The Full Guide to Investment Banking Assessment Centers
People often complain about how it’s impossible to make a “good first impression” in a pre-recorded video or when speaking to a hapless recruiter.
Ironically, though, the most personal part of the recruiting process – the assessment center – also generates many complaints.
If you’re about to attend an investment banking assessment center, you can look forward to a fun-filled day of activities, case studies, group exercises, and even more interviews and verbal/math/logical tests.
When everything moved online for a few years, people predicted the end of assessment centers, but they adapted and survived – and I think they’ll become even more important in the future:
What is an Assessment Center, and When Should You Expect One?
Investment Banking Assessment Center Definition: The assessment center (AC) is the final step in the IB recruiting process in places like Hong Kong, London, and other parts of EMEA; it requires you to complete online tests, case studies, group exercises, and specialized tasks in addition to standard interviews.
An AC is broader than the typical Superday in the U.S. since you complete a wide range of tasks beyond standard 30-minute interviews.
At some banks and groups in the U.S., candidates memorize obscure technical questions, and interviewers ask about these topics and dig in until they find something the interviewee can’t answer.
But this behavior is less common in any region that uses ACs.
You’re better off developing a broader set of skills, such as how to work in a group, prioritize emails, and give a simple presentation, rather than memorizing technical details.
I will focus on the investment banking AC here to avoid turning this article into a novella (for S&T tips, see the article on rates trading).
Banks mostly use assessment centers to recruit university and Master’s students for internships and full-time roles, so you’re much less likely to attend one if you’re a lateral hire or you’re at the MBA level.
ACs sometimes come up when you apply for off-cycle internships, but it depends on your timing and how many others apply at the same time.
OK, But Why Do Investment Banking Assessment Centers Exist?
Banks use ACs to make sure that candidates are competent and qualified in real life – not just on paper.
When you apply for IB roles in a place like London, you must submit an online application, go through an initial interview or HireVue, submit competency questions, and complete online tests.
These eliminate a certain percentage of applicants, but plenty of people cheat on these tests, take them in pairs, or use tools like ChatGPT to do the work for them.
But even beyond these problems, these tests are inherently limited because they have little correlation with on-the-job performance.
Traditional investment banking interviews are also deceptive because some people are great at BSing their way through a 30-minute discussion, even if they’re terrible at the job.
But it’s much harder to deceive your way through an assessment center because:
- You must be there in-person, so it’s easy to tell if you’re cheating (and even if it’s “virtual,” you’re still doing everything in front of other people).
- You must work with other humans for at least part of the AC, which means you can succeed only if you work in a team.
- Finally, you must complete tasks similar to the ones in banking – the fact that you memorized the WACC formula means nothing if you can’t use the concepts to advise a client.
The best way to assess someone is to give them a 10-12-week internship and see how they perform, but that is expensive and impractical for thousands of applicants.
So, ACs act as a bit of a compromise:
If you’re wondering why assessment centers are universal in London but not in the U.S., I am not 100% certain.
My guess is that banks want to standardize the process and properly compare applicants since students there come from many different countries, educational systems, etc.
This is less of a problem in the U.S. because most applicants have attended university in the country, so there are fewer “cross-cultural communication” issues.
What to Expect in an IB Assessment Center
The structure, timing, tasks, and number of candidates vary by bank, but you might expect something like this:
- Number of Candidates: A few dozen in a single day (maybe 30 – 40 total).
- Universities: Expect heavy representation from the top U.K. and European target schools (Oxbridge, LSE, Bocconi, IE, HEC, etc.) along with a few students from semi-targets and non-targets.
- Offer Rate: Around the same as a Superday; expect something in the 20 – 40% range.
- Total Time Required: Around 4 – 6 hours (excluding transportation time).
- Interviews: Expect 2 – 3 interviews for 60 – 90 minutes total.
- Online Tests: They may ask you to take or re-take one or more of the earlier tests, which could consume another ~30 minutes.
- Other Tasks: They might ask you to complete something specialized, like an in-tray exercise (see below), which could take another ~30 minutes.
- (Group) Case Study: Expect a solo or group case study that might take 45 – 60 minutes. If they give you both a solo and a group case study, this will be more like 90 – 120 minutes.
- Social/Networking: Finally, there may be a networking panel or “social event,” such as a group lunch, which will take another 30 – 60 minutes.
Before you go through any of this, one simple tip is to arrive as early as possible, even if it means camping out at a coffee shop nearby.
If you’re even a few minutes late, you might be eliminated before the festivities begin!
Some of the AC tasks above are simple, while others require more explanation:
IB Assessment Centers, Part 1: Interviews
There are no huge differences here, but expect interviewers to do more cross-checking to verify that you’re telling a consistent story – since they can easily compare notes.
You’re also more likely to speak to senior bankers than in the first rounds.
You might also want to do some firm-specific research (e.g., look up a few recent deals), especially if you only have 2-3 ACs rather than 10 or 15.
IB Assessment Centers, Part 2: Re-Taking the Online Tests
It’s very easy to cheat, so banks may give you slight variations of the same tests on-site, with no internet access, to verify your scores.
The questions resemble the ones you might find on the GMAT or the “mental math” questions common in sales & trading interviews. Here’s an example:
Q: Suppose that the market value of the real estate in France increases by 10% next year. How much would it be worth?
A: There’s 540 total, so 540 * 10% = 54, and 54 * 5% = 27.
Therefore, the value of real estate in France is currently 3 * 54 + 27 = 3 * 50 + 3 * 4 + 27 = 150 + 12 + 27 = 189.
10% of 189 is 18.9, so the value would increase to 189 + ~19 = ~208 next year.
These questions are not difficult, but they can be challenging to finish within the time limit (often 15 – 30 minutes per test), so you need to practice repeatedly.
Some banks, like JPM, also give “Situational Judgment Tests” (SJTs), where they describe a work situation and ask how you might respond (in multiple choice format).
IB Assessment Centers, Part 3: E-Tray / In-Tray and Other Specialized Tasks
These exercises give you 5-10 minutes to read files or information about a client or ongoing deal.
Then, you’ll start receiving “simulated emails” that you’ll need to respond to (via multiple choice questions), and you might have to explain or justify your decisions afterward.
For example, you might get an urgent client request, a VP’s request to schedule a meeting for a potential client, and the same VP who wants to know the dates of an upcoming IPO roadshow.
You must prioritize and respond to these emails using the information you gathered in the beginning and common sense (i.e., client requests matter more than internal ones).
The most common mistakes here include ignoring or overlooking information and forgetting about date and time conflicts.
In the scenario above, for example, you wouldn’t want to schedule a VP’s potential client meeting on any of the same days as the IPO roadshow.
NOTE: It appears that these exercises may be less common now (as of 2023). ACs seem to have shifted to interviews and case studies, but feel free to leave a comment and clarify this point if you’ve completed one recently.
IB Assessment Centers, Part 4: Presentations, Case Studies, and Group Exercises
If you’ve already done well enough to make it to the AC, you can probably handle everything above with ease – but the case studies are a different story.
The two main variants here are solo exercises and group exercises.
If it’s a solo exercise, they might give you 30 – 60 minutes to do something like:
- Read information about a company and draft a profile in PowerPoint.
- Complete a modeling test, such as a simple merger model, the Enterprise Value bridge calculation, valuation multiples, or credit stats and ratios in different scenarios.
- Complete a pencil-and-paper test for the tasks above to test your understanding and arithmetic skills.
- Read about a company and draft a report, similar to an equity research report, describing its key risks, opportunities, and current valuation.
- Read about several target companies and recommend the best acquisition for the larger company you are advising.
You should not expect a detailed financial modeling test or other Excel work; these short case studies usually involve “back of the envelope” math.
If you want example of solo case studies, please see:
- This assessment center case study based on a simple merger model.
- A few sample “company profile” slides in different formats.
- This qualitative M&A case study, inspired by an assessment center.
The group exercise, which might last 45 – 60 minutes, is more likely to involve advising a client or potential client:
- Of target companies A, B, and C, which one should Company X acquire?
- Should Company Y raise debt or equity to expand into a new region?
- Of acquisition offers D, E, and F, which one should Company Z accept?
- Should our bank onboard Company Q as a client? Why or why not?
- Which M&A process should Company W follow if it wants to sell? Targeted or broad, and should it sell to a strategic or a financial sponsor?
As with the solo exercises, complex Excel work and financial models are unlikely.
The “answer” and its reasoning are also straightforward in most cases.
If you want to see an example, look at this debt vs. equity case and the logic – any test you get in real life would have even simpler numbers.
The best advice is to be structured, boring, and simple; people do poorly when they fail to state the answer upfront or make it overly complicated.
Since the numbers and logic are simple, the real test is evaluating how well you work in a team. Some tips include:
- Strike a balance between being quiet and talkative. For example, aim to contribute one targeted comment or question every 3-4 minutes, but never speak for 3 minutes straight.
- Volunteer for the “boring tasks,” such as keeping time, taking notes, and assembling the final presentation, since you want to come across like a team player.
- Avoid interrupting others or being negative, even if they say something incredibly stupid or ridiculous.
- Bring others into the discussion, especially team members who have been quiet.
- Use everyone’s first names as much as possible to show your attention to detail and personal touch.
- In the final presentation, make sure everyone has at least some speaking role, even if it’s short.
There is no great way to practice these group exercises, but there are some tricks for improving (see the bottom section of this article).
What Happens After the Assessment Center?
As with the Superday, you’ll generally hear back quickly if you’ve won an offer, but it can sometimes take a few weeks; all you can do in the meantime is follow up occasionally.
If you have your interviewers’ contact details, it’s worth sending a few quick, personalized “thank you” messages.
Finally, you should also write down as much as you can remember about the exercises, interviews, and case studies at the AC immediately after you finish, so you have it as a reference for your next one.
How to Practice and Prepare for Investment Banking Assessment Centers
Assuming you’ve legitimately prepared for the initial interviews, you shouldn’t “need” much additional work. Dozens of articles on this site have tips, and you can get even more details in the IB Interview Guide.
For the online tests, we recommend JobTestPrep and the packages they offer for the verbal, math, logic, personality, and other tests (yes, this is an affiliate link, so I earn a small amount if you buy something through it).
For the case studies and group presentations, I recommend the following:
- Complete 3-4 solo practice case studies on company profiles, acquisition recommendations, debt vs. equity, and evaluations of recent deals. It’s worth spending 10 – 15 hours on this, but I don’t think you need to spend 40+ hours on it.
- There are several examples of AC-style case studies in the Interview Guide, but you can also create your own case studies based on news and recent deals.
For example, if you see that Company X recently raised debt or issued equity, download the company’s most recent annual report, give yourself 60 minutes, and write a quick evaluation of whether this was the right decision.
- Speed and simplicity are crucial. It’s much better to be 50% correct and 100% finished rather than 100% correct and 50% finished.
For the group dynamics, one option is to join a student investment club or case competition and go through the required teamwork there.
The best way to practice, though, is to keep doing assessment centers until you see the same scenarios repeatedly.
By the end, you’ll wonder why they seemed scary – as they become repetitive rather than intimidating.
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