Do all in-tray exercises include a justification section?

Not all in-tray or in-basket exercises have an opportunity for you to justify why you selected the answer you did. For the majority of participants the in-tray exercise will consist of time to read the overview and in-tray items and then a further allocation of time to answer multiple choice questions.

It is unlikely that a discussion aspect to the in-tray exercise will be sprung on you on the day In most cases you will be told in your invitation to the Assessment Centre  that your in-tray exercise includes a section to discuss or justify your answers. The use of the justification, or discussion, tends to be used for the more senior level positions where the Assessors are required to thoroughly assess your decision making abilities. They will be assessing how well you can explain your actions and decisions, as well as testing your resolve to stick with your original decision.

The justification may take the form of a very structured walk through of each question in turn with minimal feedback or response from the Assessors. If your prospective role requires you to have considerable analytical and evaluator skills you may find that the justification is targeted at those most important issued raised in the in-tray documentation. If this is the style of justification you know you will experience then it is essential that you grasp the key organisational and project issues so that your reasoning is based on a sound foundation of the situation presented in the exercise. Many questions will ask you to ‘choose the option closest to what you would do.’ This is especially important for you to highlight as part of your justification, because although you chose a certain approach if you faced the situation in real life you would act slightly differently giving your reasons why. This enables you to bring in your own skills and expertise as part of your justification.

Some Assessment Centre Assessors prefer to have a discussion after the in-tray exercise. This may be with the candidate and a small panel of assessors; or it can be with all, or a small group, of the other candidates and an assessor. Usually the Assessor will ask how many selected Option A, for example, as their answer and ask them to justify why they chose that instead of Option E. The behaviours you would be expected to exhibit are similar to that for the justification above in terms of how you arrived at your decision, but you will also need to take into account the dynamics of working within a group. The most important thing for you to do is to ensure that you view is heard by the group and the Assessor and you are able to clearly justify that decision.

Where you are applying for these senior roles you should prepare for this aspect of the in-tray exercise as you would for any interview. For example, if you work through a test  in-tray exercise when you read through the reasoning for the answer you can prepare your own queries you would ask if you were the assessor. Design your queries to test the reasoning behind the selected option and see how easily a candidate could be persuaded to change their answer. You can also compare how your current organisation would respond to your chosen answer. In this way you will be testing the strength and vigour of your own decisions.

You could also get a colleague or mentor to work through the test in-tray exercise and then before you look at the answers compare your chosen options. Where you have agreement see if you both have evaluated the information provided and assigned the same priority to the issue. This will enable you to see another perspective to the same problem and give you some insight as to what the Assessor will be looking for. Where your answers are different you can see how well you justify your own answer and if you can see any flaws in your analysis of the situation. This will give you a real feeling of how easily you can justify your own answers, or whether you are too easily persuaded to change.

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Pass the In-Tray Exercise