How To Succeed In An In-Tray Test

An in-tray test is an assessment of a range of competencies relevant to the role for which you are applying. It focuses on how you respond to demands made upon you when documents are rushed at you. It’s about what you do with the information the documents contain. The test results are used in the company’s selection process.

Some employers distinguish e-tray tests from in-tray tests in that e-tray tests are email-based whereas, traditionally, in-tray tests are paper-based (an e-tray test can also be seen as a special kind of in-tray test). Typically lasting thirty minutes to an hour, but sometimes as much as two hours, in-tray tests will tend to require written answers. But e-tray tests tend to be shorter time-wise and are likely to be a multiple choice exercise.


What can I expect?

Can you respond well to an influx of documents in a pressurised environment? Then this test is for you! While it’s tailored to the employer’s industry, no prior knowledge is required as to the fictional situations making up the assessment.

Skills tested include:

  • Time management. This has two forms. One is tested in the skills the questions individually assess. The other is the actual time it takes to complete the test. It is important not to – well – rush, but… always best ensure you have a bit of time left over to review your answers, eh?
  • Prioritisation. The competent candidate will have a keen eye for context and, with it, the key elements of what’s provided.
  • Organisation. In business, you will have a method of working centred around economising on time. There will be trade-offs. If you can’t fashion your method to take due account of context, it’s Game Over.
  • Care taken. Be a microscopically good proofreader of your responses. You are unlikely to be supplied with a spell-checker, but spelling mistakes will count against you. Make sure, further, that your responses show clear-minded thinking and that you have fully read the text.
  • Logical structure. Use the A-to-B test. In the real world, issues are seen within the framework of company policy. For any issue, company policy will take a stance A, from which, for any ensuing issues, stance B follows. Great. But more to the point, a correspondent is unlikely to need to know much of A and B. It’s for you to express suitable elements of the company’s logic –   that’s ‘begin with A, from which B can be seen to be consistent’. Oh and lay your responses out logically, of course.


What communications are we talking?

Dictaphone messages, correspondence from unhappy customers, telephone calls, reports… Anything, really.

The scenarios presented will be business-related and fictional. The test will not contain trick questions as such. Here and there, though, important details will be supplied in a way that can easily be overlooked by the careless. Expect to be asked to compute, extract data and make justified recommendations.


Any tips?

When asked to make a recommendation with a supporting rationale, write in rough your concluding paragraph first of all. Then work backwards so that your answer flows into the conclusion.

Heed the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared. This includes practising. There is no substitute for getting the feel of the exercise. You can find appropriate tests online.

Look to see where a group of responses can be bundled. Gone are the days when you would pick up the first document in the pile and conscientiously treat it as the only one. Show that you have the knack of economising on time.

Show sensitivity in the sphere of relations. Exhibit your skill in using the appropriate tone in business replies. The environment you will be dealing with includes office relations, so expect to be tested on that ship-of-many-ports called business culture.



To be successful, you’ll have shown yourself to be an astute decision-maker. This includes taking personal responsibility as well as maintaining suitable balances in the handling of the elements of the workload.

The test is not designed to pick up those special character traits of yours that can be nurtured or unleashed. Personality assessment is done at other stages. Rather, it is designed assess you for a certain savvy quality that puts business into busy-ness.

Good luck!


Inspiring Interns is a recruitment agency specialising in all the internships and graduate jobs London has to offer.