What to expect from the assessment centre

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You've spent hours filling in the application, sweated for days preparing for the interview and just received a phone call inviting you to the final stage of the recruitment process - the assessment centre. So, what should you expect?

All graduate assessment centres, irrespective of the specific role you have applied for, or institution type (be it an investment bank, hedge fund, broker, trading house or even a commercial bank) are run along broadly similar lines. Be prepared for:

· At least one interview (though three separate 30-45 minute interviews are more common).

· A presentation. This will always be followed by a thorough analysis, and general grilling, from a number of interviewers.

· A group exercise. This will undoubtedly be in the form of either a business case study, or a 'treasure hunt' type scenario.

· An individual test. If you have applied for a trading role, or are interviewing at one of the major brokers (ICAP, Tradition, Tullet Prebon), you will invariably be tested on some form of trading simulator.

· A drinks and networking event. At the end of the day, most banks will provide some snacks and drinks. If you are applying for a sales or broking role, this could be the most important part of the day.

With this in mind, what should you do to prepare for each element of the centre?

The interviews: In an assessment centre you will invariably have moved on from HR, and will be interviewed by the business unit members with whom, if successful, you will be working.

Fundamentally, they will be looking for technical knowledge and commitment to the role. However, the key to success will be to demonstrate to your future colleagues that you are a capable, mature candidate who will ease into the team upon arrival. The last thing a busy trader/banker wants is someone who 'knows it all', or is determined to be 'different' (too many times have I heard candidates refer to their 'Hollywood Story' or capacity for alcohol).

The presentation: If you haven't been given a specific topic in advance, you should be expecting a 15-25 page business case study, where you will be acting as a banker or manager, presenting a range of options to the board.

Presentations are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your confidence and maturity. The best advice I can provide here is analyse. Don't quote phrases from the case study and avoid excessive use of figures and statistics - those listening to your presentation will have heard them all before.

The group exercise: This is probably the most important part of the whole day. You will be expected to solve a problem or series of problems together with other candidates from top universities across the world. At my first assessment centre (for a sales and trading role), I was the only British candidate. Seven of the 14 candidates had travelled from Harvard, Yale and Princeton the day before.

The key here is to participate, not dominate. Every group will have at least one candidate who will boldly try and dominate proceedings, and a handful who barely contribute at all. Neither will be successful. Find the middle ground and drive the group forwards - insist that decisions are intelligently made and move on.

Networking and drinks: Now is not the time to let your guard down and relax. Nor is it time to consume all that free alcohol and demonstrate the drinking prowess you developed over three to four years of university life.

Engage with your interviewers and business unit members - ask them how their day has been; what deals they are working on at present; what their views on the market are. In short, demonstrate that you are confident and mature enough to engage others and work alongside these people.

Hopefully, this information will have addressed some of the grey areas that exist surrounding the assessment centre. If you prepare fully, you should have no concerns over the day - it is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to your potential employers that you are the right candidate for the role.

The author is a senior capital markets professional at a European bank in London.

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