Insufficient information to answer an in-tray question?

You will frequently find that you are not supplied with all the information you may desire to make a truly informative decision, the in-tray exercise requires you to select the ‘best’ option that reflects the key behaviours and reflects the skills the organisation requires for the successful candidate. If you did have all the information required to make your decision it would probably make such an exercise too complex and long to be practical to do within the Assessment Centre.

The Assessors or the creators of the in-tray questions and the multiple choice answers provide you with what they consider to be the most appropriate, possible and unsuitable answers for the role. Beware they may have certain choices which reflect the actions of someone in the position below the required role, i.e. that of a supervisory rather than a manager, or an executive rather than a director. If you choose these options you will show the Assessors that you are not yet ready for promotion and be awarded minimum or nil marks.

By including time to practice this type of exercise before your Assessment Centre, the more adept you will become and selecting the answer that will see you being awarded maximum marks. Some candidates find it easier to use separate clean sheets of paper to write down the links to issues between items. This is often really useful when the overview includes a written organisational chart rather than a pictorial one which makes it easier to see the relationships between parties and people. You may also wish to create your own flow charts, or mind maps, to give you a clearer understanding of the relationships and knock-on effects of items.

It is important to keep at the fore front of your mind that the  in-tray exercise is not designed to test the quality of your decisions, but to test how well you can make decisions under a severe time restriction. You often only have 20 to 40 minutes to read around 24 items and begin to create a picture of the key issues, problem areas, conflicts or personnel concerns. Then you will have a further 30 minutes approximately to answer between15 to 24 questions. This is when you will need to be able to quickly look back to the items referred to in the question and any other items that relate to the issue raised.

The number of items and questions will vary and reflects the nature of the position for which you are applying. For example, an  in-tray exercise aimed at recruiting managers may have more items and questions than a similar exercise designed for a strategic position. In the case of the latter it is likely that the complexity of the items and questions posed will be of a more detailed nature.

What you must do to maximise your score for the in-tray exercise is to come to a decision as best you can from the information provided and then select the one which best fits in with the multiple answers supplied. This process will be a lot easier if you make good notes and highlight in some way key information or critical data. You will need to be able to refer back to other items that impact on the question item and quickly see the salient points you need to use in making your decision.

You may also be interested in:

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Pass the In-Tray Exercise