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Advice on excelling at M&S' graduate assessment day role play

Gauge the customer's needs and then give them relevant information.

If Marks & Spencer has invited you to an assessment centre, you’ll probably have checked out their graduate website where they’ve been quite open about the tasks you’ll be given.

Graduates tend to be most nervous about the role-related exercise, especially as tales abound that it involves a role play... If you are faced with a role play, take a deep breath and follow our tips for success.

Does the M&S role-related exercise really involve a role play?

Yes, it can do. The role-related exercise is designed to simulate work that you will be doing on the job. So for some roles it could involve you analysing data or contributing ideas to improve a product. However, if the graduate scheme you are applying for involves working directly with customers or overseeing colleagues, you’ll probably face a role play. Brace yourself, then, if you are going for an in-store job or a HR role.

What to expect from the Marks & Spencer role play

From what former candidates have shared on internet forums, role play scenarios in the past have included:

  • dealing with a customer who wants to return an item or has a complaint about the service that they’ve received. The customer may act aggressively.
  • assisting a customer who wants an item that is unavailable or out of stock.
  • selling an item to a customer.
  • assisting a customer in selecting food for an office party.
  • instructing and motivating an unenthusiastic employee, then giving them feedback.

If you are applying for a store management or HR role, a likely scenario would involve dealing with an employee who is underperforming.

From all accounts, M&S gives you all of the information you need about its policies and services in order to respond to questions. You’ll also be given time to read through the information pack before the role play begins.

Advice on tackling the M&S role play

Follow these tips...

Practice makes perfect before the assessment day

It is a good idea to consider how you’d react in the scenarios listed above. However, don’t be so focused on preparing for those situations that you are caught off guard if you are given an entirely different scenario. (Scenarios can change from year to year – and M&S is looking to see your instinctive reactions.) Take a look at the information M&S provides about the job roles on its websites and the job overviews provided on TARGETjobs Retail online and think of scenarios that could crop up if you were in those jobs.

If you’ve got the time, see if your careers service will give you a mock role play in advance of your assessment day. If not, corral a friend or relative into acting as a disgruntled customer. It’s also worth thinking back to how you’ve acted in similar experiences – what have you learned about customer service from your part-time jobs, for example?

Remember the skills M&S seeks from graduate hires

M&S’ website is quite clear about the competencies the assessors are judging you on:

  • business leadership.
  • decision-making.
  • commercial acumen (an awareness of the business’ bottom line and of how you can increase it).
  • resource and/or people management.

And you can use these to guide your responses. Let’s say you were given a role play based on a customer returning an item. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it wouldn’t show great commercial acumen to refuse to accept the item. That doesn’t indicate great customer service and is hardly likely to secure the customer’s long-term business. You would demonstrate better commercial acumen if you encouraged them to find an alternative and informed them about other items or promotions they might be interested in. By doing so, you are helping the customers and working to increase sales.

Helpfulness impresses the M&S assessors

The key to role play success is to give the best customer service you can by first gauging the customer’s needs and then giving them all of the relevant information you have available. Ask the customer questions to clarify their position. Then explain your position, what you are able to do and any additional M&S services that the customer might find useful. For example, if an item is unavailable, how soon will it be back in store? Would the customer be able to order it online? Could they use a click-and-collect-in-store service?

The role play isn’t the be-all-and-end-all

Remember that your performance in the role play – or for that matter any other role-related exercise – isn’t the only thing M&S assessors take into account. They will be looking at the day as a whole. So try not to get too nervous: after all, all you can do is take a deep breath and respond as you think best.

Are you, in fact, more nervous about the M&S graduate interview? Prepare with these example questions.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.
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