How should I deal with in-tray items that conflict?

As you read through the numerous in-tray exercise items – memos, emails and messages – that make up the exercise in-tray you must not be tempted to try and solve each one as you come across it. This is not the purpose of the exercise, you must note down or highlight the bits of the information that you think are key and have implications for other areas of the organisation or personnel. It is only once you have been given the questions to answer that you must draw on this information and make your decisions and select the answer that best fits your decision.

Frequently conflicting or contradictory items are included to assess how well you as the candidate evaluate information and their ability to prioritise. It will also gauge your ability to spot mistakes and conflicts, as well as your attention to detail. These are used by Assessors to ascertain how effective you are when working under a severe time restraint and does this impact on your ability to manage, or think, strategically. Where you find such a conflict do not try to find a resolution just be mindful of it and use this knowledge when selecting you answers.

For example, the best answer could be for ‘you to switch production from one item to another to meet the strategic business needs’, the in-tray exercise is not asking you to solve how to meet current production requirements or decide how this is reallocated. The question is testing your ability to weigh up the important issues and prioritise what needs to be done, you are not expected to solve the problem in this exercise.

Many in-tray exercises include items which have:

  • Incorrect dates for meetings or events, e.g. 30th February;

  • Spell names incorrectly from that on the organisation chart in the answers, e.g. the chart spells the name Mary Clarke, but the memo you’ve been asked to approve has Mary Clark on it;

  • Use the wrong gender e.g. Mr Smith instead of Mrs Smith – in the item the person was referred to as Pat Smith, but the candidate did not pay attention to the use of the female pronoun later on in the item;

  • Miss off key data in an item or reply that would be needed by the recipient to perform your required action, e.g. product identification number, distribution depot to be used etc.

You will only need to consider what to do with conflicting or contradictory information if a question asks you to decide how to respond to, or how you would handle it. This often takes the form of double bookings within your diary and the question aims to assess, by your answer, how you would prioritise such an item as if you were in the role. The more you practice this type of assessment centre exercise the more familiar you will become with its workings.

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Does it matter if I don’t complete the in-tray exercise?
What if I don’t fully agree with any of the in-tray exercise answers?
Is it acceptable to choose ‘none of the above’ as in in-tray exercise answer?
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What should I do if there is insufficient information to answer an in-tray question? and
How should I deal with in-tray items that conflict?


Pass the In-Tray Exercise