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In-tray Exercises

An in-tray exercise might be one of the tests you’ll have to complete at an assessment centre. It’s a way of testing how well you are suited to a particular role and whether you have the skills necessary for that role. An in-tray exercise is basically a business simulation where you have to deal with the tasks that you might encounter on a normal working day.

In-tray exercises usually have a time limit of one or two hours, during which you’ll be given a number of tasks to complete. You might be given the tasks all at once or you might be given more tasks as the exercise progresses. In-tray exercises are usually completed individually, but sometimes you might be required do them as part of a group assignment.

What kind of tasks will I do?

The tasks will probably involve deciding how to handle a series of emails, letters or reports. You might have to deal with the tasks by answering a multiple choice question, drafting an email, making a phone call or choosing a colleague to delegate to.

What are e-tray exercises?

E-tray exercises are basically the same kind of thing, but your ‘in-tray’ is replaced with an inbox and you will use a computer to complete the tasks. The main thing which both kinds of exercise will test is how you handle a lot of information in a short time. The trick is not to get frazzled. So before you start overdosing on Rescue Remedy, remember there are ways to keep your cool other than the herbal route.

How can you prepare?

We strongly recommend you have a go at some of the practice in-tray tests on the internet. You should research the organisation thoroughly before going to the assessment centre, so you understand the company ethos and the kinds of things that they might prioritise, e.g. do they prioritise customer service?

You will get an idea of the skills they might be testing or the tasks you might have to perform from the job description. Otherwise, they will probably be assessing your ability to prioritise your workload, your analytical skills, your logic and how decisive and organised you are. They’ll probably be evaluating your writing and communication skills too.

Any more in-tray exercise tips?

Don’t blindly rush through the in-tray exercise. They are testing how accurately you process information as well as how quickly. Make sure you read all the instructions and follow them carefully. Take a few minutes at the start of the test to look through the tasks and prioritise them in order of importance.

Make a note of when they need to be completed by, and quickly decide which tasks will require more time. Don’t get bogged down by any irrelevancies, the key thing is to extract the relevant information quickly in order to complete the task.

After the exercise, you should be prepared to explain the reasoning behind any of your decisions. They will want to know how you work, why you prioritised certain tasks or why you responded to a task in a particular way. Some people find it the most daunting part of an assessment centre, but with a little bit of practice and a few deep breaths, you should be fine. 

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