What is an in-tray exercise and how can I ace one?

What is an in-tray exercise?

An in-tray exercise is almost a ‘day in the life’ of the job that you are interviewing for. It can range from sorting through a full inbox of emails, replying to a single email/letter or a mixture of the two with paper based tasks such as phone messages.

Why do employers use it?

Employers use it to test your accuracy, writing narrative (professional language/tone), grammar and spelling and in some cases any company research you have done. It will also test how you react to an unfamiliar pressured situation and deadlines. Increasingly universities (like QM), schools and graduate schemes are using in-tray exercises for roles of any level as it is a good way of testing whether someone will be a good fit for the job/company without actually employing them.

5 tips to help you ace one

  1. Stay calm, read through all the information quickly and then start to prioritise by making a plan. Think about your stakeholders before you order your tasks.
  2. Organise your tasks into urgent tasks, deferred tasks and tasks that you can delegate.
  3. Don’t try and get everything done in the time. The test will have more tasks than are possible to complete in the time so as long as you can show why you prioritised one thing over another it will be fine.
  4. When responding to emails/letters use professional language. Don’t use txt tlk babz. Try and answer the query using a writing style that is appropriate to the business.
  5. Practise using the websites like Assessment Day: www.assessmentday.co.uk/in-tray-exercise.htm (use the free sample).

Rachael Blundell

QTemps Senior Recruitment Officer, QMUL Careers & Enterprise


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