The Assessment Centre
The assessment centre (AC) is the final stage of an application process, where you are invited to the company's office to take part in one or several interviews, in addition to some group exercises and possibly a re-test on numerical reasoning.
The Face-to-Face Interview
This is usually conducted by two or more interviewers in a room with you, where they have your CV and application in front of them as a reference throughout. My advice is to always bring a folder with you around the day with your passport and national insurance document (for vetting purposes in case you are later selected for the role), your printed CV and any supporting material from previous work experiences that you think may add value to a point you make during the interview.
At the start of the interview, they will usually introduce themselves and what their role is, before describing the format of the interview. They then dive straight into competence-based questions about you, the most common question being:
"Walk me through your CV" /"Tell me about yourself" / "Why the firm/role?"
Believe it or not, these are probably the worst answered questions throughout the entire financial industry. Interviewers are not looking for you to dictate your CV from top to bottom, nor are they looking for you to list all of your family members and where you went to school as a child . Rather, prepare a short but powerful summary of your CV almost delivered as a story. For example:
"My interest in _______ began during my work experience / activity at _________. This prompted me to pursue a degree in ________ / seek further experience in _________ where I learned _________. After realising this was the career for me based on my past experiences, I applied at __________ because ___________.
This is already an improvement from waffling on about every GCSE you achieved or that work experience you did when you were thirteen. Throughout the interview, maintain eye contact and smile politely where appropriate. Avoid looking down, looking at the clock on the wall or at your watch. Maintain eye contact and smile where appropriate. You want to come off as a balance of professional and yet not cold nor robotic.
They will then usually go on to STAR-based questions, where they will ask:
"Tell me about a time when__________"
Remember: Situation | Task | Action | Result. This simple yet effective format will guarantee you the right structure when answering these kind of questions. Make sure to include examples of a variety of work experiences and activities relevant to the position you are applying for. Avoid waffling or going on a tangent at all costs, stop yourself if you pick up on this during the interview.
The interview usually finishes on more technical questions, where they tend to really test your financial knowledge on topics such as valuation, accounting, modelling etc. This really depends on the role you are applying for: an M&A analyst position will focus on DCFs, WACC, synergies and reasons for mergers; while a position in credit sales (bond trading) is more likely to give way to questions on the yield curve, duration of a bond and the current macroeconomic environment.