E-tray and in-tray exercises


What is an e-tray/in-tray exercise?

E-tray/In-tray exercises are essentially the same thing, the only difference being that one is computer-based while the other is paper-based. Simulating a real work situation, you will be given background information on the company, your role within it and a scenario where you are faced with an e-tray/in-tray full of memos, emails, telephone messages, reports and letters. The task is usually representative of the work associated with the job you are applying for.

They are usually given to an individual at an assessment centre, however they can be given at any stage and are sometimes given as a group exercise.

What scenario might I be set?

The scenario tends to involve a situation where you are returning from holiday to a full intray or where you are looking after someone else's intray whilst they are absent.

What task could I face?

A computer or folder containing the information will be presented to you. Carefully read or listen to the instructions given to you. Using the information provided you will need to decide what action to take on these and complete the tasks within a set time. Tasks usually include:

  • Prioritising work
  • Taking decisions on what needs to be done, by whom, when and why
  • Delegating work to junior employees or to a colleague whose role is more suited to the task
  • Analysing information such as budgets, sales figures, research results
  • Briefing and/or recommending actions to superiors
  • Drafting replies
  • Making phone calls

What skills is the employer testing me for?

They will be assessing your ability to:

  • Absorb the information in your etray/intray quickly and accurately
  • Prioritise this information and any arising actions
  • Plan and make decisions within a time constraint
  • Time manage
  • Be analytical, quantitatively and qualitatively
  • Communicate effectively in writing
  • Apply your commercial awareness


  • Read the instructions and briefing materials carefully
  • Pay attention to verbal instructions
  • Read through the materials provided (for a 90 minute task, spend no more than 15 minutes on this)
    • Gain a sense of how much there is to do and its importance
    • Identify if there is any connected information or clash of appointments
  • Prioritise – plan how you will spend your time
    • Get action on the most urgent  tasks
    • Secondly work on urgent non-trivial tasks
    • Finally tackle the trivial tasks
  • Decide the importance by using these indicators:
    • Who is it from?
    • What date was it written?
    • Does it refer to deadlines?
    • Is it marked confidential?
    • To action it, is there something else to do first?
    • Who should deal with it?
    • It's impact on the company (is it a complaint?)
  • If a deadline has passed you may ignore it or, depending on it's importance, you may need to reply with an apology or asking for an extension 
  • Don't expect to remember all the fine detail but show in your decisions and actions that you have grasped the essentials and spotted important connections
  • Don’t make wild assumptions, use the information that has been provided
  • If you have time remaining, check through what you have done
  • There is no one right answer, the important thing is to provide logical and clearly explain the reasons for your decisions
  • There are no prizes for finishing first, but you are likely to lose points if you do not complete all the tasks within the time allowed.

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