Would you use simulation/role-play for the hiring process in your organization/company? Pay attention to these 4 points!

I recently had an opportunity to observe an assessment center that involves simulations/role-play as one of several methods for assessing candidates. This assessment center aimed to select ‘entry level’ employees who will be projected/developed as ‘future leaders’ of the company.

The assessment center was scheduled to be done in 2 days, consisted of 5 ‘exercises’ in which 3 of them were using simulation/role-play as a selection method. The other 2 were presenting innovation ideas for the company and doing self-reflection based on other 4 previous ‘exercises’. In this post, I will try to reflect my observation, focusing on the 3 simulation/role-play exercises.

O’Leary, R., et al. (2017) review that simulation/role-play was initially used in the military personnel selection back in 1940s and started being adopted by organizations for managerial assessment center in 1950s. An international study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in 2013, 67% of the companies surveyed use some form of simulations as part of their hiring process. Simulation/role-play is seen as “show me” and not “tell me” measures which gives benefits for organization/companies to mitigate distortion as candidates might not be able to fake proficiency and requires a behavior response to mirror actual ability (Gatewook, Field, & Barrick, 2008).

I personally had chances to design such assessment centers, but never used role-play as one of the methods. I believe that role-play is actually best for learning and development purposes, but I am not quite sure when it’s used to determine candidates’ future with our organization/company.


A quite fancy assessment center venue that I observed lately


However, observing these 3 ‘exercises’ involving simulation/role-play, I became aware on several important points to consider whenever HR/Organization practitioners consider to use this method for hiring purpose (‘selecting’ people):

  1. Making Sure the Fidelity of the Simulation

In the context of assessment, fidelity is ‘degree to which a measure represents or replicates actual features of the focal job’ (O’Leary, R., et al., 2017). It’s further explained that fidelity has 2 aspects: psychological and physical. Psychological fidelity has to ensure that during the simulation/role-play, candidates need to utilize the knowledge, skills, and abilities during the simulation/role-play that they will use on the job. Related to this, physical fidelity refers to which extent the simulation/role-play replicates actual tasks performed on the job. High level of fidelity then will surely enhance the validity of the assessment method.

Fidelity would impact to what degree the simulation/role-play brings the “Realistic Job Preview” (RJP), that would influence candidates with quality of information to ‘self-evaluate’ whether the job (and the organization/company) fits their interests, skills, and preferences – which might result to the acceptance/refusal of job offers (Downs et al, 1978).

  1. Understanding ‘a Sample’ and ‘Sign/Indication’ Behaviors

Simulation/role-play try to measure candidate’s performance related to job/work by performing certain tasks, using tools or technology, and interaction with other employees or customers (Callinan & Robertson, 2000, O’Leary, R., et al. 2017). This method relies on ‘samples of behaviors’ to predict the whole job performance of the candidate. Thus, it would have a better accuracy when it’s based on behavioral consistency; considering that the ‘the predictor of future behaviors is past behaviors in the same or similar contexts (Wernimont & Campbell, 1968).

Thus, the assessors should be careful in deciding whether the ‘acts’ or behavior during the role-play is just a sample of variety behaviors might be performed by the candidates or the sign/indication of the whole personality/characters of the candidate; providing an assumption of how a person might response a same thing differently in different situations.

  1. Managing Candidates’ Reactions from the Process

Candidates’ reaction to an assessment method is typically being evaluated with a framework from organization justice theory (Gilliland’s model, 1993). The 3 dimensions on this matter are “(1) perceived job relatedness, (2) opportunity to perform, and (3) interpersonal treatment”.

A candidate told me that she felt unsatisfied being assessed by simulation/role-play method, in which she was only given 20 minutes to understand 4-5 pages’ simulation/role-play context and 15 minutes to perform. This might seem more like an ‘Acting School’ or ‘Movie Casting’, rather than selecting ‘future leaders’ – as script was given and candidates’ need to act based on it.

“I think, it might be quite unfair that one’s competency and capability be captured by a 15 minutes of acting, the feedback that I received was mostly from those exercises” – quoting her comment that echoes the lack of opportunity to perform during the assessment center.

  1. A Long-Term Perception on Organization/Companies Condition

I observed that some simulation/role-play exercises gave candidates such a hard situation as they needed to ‘act’ with ‘hard managers/leaders’ within the companies. As some candidates said ‘it might happen in real life’, they also admitted that they would definitely resign / leave the organization/companies if the internal condition was like that.

Although, I assumed that the situation was given (maybe) to measure candidates’ emotional intelligence and conflict management, I do still believe that it’s more important to provide ‘realistic job preview’ in relation to aforementioned fidelity discussion. As this assessment center invited ‘future leader’ candidates which most probably have ‘other options’ aside of joining this organization/company, it’s necessary to make sure that the given simulation not become a ‘backfire’ to the organization/companies reputation.

Organizations/companies are “increasingly using assessments as an opportunity to promote their brand because they have the potential to influence perceptions” (Yu & Cable, 2012). Further quoting O’Riley et al., (2017):

“… not only is it important that those applicants/customers be treated fairly in the assessment process but also that the assessments present the organization in the most favourable light possible and leave applicants and customers with a positive impression. As previously mentioned, applicant impressions are related to job pursuit intentions. It is fundamental for the business (from direct‐to‐consumer, online retailers to large international hotel chains) that applicants (selected and not selected) view the organization favourably and remain customers. In a social media‐rich world it is increasingly likely that candidates will share their impression of the organization and its brand with others and in turn impact others’ impressions and intentions towards the organization/companies”.


Would you use simulation / role-play for the hiring process in your organization/company? Pay attention to above 4 points. Good luck!


2 thoughts on “Would you use simulation/role-play for the hiring process in your organization/company? Pay attention to these 4 points!

  1. Oscar

    I agree with the four points you’ve mentioned as taken from the pertinent literature.

    However, I wonder whether this is a fair process i.e. across the board (same for all the candidates/applicants).

    Secondly, do you know of any possible limitations or downsides to the use of roleplay/simulation.

    1. I suppose that fairness of any kind of assessment method might be debatable subjectively (as perceived individually based on several factors). Yet, to make sure that all candidates have the same opportunity to perform based on the goals of the assessment might increase the (perceived) fairness.

      Role play/simulation would be quite suitable for task-based works. Works that involve soft skills might possibly be problematic, as some people inconsistently perform their skills on this matter, particularly if candidates are not comfortable to be observed in an artificial situation.

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