E-TRAY EXERCISES

2 December 2015.
By Will Foulkes.

An “E-tray” or “work simulation” exercise is designed, as the latter title suggests, to test how you would respond in a simulated real work situation. It takes place on a computer and the format is a fictitious email inbox that already has some emails in it when you start the test. Throughout the timed evaluation more emails will arrive and require you to prioritise and respond. It is fair to say that there will be too much for you to handle, so it will test your ability to remain calm under pressure (it is very good at simulating stress) and to prioritise your responses. It is unlikely you will get everything done, so don’t worry this does not mean you have failed. In my experience, this is the part of the assessment that interviewees find the most stressful and most commonly come out of it feeling like they have failed and therefore by extension that they have missed their “shot”. This is not true and is in fact the common experience including that of those who go on to get training contracts.

 

What are the main elements ?

Emails and research material form the basis of what you will get. Following some emails you will be required to respond to multiple choice questions. Others you will need to draft a long form reply which may form the basis of a further interview. You will need to read through a lot of material and extract relevant data. There is too much information for you to read thoroughly so concentrate on data trends, who the key players are and anything significant such as proposed takeovers / mergers. Try not to get bogged down in the minutiae.

 

How do you pass it?

By prioritising emails and giving correct factual answers in the multiple choice section. In the longer form email, you will succeed if you demonstrate that you are able to concisely draw together many different pieces of information, identify trends and draw logical conclusions. You do not need to have any prior legal knowledge although commercial awareness will be tested here.

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Tips

— Timing: Make sure you keep an eye on the clock. There will be more work than you are able to do in the time you have, so make your peace with that now.

— Priority: Watch out for emails from partners and emails that appear halfway down the new emails in your inbox that say something like “I have a meeting in 5 minutes please respond before then”. The usual approach is to start working your way through the list of emails from the most recently received downwards to the oldest. I would suggest starting with the oldest first and read all of them before starting to draft any responses. That way you will catch any time-critical emails before it is too late.

— Tone: When you reply to the email in long form, check the tone of the email. If it is very formal then reply in kind. Equally if it is from a client that it appears you have a long standing relationship with, or who approaches you in a more conversational tone, don’t be too stiff.

— Length: Be as concise as possible. I was told that if you can make your email fit into one smartphone screen that is great as the recipient can glance at it and quickly get all he needs to know. If you feel you have more to say, present your conclusion first and then add extra information underneath so they can read it if they want. The key is get your answer across as fast and as clearly as possible, don’t make them dig.

— Target audience knowledge: Don’t repeat information that your audience knows already or overexplain things that you think they would already know just to show that you know too. This is a hard temptation to resist, both in interview and in real life.

— Verification: Allow at least 5 minutes for this at the end. There can be no mistakes. In real life you will proofread an email many times and often print it out and check it if it is long. The credibility of your response will in part be judged on your presentation, whether this is fair or not,  so it must be perfect.