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Careers & Employability Centre

E -tray and In-tray exercises

What are they?
As part of an assessment centre or interview you may be required to complete an e-tray or in-tray exercise. This selection method is likely to include a number of simulated workplace tasks such as responding to emails/letters/telephone messages and dealing with situations in a logical prioritised order. An e-tray exercise is similar to a standard in-tray exercise with all aspects managed electronically.

Graduate employers use them to assess candidates ability to process information quickly, analyse and solve problems, make sound judgements and decisions, take action, prioritise and manage time, work accurately and communicate effectively in a business context. The tasks given aim is to represent those carried out by the person doing the job, typifying the contents of a managers in-tray on arrival at work. E-tray and in-tray exercises are a way of assessing job applicants on the basis of how they would cope with the jobs typical tasks. These exercises can be managed in groups or individually.

How do they work?

Candidates may be presented with a scenario designed to provide an understanding of the role and the important factors involved. It may be, for example, covering for a sick colleague, running a key event or managing a project. Key principles for successfully completing e-tray and in-tray exercises: Read each item of information given, deciding on its priority and the action needed. Check the timings given for you to complete the task and stick to them. Demonstrate how you can handle several tasks at once, prioritising appropriately. Recognise that you wont necessary complete all the tasks. Deal with the essentials and recognise that some tasks can wait. Delegate tasks or roles. Draft a response to a complaint. Recommend action to be taken. Analyse business documents such as sales reports, performance appraisals. Make a call to, or take a call from, a key client or customer.

Other aspects of this kind of activity might require you to:

On completion of the e-tray or in-tray exercise you are likely to be asked by an assessor about your reasons for taking the approach you chose and to justify your actions.

The contents of E-tray and in-tray exercises may include: Memos Reports Telephone messages Emails

Who uses them?

Policy documents Letters Complaints Calendars of staff

Employers using in-tray or e-tray exercises in graduate recruitment tend to be larger organisations which recruit substantial numbers of graduates using assessment centres. Examples include the UK Civil Service and major professional services organisations.

How can I succeed at these tests?

Before attending assessment centres

Research the employer, in particular its customers and competitors, key markets, recent business performance and what is happening in the sector they operate in. For information on how to do this see the separate Researching Employers leaflet in this series. Use their website to identify the core values, priorities and strategic thinking of the employer Aim to complete some practice in-tray and e-tray exercises in advance. See links at the end of this leaflet.

In dealing with the information given on the day

In your approach to the tasks given

Read all the instructions and information given to you. Follow written instructions carefully, making sure you are clear about what you are required to do. Ask if unsure. Identify any deadlines or further information you may need to request. As new information is given to you in the form of emails. memos, reports etc scan each for its source (external or internal), its importance in meeting the organisations priorities and the urgency needed in dealing with it. Be prepared to work with incomplete information. Sometime you will have to make informed guesses based on your best judgement at that point in time. Work quickly and accurately. Quickly map out what you aim to do first your plan of action. Assess the key issues for level of importance and priority. If an item is urgent but unimportant, deal with it quickly and decisively, or decide if no action needs to be taken. For tasks that can be deferred note how you plan to act on it in the future when time permits Analyse problems logically, looking for practical solutions. Be prepared to delegate tasks to an appropriate person in the organisation. Dont try and do everything yourself. Realise that situations and tasks are often connected. This means that any decisions you make can have an impact on other parts of the organisation. Consider the bigger picture in situations and the likely consequences of taking certain actions for the organisation you represent. Aim to understand and empathise with people, particularly clients, and be tactful in dealing with t hem. Be aware of what the organisation can and can not do manage expectations appropriately Think ahead for further issues and how they may be dealt with. Be imaginative by coming up with original insights and solutions. Always be able to justify your actions rationally you need to explain why you decided to take the approach you did and how you might do it differently in a different context.

Manage your time effectively, working within the time given for the task. Stay calm and demonstrate how you work well under pressure.

In your written responses to the tasks given (e.g. responding to emails or letters)

Finallyseek feedback from the assessors on how you could improve performance.

Express yourself clearly and concisely. Work out an outline of what you want to write, the points you need to make and in what order. Keep it concise and use bullet points. Use clear, business writing appropriate to the recipient Draft your response, edit and proof-read it for errors. Be sensitive to the way your written responses may be interpreted by using diplomatic language.

Online resources and practice exercises

Use the Careers Management Online package, accessible exclusively for Aston students and graduates via our website

Practice KPMGs online test, published on the University of Edinburgh Careers Service website: se/intray_exercise.htm Civil Service Fast Stream

Manchester University in tray leaflet and exercises,120139,en.pdf

Aston University Careers & Employability Centre 2009