How To Pass In Tray Exercises

How To Pass In Tray Exercises

A very popular activity during an assessment centre is the in-tray exercise. This is an activity that is designed to demonstrate how you make decisions and work through tasks. You may be thinking, well I thought they tested that through the psychometric questionnaire – and yes they probably did, but do you remember that I said that assessors need to see consistency? The assessors need to see you perform consistently across all the activities, and an in-tray exercise is a good way to gauge that your decision making is indeed consistent.

What is an In Tray exercise?

What is an in-tray exercise?

It is an assessment activity that requires you to put a number of suggested activities in the order that you perceive they should take place. It is an attempt to simulate a business situation, and typically you play the part of the employee who has come in either first thing in the morning or to a first day in a job, and there is a list of activities and events that you need to tackle. You need to read each item and decide on the order and how you will deal with each item (you may be asked to give reasons for each selection.) Oh, and to put a little pressure on, there is usually a time limit.


The in-tray may contain:

• Letters of complaint
• General letters/correspondence
• Memos
• Emails
• Notes

.. and you will usually be given some information about the company and a calendar to help you.
(Just a note – some organisations are now incorporating e-tray exercises. These are exactly the same as in-tray exercises except that the information is given to you completely by email so that the exercise becomes computer-based.)

What do in-tray exercises test?

In an in-tray exercise test, the assessors are looking for:

  • Your ability to take in and process information
  • Your capacity for analysing problems and looking ahead to future repercussions
  • How you make decisions under pressure and prioritise effectively
  • Your ability to be creative
  • How you assess possible problems
  • How effective you are at implementing solutions
  • How you manage time effectively
  • How you deal with people tactfully
  • Your ability to delegate some tasks
  • Your knowledge as to when it is appropriate that you respond personally
  • Your ability to consider the wider implications for the organisation
  • How you negotiate and/or influence others

To help you prepare for in-tray activities, consider the following:

  1. Think about the job you are applying for, what content are you likely to be given in an in-tray exercise? (Notice that although my two examples are a Head in a school and a manager, some of the problems listed are very similar because people and premises issues occur in many jobs).
  2. Remember that activities can be delegated if you have suitable staff (see the organisational chart if there is one).
  3. Highlight any additional important information such as the date or time.
  4. Make sure you do exactly what is asked of you.  If you need to justify your thoughts – do that.
  5. Use high, medium and low priority piles first and then prioritise within those.
  6. Look for any links where two activities can be done at the same time, or conversely the same person cannot be in two places at the same time!
  7. Never shirk (or delegate) your responsibility.

Karen Mannering is an expert at passing assessment centres. To learn more about how to pass an assessment centre, click HERE

Copyright © Karen Mannering 2012.