Assessment Centre Guide

Chapter 5: Role Play Exercises

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Oliver Savill Updated:

A resource guide to role play exercises.

What is a role play exercise?

A role play exercise is a simulation of a work-related scenario that allows you to demonstrate your skills and abilities in a realistic setting.

If you're participating in an assessment centre, you may be asked to take part in a role play exercise. During a role play exercise, you'll be given a specific role to play, such as a customer service representative or a team leader. You'll then be presented with a scenario or problem to solve, such as dealing with an unhappy customer or resolving a conflict between team members.

The assessment centre is a great way to assess how you deal with difficult situations and awkward encounters. Traditionally interviewers would have to rely on asking the candidate how they would respond in fictional situations, but now with role-play exercises, the employer can actually see how you perform for real (well, simulated reality).

What competencies does a role play exercise assess?

The specific competencies being tested will vary depending on the role you are applying for, as employers will require different skills for different roles. However, there will be common competencies across all roles, here are some common competencies that role play exercises may assess:

  • Communication: The ability to communicate effectively, listen actively, and understand others' perspectives.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to identify and analyse problems, generate solutions, and make sound decisions.
  • Adaptability: The ability to adjust to new situations, be flexible, and think creatively.
  • Leadership and Assertiveness: The ability to influence and motivate others, manage conflicts, and make tough decisions. And the ability to express your opinions, needs, and wants in a confident and effective manner, while also considering the needs of others.
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to build relationships, work collaboratively, and manage interactions with others.
  • Customer service: The ability to handle difficult customers, manage complaints, and provide effective solutions.
  • Resilience: The ability to handle pressure, cope with setbacks, and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Goal achievement: The ability to set and achieve goals, monitor progress, and take action to overcome obstacles.

A role play exercise provides assessors with an opportunity to observe how you apply these competencies in a realistic work scenario, and to assess your suitability for the job or role you're applying for.


Find out what the main competencies that are required for the role you're applying for. Keep these in mind throughout the role-play exercise so that you can showcase these as well as your other strengths.

What to expect from a role play exercise?

Before you start, you can expect to receive instructions or guidelines for the scenario, which may include background information about the situation, the role you are to play, and the goals of the exercise. These instructions may also provide some degree of flexibility or room for improvisation, allowing you to bring your own ideas and approach to the scenario.


Use this time to pre-empt possible arguments the role player might use, and their possible responses. Make sure you understand the brief and think about strategies for achieving the outcome your fictional character wants. Before you start get your mind into character, otherwise you will appear flustered.

You will have to interact with another person or multiple people during the role-play exercise. This interaction may involve verbal communication, non-verbal cues, and body language. Depending on the scenario, the interaction may be collaborative or adversarial, requiring you to navigate challenging or conflictual situations.

You will be evaluated based on your performance during the role-play exercise. The evaluation may include feedback on your communication skills, problem-solving abilities, decision-making, emotional intelligence, and other relevant competencies. In some cases, the evaluation may also include a self-assessment or reflection, allowing you to gain insight into your own strengths and areas for improvement.

To summarise, in a role-play exercise can expect to engage in a simulated interaction with another person, receive instructions or guidelines for the scenario, be evaluated based on your performance, and gain insight into your strengths and areas for improvement. While the exercise may be challenging, it can also provide a valuable learning opportunity and help you to develop your skills and competencies in a practical context.

What is an example of a role play exercise?

Some examples of what you might have to do are:

  • Placate a customer who is angry about a failed product, but you have been instructed not to issue a refund because they didn’t follow the operating instructions.
  • Encourage a colleague to pull their weight in a shared project.
  • Negotiate a pricing position.
  • Placate an angry supplier who can’t understand why his company has been dropped for another.

The role player will also be given a brief they have to follow, often trying to reach an outcome different to the one your brief gives. The challenge is to negotiate your way to an amicable resolution in this fictional situation.

Whilst the situation is fictional, don't pretend you are someone you are not. The assessors are interested in your ability, not your acting skills.

The role player’s brief will be to push you into challenging situations but not to outright provoke you. They will deliberately be awkward but they will also respond well to tactful, sympathetic negotiation – the theory goes, just like in real life. The role player will have to be equally recalcitrant to every candidate to make it fair. In many ways the role play exercises are more difficult for the actor than for the candidate!

Imagine you will have to work with the role play characters again, that way you'll be much more focused on winning them round instead of arguing with them.

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Role-play exercise advice

Here are some tips and recommendations to help you to prepare for your role-play exercise and help ensure you are ready:

  • 1. Try to stay relaxed: Your ability to work under pressure and to perform on the spot is a key competency which the role-play exercise is assessing. It is therefore imperative that you do not let nerves get in the way of maximum performance. Small to moderate amount of nervousness can hone ones skills and keep you sharp, but serious anxiety will impair your performance, and will put off graduate recruiters. Recruiters know how nerve racking these exercises can be, particularly to graduates, and they will be expecting a certain amount of anxiety, so don’t be concerned about mild to moderate nervousness. Just remember to breathe, to listen, to take your time and think thoroughly before answering.
  • 2. Assume the role and get in character: One of the hardest parts of role-play exercises is taking the exercise seriously and really committing to character. Ensuring that during the exercise, you take the role seriously, get in character and psych yourself up before hand, helping you to assume the role more readily. The more in character you are, the more naturally and professionally you will act and seem, impressing recruiters with a higher performance and expressing your commitment to the exercise, and therefore the organisation. Similarly it’s important to consider the other person in the role-play as their respective role, i.e. if they are playing a customer, treat them and consider them a customer as much as possible, try to forget this is an exercise and act as if this was the real thing.
  • 3. Research the role: This is an essential and obvious necessity before undertaking a role-play exercise and assessment centre in general. Ensuring you know the key competencies looked for by the company, the skill set needed for the role and background of the organisation itself. Armed with this knowledge, you will more effectively assume you’re given role in the exercise, and impress the recruiter with a more convincing and professional performance.
  • 4. Emphasise the key competencies: Depending on the role, certain competencies will be more important and are highly sought after in candidates. For example, in a sales role candidates should try and emphasise their persuasion skills by using their charisma and influence. For a customer service role, interpersonal and conflict management skills should be emphasised by utilising patience, empathy and building rapport.
  • 5. Time keeping: Ensure that an appropriate pace is kept throughout the exercise. You shouldn't put yourself in a position where you need to rush, or where you need to slow down because you have been working too quickly. Keep an eye on the time, and pace yourself appropriately, but do not let the clock hinder your performance, and do not be seen “clock watching”, check the time rarely and discretely.

Walk into the role play exercise positive and cheery; you want to project a positive attitude to what might be a fractious conversation. Start with social pleasantries and try to establish rapport with the role player instead of taking a hard line from the off. You will score marks for reducing the friction and keeping the situation amicable. You will also come across well if you end the role play exercise by reaffirming anything you think you agreed with the role player. It’s all to easy to shy away from bringing up contentious issues again, but before you leave the room you want to consolidate all that hard bargaining you did.

Tips for getting into character

Ensuring you are in character is a vital aspect of the role-play, as without committing to the role, you will not take the exercise seriously. Here are some tips for getting into character, and adopting the mindset of the role you are assuming:

  • 1. Adopt the character before the exercise: Begin to think and act like your character well before the start of the exercise, this means that when the exercise begins, the "psyching" process has already finished. Having spent 10-20 minutes acting, behaving and thinking like your target role will help the exercise run more naturally than if you had only just got into character at the start.
  • 2. Confirming when the exercise begins: Ensuring you know exactly when the exercise has started can avoid awkwardness, and put your mind at ease. Knowing exactly when the exercise has begun will help you stay in character as you will not need to worry going in and out of character more than you need to, allowing a more natural flow in the exercise.
  • 3. But also be yourself: Don't try and complicate matters by adopting a whole new alter ego. Just imagine that you have the job which you are role-playing, and other than that you are exactly the same person. This is not an audition for an acting job, you just need to role-play a particular role in a particular situation. Although assuming the responsibilities, mindset and objectives of the role is critical, you do not need to pretend to be a different person, and trying to do so will make the exercise feel unnatural, hampering performance.

Walk into the role play exercise positive and cheery; you want to project a positive attitude to what might be a fractious conversation. Start with social pleasantries and try to establish rapport with the role player instead of taking a hard line from the off. You will score marks for reducing the friction and keeping the situation amicable. You will also come across well if you end the role play exercise by reaffirming anything you think you agreed with the role player. It’s all to easy to shy away from bringing up contentious issues again, but before you leave the room you want to consolidate all that hard bargaining you did.

key takeaways icon
Key takeaways

Here are the key takeaways for guidance on the role-play exercise at assessment centres:

  • The role-play exercise evaluates how well candidates can handle workplace situations and interact with others.
  • Candidates should research the company and the role they are applying for to help them prepare.
  • Listening and communication skills are essential for success during the exercise.
  • Candidates should aim to build rapport with the role-play partner and demonstrate empathy and understanding.
  • Remaining calm and professional, even in stressful situations, is important.
  • Candidates should anticipate and prepare for potential questions from the audience.
  • Rehearsing with a friend or colleague (if possible) can provide helpful feedback and improve the presentation.

By following these tips, candidates can increase their chances of success during the role-play exercise and demonstrate their abilities to potential employers.

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