactly difficult.

So banks will make you sit through the tests again, using either a paper version or a computerized one that mimics the earlier version you took, all to see whether or not you completed it on your own the first time around.

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

And make sure you don’t cheat the first time around, or you’ll be in for a big surprise on the day of your assessment center.

Role Playing and Case Studies

No, I’m not talking about dressing up as Gandalf or getting your own Excalibur replica here – that would be too nerdy for bankers and screams “IT nerd in the back office.”

These role playing exercises test your ability to interact with clients, your communication skills, and how well you manage large amounts of information in business scenarios – not how much you know about dragons and wizards.

You’re given a package prior to meeting with a client or colleague in the scenario, and you get a folder that includes your place in the company’s hierarchy, the problem at hand, and supporting information and previous communication that you’ve had with the person.

Example scenarios that you might be asked to role play:

  • Your company needs to cut costs by 10% and they’ve asked you to determine where and how they should make these cuts.
  • Your company wants to expand into a new line of business, and they’re choosing between 3 different options. They want your input on which one is best to pursue.
  • Your company is trying to decide which one of 2 candidates is best for a new role and they want your input. What criteria are most important, and how would you make your decision?

With these exercises, structure is most important. Even if there’s no clear-cut way to make a decision, invent a rationale and sound confident about your reasoning. Rambling on without any structure is the worst way to respond.

These exercises also tend to be more common for consulting roles, so you might not necessarily get them when applying to banks.

Report Writing

Despite all the hype over technical skills and financial modeling, banks also care deeply about your writing and communication skills.

As an analyst or associate, you’ll be writing a lot of memos, presentations, and emails – and if you can’t communicate succinctly you’ll never make it anywhere.

This exercise may last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours and you may be asked to write anything from a multi-page report to a memo to a simple email.

Once again, the key points are structure and presentation. Possible topics they might ask you to write about:

  • We’re considering acquiring one of these 3 companies. Which target do you think is most compelling, and why? Write one page explaining your response.
  • Please review the analysis and documents concerning this potential acquisition, and write a page explaining why you think it’s a good deal or a bad deal for us.

To answer both these questions, you should use a structure such as:

  1. Introduction and state your recommendation explicitly;
  2. Supporting Reason 1;
  3. Supporting Reason 2;
  4. Supporting Reason 3;
  5. Conclusion and re-state your recommendation.

So you might say that one company is the best target because it’s in the highest-growth market, the acquisition would be accretive to EPS, and you see potential to up-sell and cross-sell to your company’s existing customers using their products and services.

It should not be complicated – keep it simple, be definitive, and make a decision even if you have no idea what to say.

For more recommendations and examples, check out this guide to investment banking case studies and group presentations.

Group Discussion(s)

This part of the assessment center will make you think of a reality TV show, and you’ll wonder how your own fate is different from a contestant who just got voted off.

You’re placed in a group of around 5 people and you’re given anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to familiarize yourself with an information package that determines the direction of your group discussion.

As you’re going through the materials and discussing what to say, bankers observe you and try to determine your “natural behavior within a group/work environment.”

The sample discussion questions and scenarios you’ll get are similar to the other examples above – which company to acquire, which acquisition strategy to pursue, how to raise capital, how to expand, and so on.

The two most common mistakes:

  1. Dominating the discussion too much and ignoring what other people say to promote your own ideas instead.
  2. Being too quiet and never saying anything – if you do this, bankers can’t assess you very well.

You should take a middle-of-the-road approach and speak up to make good points when necessary, but also try to include everyone else in the conversation.

It’s not a “competition” to see who can say the most or who’s the loudest person in the group – even if you only speak up a few times, it’s more about the quality of your ideas rather than the frequency of your mouth opening.

Presentation(s)

The presentation is another common exercise at any assessment center, but the structure and approach vary by firm and recruiter.

Sometimes you may get the topic a week in advance and have plenty of time to prepare, while other banks give you an information package and ask you to come up with something on the spot.

Common topics for presentations:

  • Similar to the examples above: which company to acquire, which acquisition or financing strategy to pursue, how to value a company, and so on.
  • Your opinion on something in the news – whether or not a company splitting itself up is a good idea, whether a huge M&A deal makes sense, or where the markets might be heading in the future.
  • The prospects of the company you’re interviewing at – what are their biggest opportunities and their greatest threats?

Regardless of the topic, you need to research it thoroughly (if you have advance notice), present your arguments in a structured way (intro, point 1, point 2, point 3, conclusion) and be confident when presenting.

The biggest mistakes candidates make:

  1. Attempting to make too complex an argument and running out of time;
  2. Not using any structure and rambling aimlessly;
  3. Not stating their opinion or giving a definitive recommendation.

Remember that as a banker – or as anyone in finance – you’ll have to make decisions without knowing all the facts. Indecision is worse than making the wrong decision, whether on the job or at the assessment center.

E-Tray / In-Tray

“E-Tray” and “In-Tray” exercises may seem intimidating at first, but they’re really just combinations of the exercises above, where you’re given information, asked to make a recommendation or write an email or report, and you then have to reply to emails as you would in real life.

In E-Tray exercises, you’re given a laptop and you’re presented with an email inbox with different files related to a scenario – your position in the company, the hierarchy of the company and where you stand in it, the projects you’re working on, financial information, and so on.

In-Tray exercises are similar but everything is in paper format instead.

You might get around 10 minutes to go through the documents and familiarize yourself with the information in E-Tray exercises, after which you start receiving simulated emails in your inbox.

You then need to respond to these emails by selecting from one of 3 options they present you with – your answers are based on calculations you have to perform or on facts from the documents, or they might be based on your gut feeling or what you think the correct course of action should be.

For example, you might be asked to assume the role of a senior project analyst working for a company that specializes in consulting with other organizations on their growth strategies and rationalization processes.

As part of the task, you need to advise a retail company on their future growth strategy, focusing on the following areas:

  • Regional expansion
  • Product diversification
  • Analysis of market trends
  • Acquisitions

With the information on your laptop and the folders you have been given, you may be asked:

  • Which two advisers are available to work on the project given its timeframe and the skills required?  To answer this type of question, read the requirements in the question and relate them to the information in your folders to select the appropriate choice. Be sure not to double book anybody, and select the people with the appropriate skills – it’s not difficult, but it is easy to read too quickly and make mistakes.
  • Which of the expenses went over-budget? This one requires you to make some simple calculations – again, not difficult, but it’s easy to move too quickly and select the wrong answer.
  • The company has been asked to carry out another project within the limits of the initial timeframe. Should you execute the project as it was initially agreed upon, ask for an extension, or postpone it for a later date? Here, the answer is based on the capacity of the company and the team, and also on your personal understanding, appreciation of the project, the client, and so on.

Once you reply to these incoming emails, the second part of the E-Tray exercise is very similar to the Writing exercise described above: you need to write an email, a report, or a recommendation on your laptop using the information they give you.

The questions throughout all these assessment center exercises are very similar, and the E-Tray exercise is no exception: you recommend an acquisition, an expansion strategy, a financing method, a new factory or store location, and so on.

Make sure you leave time near the end to review your written work, because the software may not be equipped with spell check or grammar check.

Even if you do happen to have spell check and grammar check, neither one works 100% perfectly so you should still review your writing manually at the end.

Got Persistence?

Getting hired in investment banking – not only in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but everywhere in the world – is a question of persistence.

And while you may want to work finance to make more money than everyone else, getting into the industry in the first place isn’t about the money.

Just like Gordon Gekko said, it’s about the game between people – especially when you have an assessment center coming up.

So make sure you play that game until you master it – and that you remain the last one standing at your assessment center when the tribal council of bankers delivers its verdict.

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

Leni S. grew up in Bulgaria, studied in London and Paris, and worked in venture capital, asset management, and investment management.

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by Leni S. Comments (62)

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

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

Leni S. grew up in Bulgaria, studied in London and Paris, and worked in venture capital, asset management, and investment management.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.