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What is an In-tray exercise?

An In tray exercise can be used as part of a job interview or Assessment Day to assess how good you are at prioritising tasks and information.  Your interviewer will be looking to see how well you:

  • Work under pressure
  • Manage your time
  • Understand, analyse and use information
  • Prioritise tasks
  • Focus on customer needs
  • Delegate or escalate tasks if necessary

Typically, you will be given a selection of information which may contain deliberate errors or contradictions.  Some of the information will be important and require urgent attention whilst other information will be irrelevant or less important.  The task is to see how you deal with the mass of information, how you prioritise what needs to be responded to first, how you can connect disparate pieces of information from a variety of sources and if you can pick up on errors or deliberately conflicting pieces of information.

Always read through all the information /items you have been given before “diving in” and dealing with it, as it will not be in any particular order and one document may have an impact on your understanding of another.  You probably won’t have enough time to read everything thoroughly, as the exercise is designed to leave you short of time, but do check every document before starting the exercise.   It is sometimes useful to lay out the documents in date order and then highlight which are urgent and which are important.

Ask yourself, which of these items needs to be dealt with first? And which is the most important?  The inbox exercise is mostly a test of how well you prioritise information and if you can connect apparently unrelated items.

If you are at an Assessment Centre, sometimes assessors may come into the room and give you more information to deal with during the exercise.  This is intended to simulate real life, test how calm you remain and how well you can separate out the important information from the “fluff” when you are working to a tight deadline.