During the in-tray exercise you must work in a way that maximises
the score you can achieve. Some items will be far more important
than others and the assessors are looking to see how you deal with
these items and how it fits in with the ethos and values of the
To avoid missing these important items, the best approach is to work quickly through all of the items and determine the urgency and importance of each one. You can then use the 80/20 rule to apportion your time between the items.
This means that you will use 80% of the time available to work on the most important items and then 20% on the less significant and mundane items. Always keep in your mind how much time you have in the scenario to deal with each item.
There are several things you can take into the assessment centre that will make the task of sorting through in-tray exercise items easier and faster. You should always take:
You could for example, mark items which are urgent and important
with a particular colour which will save time when sorting through
them. You will need to develop your own system for classifying
items which is something that you can do using the practice tests.
This will take time and effort to do but it will save you time in
the actual exercise and you can spend that time very profitably
making more considered decisions.
It is important to make your decision from the information provided. You should not make any assumptions, or try to read more into it, than is actually supplied for each exercise. Assessor’s will want to see how well you evaluate the information supplied and the appropriateness of your decision based on the scenario.
Before you begin the in-tray exercise you will be handed several
items which are number or lettered for easy reference, these will
provide you with all of the information you need to complete the
exercise. Do not make any assumptions and only use the information
provided to arrive at your decisions. If you know that you are
going to be given the opportunity to justify your answers, then
you may be able to take a few more risks in the decision making
process. However, if you are not going to be given the opportunity
to justify your decisions then you should choose the most
obviously ‘correct’ answer.
Be wary of falling into the trap of making a decision or selecting an answer that you would normally want more detailed information about before making. If it is appropriate for the nature of the question – your answer could be ‘None of the above’ or, ‘I’d want to delay my decision until I had more information.’
The in-tray exercise addresses an issue facing all levels of management, that of information overload and provides a good indicator of how well you can cope with it. By using a fictional scenario the exercise quickly measures your ability to draw out key information and act on it appropriately. It assesses how you use information contained in one item to add substance to another item, how you circulate this amongst your colleagues and what timescales you wish to set.
Many in-tray exercise will provide you with a diary sheet and calendar. These are valuable assets to have and if none are provided then make sure you create your own. This does not have to be very elaborate, a simple grid will be sufficient. You only need to be able to see the days of the week and mark in significant appointments and actions. In this way you can easily see any double bookings you have as a result of the change outlined in the overview.
You can also use these sheets to show how you’d request essential reports needed for a meeting, monitor certain actions, or delegated tasks. In this way you provide the assessors and yourself with a written record of how you have approached the exercise. This is particularly useful to refer to if you have a face-to-face meeting with the assessors following the exercise as it is very easy to forget why you made certain decisions.