Graduate selection step 5: Assessment centre

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Expect to be one of just 12 or so candidates left on the day.

At some banks, the series of second interviews is replaced or preceded by something altogether more challenging: an assessment centre.

Assessment centres involve a series of tests that are intended to allow banks to scrutinise how people would perform at work, and typically include another interview, a numeracy test, role play, group exercises, a group discussion and a presentation.

The most challenging part of the assessment centre is the group discussion. About six candidates are given a set amount of time to solve a problem together. The aim is to assess team-building skills, which can be a problem for assertive would-be bankers. "Some people are not inclusive and don't encourage the quieter ones to join the discussion," says Karen McKinley, head of graduate recruitment at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). "They talk over them and prevent them from participating."

In the team-oriented world of investment banking, this is a no-no. John Sponton and Stewart Wright, authors of the book Succeeding at Assessment Centres in a Week, offer some advice on how to curb alpha male (or alpha female) instincts. They include: don't interrupt; don't monopolise the conversation; do address other people by their first names; and do invite them to contribute.

The conundrums you're given will relate to the area of the bank you're applying to. Role plays are often used to assess the abilities of potential equity or bond sales people. One recruiter says case studies for would-be corporate financiers might involve a company trying to raise money to finance an acquisition. Equipped with information on its balance sheet, candidates could be asked to judge the best way for it to raise funds. "We will be asking people to make a considered decision," she says. "Evidence of a logical thought process is more important than getting it right."

The presentation can also be a sticking point. McKinley of RBS says candidates are asked to analyse some data and use it to present a convincing argument around a particular point. The main failings include not identifying the salient points, presenting a weak argument (in a feeble voice) and changing your views when challenged.

Banks using assessment centres for at least some areas of their business include Royal Bank of Scotland, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.

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