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What is a role-play exercise? Which industries use role play exercises? How to prepare for role-play exercises? If these are questions on your mind, then this is the guide for you. Read on to accelerate your assessment centre practice today.

In this text we go into depth about role play tests in an assessment centre, including what a role play exercise is, provide specific role play assessment test examples and discover how role plays are assessed.

Our website provides practice assessment centre exercises that can be used to prepare for a role play test in the recruitment process. Start your practice to prepare for a role play assessment test.

Wondering whether you should be practicing to prepare for your role playing exercises? According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD, 2020), around one third of employers use assessment centres in their application process.

Experiencing the office environment is a significant factor for candidates in recruitment. Moreover, it was felt that feeling personally valued with a potential to have a career at the company are more important which are possible to achieve virtually.

Institute of Student Employers (2020)


  1. What is a role play exercise?
  2. Why are role play exercises used at assessment centres?
  3. What industries use role playing exercises?
  4. Top 13 Tips to Prepare For a Role Play Exercise
  5. What is an example of a role play exercise in an assessment centre?
  6. How are role play exercises assessed?
  7. Role Play Exercise FAQs

What is a role play exercise in an assessment centre?

Role-Play exercises in assessment centres are most commonly used as part of the recruitment process for jobs that rely on high elements of team work or interaction with customers.

What do role play exercises measure?

The role play test is a reliable measure of a candidate’s skills and competencies, including interpersonal skills and their effectiveness in a challenging context requiring assertiveness, confidence, and self-awareness.

Why do employers use role play exercises to hire?

Role-playing is used by employers to evaluate a candidate’s ability to handle a specific situation that is relevant to the job they are applying for.

Good to know: For example in retail, a potential candidate will have to respond to customer complaints. A role-play exercise will assess candidate’s competence to maintain professionalism and customer focus to react and demonstrate skills required to do the job to a high standard.

The goal of the exercise is for assessors to know how the candidate would handle a real-life situation, demonstrate the competencies that are relevant to the role and to evaluate their potential as a future employee. In reference to the retail example above the assessor may be particularly looking out for customer satisfaction and increase in sales.

What happens during a role-play exercise?

During a role play assessment test, the candidate, often paired along with other candidates, are given a role-play candidate brief containing contextual information and specific scenario instructions. Depending on the industry, company and seniority level, role based assessments will differ – as will the fictional background briefs.

Good to know: Similarly in a virtual assessment centre candidates will be provided their brief online ahead of time and will tackle this individually or in groups, in breakout rooms.

Virtual role play assessment
Virtual role play assessment test
Source: Freepik

4 Key Stages to Your Role Play Assessment

1. All candidates are given a ‘candidate brief’

You will not be required to create an imaginary context, or be asked questions that require specific information that you cannot be expected to retain without any previous instructions. The candidate brief outlines information that is relevant to the scenario; this may include a history of events, how any problem may have been managed previously (as if they were in a real-life workplace setting) as well as the competencies that will be evaluated.

Popular scenarios that could be used can involve:

  • A conflict between co-workers
  • A difficult customer
  • A problem that needs to be solved

2. The candidate is given a limited amount of time

You will be given a limited amount of time to prepare for the role-playing exercise under supervised conditions. You will then have a meeting with the ‘role-player’ who may be acting as a customer, a manager, a colleague and so on.

For example, a role-play exercise may involve a candidate playing a role (often the one they are applying for) of a manager for a small business and having to deal with a co-worker who has not been meeting their targets. The co-worker in this example may be played by an assessor but it is common practice for organisations to hire professional actors to perform these roles.

3. The candidates will act out the scenario

This will then be assessed by a trained observer, who are typically experienced HR professionals. They will observe, take notes throughout the assessment, and will look at factors such as the candidate’s communication skills, ability to think on their feet, leadership potential, and overall approach to the situation.

4. Candidates are given feedback on their performance

After the assessment centre or role play activity you may be given overall feedback on your role play assessment test performance.

Did you know? Our Assessment Exercises are written by former-SHL consultants? Our Assessment Centre practice bundle includes Case Study, In-tray, Presentation, Group Discussion and Role Play Exercises along with Candidate Briefs and Assessor Marking Guides to tell you what Assessors will look at when rating you. Click here to practise Assessment Centre Exercises prepared by experts.

Why are role play exercises used at assessment centres?

The purpose of a role-playing exercise in an assessment centre is to assess the candidates’ ability to handle imaginary real-life work scenarios and demonstrate the skills and competencies that are relevant to the role.

Good to know: These exercises are designed to simulate the types of situations that employees may encounter in the workplace, and provide a way for assessors to evaluate how well the candidates can handle these situations.

By using role play, assessors can observe the candidates in a more realistic setting and see how they respond to challenges and pressure.

What skills are assessed using role-play exercises?

During role based assessments, the assessors aim to assess a candidate’s:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Leadership potential
  • Customer focus
  • Working under pressure

What industries use role playing exercises?

You can find examples of role based assessments across virtually all industries. Some of the most common examples of industries that rely on role playing exercises for testing their candidates would include:

  • Healthcare
  • Finance
  • Retail
  • Customer service
Role play example
Role Play Example
: Freepik

These industries often require employees to handle challenging, thinking on their feet situations, with business stakeholders or customer interactions. Therefore, assessing these skills through role-playing can be an effective way to identify top candidates who show themselves to be confident and self-aware of the impact of what and how they say.

Did you know? Assessment centre exercises are most commonly used for candidates applying to graduate and internship positions.

However, any industry that values competencies such as problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills may use role-playing in assessment centres as a way to evaluate job candidates.

Top 13 Tips to Prepare For a Role Play Exercise

1. Understand the purpose of the exercise

Before you start preparing, it’s important to understand the purpose of the assessment and what the assessors are looking for. Think about the key skills and competencies that the role-play is designed to test. These could include negotiation, problem-solving, communication, or leadership, for example. Consider how you would demonstrate these skills during the role play.

2. Research the scenario

If you have been given information about the scenario ahead of time, take some time to research the topic and familiarise yourself with the situation. Try and find out the background of the situation, the characters / roles and the audience involved and what objectives you are trying to achieve. This will help you understand the context and think about how you would respond in a real-life situation.

3. Practise active listening

In most role-playing scenarios, effective communication is key. Practise active listening, which involves fully focusing on the other person, maintaining eye contact, and giving verbal and nonverbal cues that you are listening, for instance, make sure that when you are listening to questions you are attentive and demonstrate this through nods and gestures of agreement.

4. Rehearse

Before the assessment centre, take some time to practise role playing with a friend or colleague. This will allow you to feel more comfortable and confident with the role. Make sure to practise different strategies and approaches. When rehearsing your lines and responses, make sure you know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

Refine your spoken communication skills using our Video Interview Preparation Tool and share with others to receive feedback and guidance on your performance.

Role play body language example
Role Play Body Language Example

5. Be aware of your body language

Your body language can communicate a lot about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. It can impact how you are perceived by the assessors and other role players.

  • Make sure to stand or sit up straight, maintain eye contact, and use gestures and facial expressions to show interest and engagement.
  • Maintain a relaxed eye contact – you do not want to be staring at the role-player (e.g. customer) in the eyes for prolonged periods of time.
  • Speak clearly and adapt your style depending on what the ‘candidate brief’ says about the individual; e.g. if they are sensitive, you may need to be very careful with the language you use. Smiling always helps too but do ensure this is not done to the extent where an angry customer can complain you were not taking them seriously.

Additionally, utilise the video below on the top 5 job interview body language tips to further your understanding.

Top 5 Job Interview Body Language Tips #shorts

6. Consider different perspectives

In a role play scenario, you may be asked to take on the role of a customer, employee, or manager. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their perspective, needs, and motivations. This will help you respond in a way that is sensitive and appropriate.

7. Ask for clarification

If you are unsure about something during the exercise, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. This will show that you are engaged and will help you provide a more accurate and effective response.

8. Manage conflict

Avoid confrontation and do not speak over the role-player, regardless of how aggressive they may appear. The role-player may simply be doing this to see how you respond. Remain calm and focussed on your task.

9. Empathise

Ensure you show that you empathise and make a point of this at least twice. Be willing to hear the role-players opinions and feelings, and work together to reach a mutual win-win outcome. Do not try to force your own opinions.

10. Time keeping

Keeping a check on the time will earn you good points. Don’t worry about finishing early, however finishing too early can often be viewed negatively as it reflects a lack of initiative.

11. Build rapport

The role-playing assessment is likely to be challenging and one of the most common themes that assessors feel candidates fail on is building rapport. Rapport helps to break any barriers and encourages a relaxed and open conversation.

People in situations where rapport is built at the onset find the session to be more meaningful than those who do not. This may involve simply offering the role-player a drink, asking how they are or even making a relevant joke assuming the circumstances permit.

12. Stay flexible and adaptable

The role play assessment test will not always go how you have planned or rehearsed, be prepared to think on your feet and make adjustments to your approach if needed.

Most likely, the role play will be just one aspect of the assessment centre, try not to get too caught up on the performance aspect.

13. Stay focussed and calm

Before you begin, take a few deep breaths before you start and try to relax. This will help you to stay focused and perform at your best.

Role play assessment tips
Role play assessment test tips
: Freepik

Overall, the key to success in a role-playing exercise is to be prepared, stay calm, keep the competencies and skills being assessed in mind, and think on your feet. By following these tips, you can demonstrate your ability to handle real-life situations and impress the assessors.

What is an example of a role play exercise in an assessment centre?

Here is a short role play exercise example question and answer of a mock role play customer service exercise that is often used during assessment centres:

ScenarioYou are a customer service manager at a call centre. You have received a call from a customer who is extremely upset because their order was not delivered on time. They are threatening to leave a bad review, cancel their account and take their business elsewhere.
TaskIn this role playing assessment, you will play the role of the manager and must handle the situation with the upset customer. The assessors will be observing your communication skills, problem-solving ability and leadership potential.

Here are some tips for this role play assessment test example:

  • Listen actively to the customer, acknowledging their concerns.
  • Be empathetic and show that you understand the customer’s frustration.
  • Take responsibility for the mistake and apologise for the inconvenience
  • Offer a solution, such as providing a discount on their next order.
  • Use positive body language and maintain calm and professional.
  • Try to resolve the situation and retain the customer’s business.

Good to know: The assessors will evaluate your performance based on specific criteria or competencies, such as your determination and initiative, communication skills, and your ability to think on your feet.

What are some of the most common scenarios used in role-playing exercises?

The scenarios will vary depending on the industry and the role that is being assessed, however we found that the top 3 most commonly used role play scenarios are:

  • Dealing with a difficult client/customer, this scenario may be used in customer service, sales roles and retail industries, and is used to assess a candidate’s communication skills, empathy and conflict resolution abilities.
  • Managing conflict within a team or with your manager. This scenario is commonly used in team-based roles and assesses the candidates’ conflict resolution skills, empathy and ability to mediate disputes.
  • Making a difficult decision between various strategic options. This scenario is used to assess leadership skills, decision making skills, strategic thinking and ability to cope under pressure.

How are role play exercises assessed?

In a role play test, assessors will typically use an assessment form which will state all of the competencies they are looking for from the candidates that are relevant to the scenario and important to the role they are applying for, such as communication skills, decision making skills, initiative and self-confidence.

Good to know: The assessors will review the performance of the participants and will either score them on each of the different competencies the candidates do or do not show, for example a score out of 5. Alternatively, assessors may mark a candidate’s performance using a checklist which will state whether the candidate meets the job requirements based on certain criteria.

What is a competency?

The knowledge, skills, abilities, and other desirable characteristics that are required to successfully improve the performance of a job role.

Good to know: Competencies and key skills that are used in a role playing exercises will also vary depending on the scenario and the position being assessed. The assessors will typically provide information about the key skills and competencies that will be evaluated in the candidate brief, prior to when the role play assessment test begins.

You can also check out this 1 minute video to find out all you need to know about competencies and how they are examined in a role playing assessment.

What is a Competency? (Get Ready for SJTs & Interviews) #shorts

Practice assessment centre exercises with GF to prepare for your role play assessment test. Use our candidate and assessor briefs to know what best performance looks like.

Discover more quick answers for all you will need to know some of the top questions people ask about role based assessments in your assessment centre with our FAQs below:

Role Play Exercise FAQs

How long is a role play exercise?

The length of a role-playing exercise in an assessment centre can vary from 20 minutes to an hour, it is all dependent on the scenario and the participants.

How long do I have to prepare for a role play exercise?

To prepare for a role play you are usually given around 20-30 minutes.

You will receive a candidate brief with all the background information you need. This will include description of your role, and those of other participants, company information, and task instructions. You will have around 20 minutes to familiarise yourself with the content and plan your response.

What are the benefits of a role play exercise in an assessment centre?

Role based assessments are beneficial as they provide a simulated work environment for candidates to understand their role and what it would entail and for assessors to evaluate their suitability. Candidates can use the feedback from the exercise to improve their skills for future roles.

Practice and Register with GF to ace your role playing exercises first time

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