Assessment Centre Guide

Chapter 6: Role play exercises

Role play exercises

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 assessment centres, the employer can actually see how you perform for real (well, simulated reality). Typical competencies assessed fin the role play exercise are:

  • 1. Achieving Goals
  • 2. Assertiveness
  • 3. Customer Focus
  • 4. Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • 5. Working Under Pressure

Role play exercises make use of professional actors to simulate scenarios such as:

  • 1. An angry customer
  • 2. A dissatisfied shareholder
  • 3. A disgruntled colleague
  • 4. A failing supplier

Due to the expense of hiring professional actors, you usually meet with just one role-player. You will be given a brief before you meet the role player, with instructions to try to achieve a particular outcome. 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.

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.

Before your role play exercise you normally get 15-30 minutes to read the background information and to prepare. 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 walk into the room get your mind into character, otherwise you will appear flustered.

During the exercise an assessor will either be in the room observing you, or increasingly, a video camera will be recording you.

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.

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.

But I’m no actor! Some candidates come away from the role play exercise disappointed that it seemed to be an acting exercise. You won’t do yourself any favours by complaining to the assessors about this, as they were probably the ones who spent lots of time carefully designing the exercise. Always take the actors seriously and always address them as the fictional character they are playing. There has been some criticism of role play exercises because they require the candidate to play a fictional role in order to demonstrate their abilities, even though acting skills are not relevant to the job. Rest assured that most role play actors are professional enough to make candidates forget they are in a fictional scenario, and allow the candidate to focus on deciding how to handle the situation. Even if role play exercises do require a degree of getting into character, unfortunately there’s no better way to accurately assess how you behave in a difficult situation, short of getting you to deal with a real angry customer!

Next: Case Studies