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The Ultimate Guide

For In-Tray/E-Tray
Exercises

In-Tray Exercise overview

In-Tray Exercise Sample

Skills required

Suggested Solution

Overview

Prioritising

Delegating tasks

Monitoring and managing delegated tasks

Answering questions

What NOT to do

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In-Tray Exercise overview


In-Tray exercises are usually given to candidates applying for managerial positions.
The candidate is asked to manage, prioritise and solve issues and tasks that have
found their way to their desk. The tasks are in letter or document format and within
the given time frame (usually 45-60 minutes) you must suggest a way to deal with
each document.
The In-Tray has two different formats:
1. A pen and paper version that requires the candidate to comment on every
task-item.
2. An online version (E-Tray) that includes a set of 3-4 proposed comments on
every task-item, from which the candidate is required to choose the most
and least effective responses.
In this guide we will usually use the term In-Tray while the content is valid for E-tray as
well.

As both exercise formats are based on the same principles and require the same
skills, we recommend the same solving process for both formats. If you do get
multiple choice questions, don't be tempted to answer without going through the
whole solving process first.
The background and setting:
You will be assigned a specific job profile that would almost always include one of
the following background stories:

You are a manager of an organisation and you are planning to go overseas for
a couple of days, or alternatively,
you have just returned from a vacation.
you have just been appointed as a manager of a new team/department.

In all cases, you must attend to all of the documents/letters you have received from
your colleagues at work. In order to do it, you must prioritise the documents by their
relative importance and urgency and suggest your recommended responses for each
instance.

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In-Tray Exercise Sample


This is a shortened version of an in-tray exercise we use in order to demonstrate the
stages and basic principles of approaching the in-tray.
You are a department manager in an IT company and you have planned to go
overseas in a couple of days. You are requested to attend to 20 different
documents/e-mails/issues prior to your trip. You must decide which of the issues
need to be attended to urgently and which are of less importance. You have 30
minutes to complete the task.
The issues:
1. Your manager calls a meeting in 2 hours time regarding recruitment of new
employees.
2. An employee of yours is complaining about her salary.
3. You receive an invite to a meeting in 3 hours time regarding the
implementation of the new HR system you have recently purchased.
4. One of your employees invites you to his son's wedding which will take place
in 4 weeks.
5. Management informs you that you must submit your forms for your pension
plan.
6. Management informs you of the annual managers workshop which takes
place in Swindon in 10 days time.
7. A friend invites you to his birthday party next week.
8. New company health and safety regulations are introduced due to a recent
accident.
9. Your secretary informs you that she would like to quit her job.
10. Your PA would like to take his annual leave next week.
11. Management informs you of 50% discount for the Coldplay concert next
week.
12. You have just been informed that a national TV crew is preparing to conduct
an interview with the CEO and your presence is required.
13. Your manager is expecting to receive the recent updates from you prior to
the meeting in 2 hours.
14. A recent management report indicates low motivation levels in your
department.
15. You are invited to the 'Employee of the Month' ceremony which will take
place in 12 days.
16. Your manager informs you that your department is to be ready for the annual
inspection in 3 weeks.
17. Halloween party for all company managers is scheduled for next week.
18. An employee files a complaint about inappropriate behaviour of one of your
junior managers.
19. A clerk in your department complains about sexual harassment by one of
your employees.
20. Your wife requests that you come home since she is stranded with her car.

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5
Answer the following question:
Try to imagine yourself as this manager, who has very little time and many emails to review.
Which of the following ways of dealing with this situation would you use? Try to answer
intuitively.
1. I would read the headlines of all emails in order to create a list of priorities. Then, I
would start taking care of emails by order of importance.
2. I would take care of emails in a chronological order, as fast as I can and as possible
within the allotted time.
3. I would start answering chronologically, and if I spot unimportant emails I would
mark them and deal with them later.
4. I would skim through all emails to determine priorities (for a few minutes). Then, I
would address them by order of importance and urgency.
Have you chosen answer no.4? Great! As we see it, this is the best way to work in the In-Tray
exercise. Even if you are used to dealing with emails in a different way and it works out fine,
we recommend you to adopt answer no.4 as a working style for the In-Tray. This style is
described in this document under Suggested Strategies for Solving In-Tray Exercises.
Answer 1- the problem with this style is that sometimes there is important information in
the email content that does not show in the headline.
Answers 2 and 3- without prioritizing, you may waste your time on unimportant emails while
important ones are left unattended. Sometimes, emails are inter-related and you may not
have all the information needed, which will lead to your answering without reading through
all emails. Reading through the entire email correspondence gives you a more
comprehensive view and an ability to construct a wide picture of the scenario.

Skills required
The exercise assesses your ability to deal efficiently with a large number of
managerial skills under stressful conditions and time pressure. There are many
managerial skills, among which the most important for the in-tray are:
Prioritisation
Prioritisation is the action of setting priorities to a large amount of tasks according to
the limitations of your schedule and the understanding that they cannot all be done
simultaneously by you alone. Prioritisation is best done according to the following
considerations:
1. The importance of each issue- how important the issue is in itself, to whom it is
important (yourself, a colleague, your manager, the companies' behalf).
2. The urgency of each issue- after you have determined an issue's importance, you
need to decide how urgent it is in itself and respectively to other issues at hand.
Remember that some issues will lose their relevance if not attended to within a
short time.
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3. The amount of time you have.

Delegation
Delegation is the assignment of authority to another person to carry out specific
activities. It allows a subordinate to make decisions by themselves. Effective
delegation pushes authority down vertically through the ranks of an organisation.
The purpose of delegating is lowering managerial stress and having more time to
concentrate on assignments that only you can attend to as the manager.
Delegating shows self-confidence as the manager trusts his own judgement of his
employees. A manager must also be able to monitor and supervise the instructions
and tasks he has delegated.
Information processing
In the in-tray exercise, similarly to a manager's daily work, you will be flooded by
information. You will not have the time or the energy to read thoroughly and process
every piece of information you receive. You will be required to show the ability to
distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, and skim through most of it
while concentrating on the important and most relevant information to what you are
currently occupied with.
Other important managerial skills are:

Managerial interpersonal relations: Relationships with subordinates,


colleagues, superiors, as well as general people skills.
Managing objectives-problem solving: Making decisions in unclear
circumstances, thinking strategically about long term and wide picture
solutions, as well as finding practical and creative solutions.
Leadership skills: For example, motivating employees, providing vision, as
well as having the ability to influence others.

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Suggested Strategies for Solving In-Tray Exercises


1. Overview
Prior to answering questions, read the instructions carefully and understand what is
required of you. Understand the organisational tree who reports to who and what
authority each manager has. Try to understand the nature of your role, the features
of the organization and the specific goals of your unit. Since you are under time
pressure, take no longer than 5 minutes to read the instructions and
documents/issues. This is done in order to ensure you have enough time to suggest
solutions and make decisions. Make a note of the supposed date the exercise is
taking place in, since many tasks are placed on a timeline.

2. Setting Priorities
Allow 51%-02% of your time for this task. It is recommended you have a quick read
through all test items initially without prioritising. Keep in mind whilst reading what
the priorities of the company are as well as the time limitations attached to these
tasks. Some test takers try to attend each of the items as they read along. This tactic
is not suggested since you spend most of your time on the first tasks in the list which
are not necessarily the most urgent ones. In addition, some of the information that is
important for the treatment of items in the beginning of the document is found in
later informational items and therefore it is important to skim through the whole
document before answering.
Read the letters/items and decide:

What are the most urgent issues?


Which issues are important but not urgent?
Which issues are of less importance and can be postponed?

The urgency level should be determined based on the company agenda and the time
required to handle each issue. For example, if your manager requests that you meet
him in his office (document 1) and shortly after or at the same time another meeting
is convened about a subject of equal importance (document 3), you should give
higher priority to the meeting with your manager because of his position in the
company and since you report to him. Make sure you dedicate enough preparation
time for it. You can send a representative to the second meeting on your behalf; this
shows your ability to make concrete decisions and ensures optimal use of the
resources and limited time available to you.
Another example: If your wife is stranded with her car (document 20) and in the
same time you must attend an issue at work; it is recommended you deal with
important issues at work initially. You could always suggest she take a taxi or send a
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tow truck. The urgency level given to each task should first of all take into account
how relevant it is to the company and the hierarchical levels of the employees calling
for action.
One major factor in determining the urgency level of each task is the associated time
limitations (if any). For example, if TV reporters have arrived to conduct an interview
(document no. 12) and at the same time you have been informed of a sexual
harassment complaint (document no. 19) which should you attend to first?
Sexual harassment is undoubtedly more important; however you can deal with this
issue in an hour or two whereas you cannot ask the reporters to wait for you if they
are already in the building. So, in this instance dealing with the reporters will take
higher priority.
You must explain the rationale for each action you decide to make (or not).
Take note:
During the exercise you may receive additional tasks such as phone calls or officials
coming in to your office. This is true both for In-Tray and E-Tray. It is also possible
that the best way to handle certain tasks will be via telephone or approaching a
relevant individual in person. In the evaluation centre you should act in accordance
to the most suitable solution (for example: picking up a phone to call the individual
you are seeking to talk to or asking to be put through to him).
Drawing up a table for classifying and organising the data is a mere recommendation
and not a requirement. It is just a suggestion for how to thoroughly prioritise the
tasks. If you feel that you have a better system for organising the mail, you are
welcome to do so, but writing is advisable anyway as it is unwise to rely only on
one's memory when you have multiple tasks and very little time.
On occasion, whilst taking care of the mail, you'll be presented with a new letter that
just arrived and needs to be taken care of just the same. This is an intruding task and
it is very important to consider the new information (in terms of level of urgency),
and integrate it with the work plan that has been set so far. If you feel that the new
letter is of high urgency- you should take care of it immediately. However, if you feel
it is of low urgency- you should postpone the treatment.
If you have time, you can create a schedule for the appointments and meetings that
you set.
In the exercise above the following documents are of utmost importance (not
necessarily in this order):

Doc 1 - Your manager calls a meeting in 2 hours time regarding recruitment


of new employees.
Doc 8 - New company health and safety regulations are introduced due to a
recent accident.
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Doc 9 - Your secretary informs you that she would like to quit her job.
Doc 12 - You have just been informed that a national TV crew is preparing to
conduct an interview with the CEO and your presence is required.
Doc 13 - Your manager is expecting to receive from you recent updates prior
to the meeting in 2 hours.

These 5 documents are likely to be of highest importance since any delay in


attending them may cause damage that will be hard to fix at a later stage.
Please note: In certain in-tray exercises the examiners may introduce new
documents/letters during the exercise which are unexpected. You must read them
and decide their level of urgency in relation to the documents you have already
given an 'urgency rating' to.

3. Delegating tasks
Style of treatment: Who handles the matter (you or others):
You need to write down, clearly and concisely, the style of treatment for each letter.
When you delegate responsibility to someone else you must write down clear
instructions as to how it should be handled and define a way to determine that the
job has been completed. You should operate according to the principle of who does
what and when. Always phrase your response in a courteous and relevant manner.
Try to maintain a balance between the matters that are under your care and the
matters that you delegate to others.
Remember- matters of high priority/ high levels of sensitivity must be handled by
you. However, less fundamental issues should be passed on to others.

4. Monitoring and managing delegated tasks


Matters that have been delegated to other staff members must have a deadline
associated with them. You must make a note or set a reminder next to each task you
have delegated and the deadline you have set for it. Important letters that were
passed down require a follow-up in the reminder file. In other words, if you have
passed down an urgent matter of importance you have to make sure it has been
done.
In less fundamental cases, the follow-ups and entries can be waivered. However, you
should try to avoid treating one issue in an overly intensive manner if it comes at the
expense of treating all the other issues.

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01

Answering questions
Our in-tray exercises include one question or more attached to each task/item. After
you have followed through the 4 stages mentioned, it should be rather easy to
answer those questions. Do not try to answer the questions without going through
the whole process if you wish to get the most out of the practice.
In many instances you will be asked to choose the most appropriate response to a
situation. Sometimes you will have a hard time finding an ideal answer. In such
instances, try to read through the distracters and choose the best of them by
elimination. These situations actually conform to real life situations at work, when
you sometimes have to compromise the best solution at hand if an ideal one is not
possible due to circumstances and limitations.

What NOT to do:

Do not leave documents unattended.


Do not waste time on social events or other irrelevant issues.
Do not pass down tasks to others without explaining, even briefly, what you
expect them to do with it. Part of your job is making sure that the matter is
handled in a way you see fit.
Do not try to forcefully impress the assessor. Your guidelines should behandling the tasks in an efficient, business-like manner.

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