What are In Tray Exercises?

In-Tray Exercises

Whilst the in tray exercise is a popular assessment activity which employers use to evaluate the skills of applicants in a workplace situation, it’s not uncommon to wonder what are In Tray exercises.

Within these exercises, candidates will be presented with a given scenario, along with a set of tasks such as email messages, reports or briefing documents depending on the nature of the role.

The applicant is then required to review the scenario and then work through a series of tasks, prioritising accordingly and providing an explanation for their chosen list of prioritised tasks.

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In Tray Exercises Explained

Cartoon completing an In Tray Exercise

In tray exercises can vary considerably in terms of their duration, with some as little as 30 minutes while others are as long as 2 hours.

During the exercise it is not uncommon to be asked to progress through between ten and thirty items, so working quickly and accurately is crucial.

You may also be presented with a collection of supplementary information to help you complete the exercise, which could include:

  • A description of the role and responsibilities of the organisation
  • Information about aims, objectives
  • The organisational structure
  • A list of employees
  • Schedule of events/projects
  • Details about third party organisations and relationships

What Is Included in an In Tray Exercise at Interview in 2016?

In-Tray-Exercise-Example

A summary of what is included in an In Tray Exercise at Interview

In tray exercises are not restricted to a particular role or a specific sector; they are frequently used in a number of different sectors and can be used for several types of jobs from an Administrative Assistant to an IT Support or Finance Officer.

A typical in tray exercise will set a scenario similar to:

It’s Friday morning, work has gradually built up over the course of the week and you have an important meeting at 09:30am. You have a number of tasks on your desk to complete and you have 30 minutes in which to prioritise and complete each of the tasks.

You will then be presented with a list of tasks which may include a combination of the following:

  • Telephone messages
  • Correspondence
  • Papers such as reports, statements, briefing documents and plans
  • A set of emails
  • Planner or Calendar

The subject matter of the in-tray exercise will usually relate to the role you have applied for.

So for example, if you are in marketing it may include a telephone message from a design team, correspondence from a customer, a marketing brief or strategy, emails to and from the client and a marketing schedule.

You will then have a certain amount of time to read through the information you have been given
and then prioritise each task as you would on an average day in the workplace.

Once the tasks have been prioritised, you will be expected to explain the action required and how you would deal with the situation. This could be returning a call, delegating a task to another member of staff, scheduling in a meeting or drafting a response to a letter.

Tips for In Tray Exercises

Tip #1: Read All the Information

Before you begin thinking about how you are going to prioritise the tasks, firstly read through all of the information that you have been provided with, paying particular attention to any instructions for the activity.

Tip #2: Act Naturally

When you are ready to start, approach the exercise as though you were at work on an average day and the tasks had landed on your desk.

Tip #3: Remain Calm

Try to remain calm and think through the situation logically, identifying the most important tasks as a starting point.

Tip #4: Write Notes and Use Paper

It may be beneficial to jot down your initial thoughts on a piece of paper before you provide your final answers so you can rearrange the order of the items if necessary.

Review any deadlines which accompany the tasks so you can take these into consideration when preparing your final list.

In Tray Exercise Time Management

In-Tray-Time-Management

Time can go very quickly during an in-tray exercise so you need to think and act quickly, but you have to be careful not to rush so you don’t make silly mistakes.

It is crucial that you don’t overlook a key piece of information which can result in misinterpreting the activity completely or failing to carry out a vital task that you have been asked to complete.

You will be assessed on your ability to work effectively under pressure and also your capacity to identify whether certain tasks are more important than others.

You can find an example of an In Tray Exercise Time Management game here.

How the In Tray Exercise Is Assessed

Irrespective of the topics or the job role, the in tray exercise will be used to assess your ability to synthesise, analyse and evaluate complex information within tight time constraints.

Recruiters will be looking at how you arrive at your answers and how effectively you can communicate your reasons for choosing certain options, overcoming problems and addressing any issues along the way.

You will also be assessed on how well you communicate your thought processes.

It is always important to pay attention to how you present yourself during these exercises so take care to organise your workstation as best you can, present your work as neatly as possible, and approach the task calmly and confidently.

In some in-tray exercises you may be expected to identify a certain theme as you work through the content. Something like the imminent merger of the company or a period of restructuring.

Identifying themes such as these will show that you really understand the role and explain how this has influenced the way in which you have prioritised the tasks and evaluated the information.

How In Tray Exercises Are Evolving

As businesses rely more on technology to carry out their work, applicants are increasingly asked to carry out an e-tray exercise.

Very similar in nature to the traditional in-tray assessment, the documents are provided in a folder on a computer rather than being presented in paper format.

Conclusion

However the in-tray exercise is structured, it is really important that you are calm and collected in your approach. This will ensure that you make the best decisions with the available information and you won’t overlook anything significant.

With an in-tray exercise there are no right or wrong answers. Recruiters will simply be looking for how you organise your work and your reasoning behind prioritising each task presented in the in-tray exercise.

For more tips and hints, be sure to check out the YouTube video below or take a look at this super useful guide from Enterprise Rent-a-car

2 thoughts on “What are In Tray Exercises?

  1. November 8, 2016 at 2:37 am

    A simple and inilnetgelt point, well made. Thanks!

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