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How to do an In-tray/E-tray exercise?

by Fiona Christie on March 5, 2012

This is a guest post from Nik Shah at WikiJob. He shares his tips and own experience about how best to approach this particular activity which is used as part of some organisations’ recruitment processes.

What kind of employers use In-tray/E-tray exercises?

Generally, if you are applying to a big corporate company that has a graduate scheme; the company will very often hold an assessment centre to recruit the right candidate.. Assessment centres are group events that allow companies to test candidates in a variety of different scenarios and through a variety of business world assessments. One of the typical tests used are In-tray (or E-tray) exercises.

What is an In-tray or E-tray exercise?

This exercise is usually a paper based business simulation of real life work scenarios and is used to test a candidate’s skills that can’t be assessed through job applications or traditional face-to-face interviews. Sometimes these exercises can be conducted electronically, when they are referred to as an “E-tray exercise”. The exercises usually last between 60 and 90 minutes. You will have to work quickly to absorb lots of information and manage demands on your time, whilst deciding how to respond to each in tray item.

What’s the purpose of an In-tray/E-tray exercise? 

The exercise will be specifically designed to measure job skills such as:
• Ability to organize and prioritize work
• Analytical skills
• Communication with team members and customers
• Written communication skills
• Delegation
• Extract information from data provided
• Making calculations
• Dealing with company and client problems
Whether it is a paper or electronic version, the basic principles of the In-tray exercise remains the same.

Avoid my mistakes

My first encounter with an In-tray exercise at an assessment centre was not the greatest. This was my first assessment centre and I little idea of what to expect from the day. I knew the basics of what might happen; some competency based tasks, interviews, etc. But I had no real idea what an In-tray exercise was going to be. Before the exercise began the assessors gave a brief outline of what it was going to be about, handed over the test documents and we began. I got the notion of what to do, but I did not manage my time well. I just didn’t realise that you had use your time efficiently as you were trying to organise complex information in a limited time allocation. Because of this I knew I missed out some key points in the exercise and this was probably one of the main reasons I didn’t progress to the next stage of the selection process.

However, I did feel a little frustrated towards the company conducting the assessment centre, as I was not informed before the day that there was going to be and In-tray exercise. Usually companies will inform you before the actual assessment centre of exactly which tests will take place and may even provide access to practice tests to help you gain experience of taking these unfamiliar types of tests.
Whether a company lets you know what to expect or not, it is always best to be prepared for all eventualities. To help prepare for In-tray and E-tray exercises, check out graduate jobs preparation website  There is some great advice and tools on there that candidates can use to help prepare for the various assessment centre tests, including in-tray and e-tray tests, group exercises scenarios, situational judgement tests and even verbal and numerical reasoning tests.

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