In-tray exercises can be used for numerous jobs and their use is often justified for positions that require ‘Planning and Organising’. The term ‘in-tray’ refers to the traditional use of a tray on an individual’s desk where information that had ‘just come in’ would be placed for attention.
In-tray exercises involve providing a candidate with numerous pieces of information which can vary between letters, memos, and emails and so on. The candidate is required to prioritise the tasks contained in each piece of information by dissecting the important and critical tasks that require immediate attention, against those that can take less of a priority.
Individuals are provided with a ‘candidate brief’ that often contains a vast amount of information which the candidate is required to read through. Often the various pieces of information link together; for example, the ‘candidate brief’ may contain a memo from a manager suggesting that all payment authorisations must now be done by a head of department, yet you may also find an email from a colleague requesting you to authorise their payment as would normally have been the case previously.
The exercise is administered under controlled ‘exam’ type conditions, where no talking is allowed and a particular time limit applies. The administrator provides the instructions for the task followed by a ‘candidate brief’ which contains all of the information for the task.
Whilst assessors are trained to remain objective and only penalise somebody if there response is actually incorrect, assessors are still human and unconsciously biased to some extent. Therefore writing clearly is vital as there is no guarantee of an assessors objectivity if they having to spend a significant part of their time trying to dissect what you have written. The other downside is that an assessor may not be able to read your writing, and therefore give up, not being able to allocate a rating to the competencies that the written exercise assesses.
It is often helpful to create 3 piles, based on priority, using the information you have been provided with. The 3 piles may be determined in terms of the information which you deem requires urgent attention, therefore high priority, that which is low priority and that which is somewhere in between. Once this has been established, you may wish to work through each pile, assigning an order for completion.
Keep a check on the time and spread your time accordingly across the tasks. Do not spend too long on reading all of the content. There is nothing worse than running out of time and having no or little time to complete the task.