The Role Play Interview

by Victor Cheng

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Question:

I’m a huge fan of your online case prep material and your emails.

I am certain they have helped me get to the two final round interviews I’ve got coming up (BCG and McKinsey).

I was wondering if I could ask for your advice on one particular thing – the ‘role play’ interview.

Below this email is the response I got when I asked HR about my interview format – they mention that there will be three interviews – one of which will be a role play interview.

Do you have any knowledge of the format of these interviews, how they differ to case interviews, and how to prepare for them?

“In addition to the 2 Case + Personal Experience Interviews, you will be asked to do a role play + case interview. The case will take up half of the interview and the role play will be for the remaining 30 minutes.

The role play is nothing to worry about, there will be instruction cards to prepare you on the day. Your interviewer (who is usually an Engagement Manager) will play the part of a client or a team member.”

My Reply:

Most likely the role play interview is a way to test your people skills in some kind of conflict situation.

Basically expect the role play to be one where you need to share some kind of information with the other party that they do not wish to hear or that they disagree with.

Maybe you think the client is wrong, but they don’t yet realize it.

Maybe you disagree with your team member and need to convince him or her of the merits of your argument.

Maybe you are managing someone, they made a mistake, but they don’t think they did.

In general, the role play is a situation simulating an awkward conversation, a disagreement, or conflict of some sort.

The key thing tested in this is your diplomacy.

Are you able to disagree in a respectful way? Do you choose your words carefully to avoid making the situation emotionally worse?

Are you able to make your logical point, possibly persuade the other person to your point of view, without damaging the relationship?

In other words, can you win the argument without hurting the other person’s feeling, damaging their pride, or wounding their ego.

So don’t say, “You are so stupid for thinking that way. Clearly the answer is X”.  (That is the wrong choice of words.)

You might laugh at this, but it does happens — perhaps not so strongly, but almost exactly that way in tone of voice and attitude.

This is especially true with candidates with PhD backgrounds where the person thinks they are defending a dissertation vs. having a discussion with a client (you know the person who pays the bills).

You say things like, “I’m confused, it seems that based on the facts, X is true. But perhaps I missed something important. How do you see the situation?”

This allows you to make the logical point without using power in the argument.  In general, I always try to avoid using power or authority to force a logical point of view.

Instead, I prefer to persuade people to my way of thinking without “forcing” them to agree based on my credentials, position, or status.

Sometimes I will play a little “dumb” and say things like, “maybe I missed something…” or “here is how I see it, how do you see it?”

Or in general, verbally allow for the possibility that I might be wrong (even when I know I definitely am not) just to keep the conversation a dialog (and not shutting the other person down), or allow the other person to share their concerns.

So basically, you want to be firm in your point of view, while still being diplomatic / allowing the other person to save face, etc..

The key thing to realize is that you are making a logical argument against someone who may be making an emotional argument.

Remember this: You can never win an emotional argument with logic.

What you can do is empathize, try to understand how the other person sees things, and work to defuse the emotional tenor of the issue enough to let logic back into the conversation.

If you insist on a point of view in a very aggressive way, it invites the other person to fight back.

Please keep in mind this is based on my experience in North America, and this kind of diplomacy will vary by country.  It is my impression that in Germany for example, the logical strength of the argument will prevail.

I do not know how something similar in Asia would play out — though I think saving face would be a key consideration.

But expect the conversation to be a difficult conversation of some sort.

Several McKinsey Europe offices have an online game called the McKinsey Team Leader Game that gives you a practice test with explanations for the “correct” answers they are looking for.

http://www.caseinterview.com/mckinsey-team-leader-game/

Finally, if you are stumped as to what to say in a role play, just imagine you are at the United Nations debating a diplomat from another country.

At least based on how this is portrayed in the movies, these diplomats have so many eloquent ways to say that the other person is wrong.

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