The mailbox exercise

A frequently used component of assessments is the mailbox exercise, sometimes also referred to as the in basket. Especially in management assessments this assignment is used very frequently.

What is the mailbox exercise?

In a mailbox exercise you are presented with a full mailbox or inbox, digital or analogue. You are the manager this received mail is addressed to, and your task is to deal with the mail within the time set for it.

What do you do yourself, what do you delegate?

Of course, there is not enough time to deal with all the mail yourself, so you will have to delegate some of the tasks. In advance you will be given more information on the organisation you are pretending to work for. Who does what within this organisation and who is responsible for what? Based on this information you can delegate tasks to others, so you do not have to resolve everything yourself.

What is urgent and what can wait?

Not all the mail that has come in will be equally urgent. You surely will encounter important urgent matters, small memos and issues that can wait or are not intended for you. Clearly distinguish between what has to happen now and what can wait a while, and describe how you will deal with the issues. Make an effort to assess the urgency of the incoming pieces correctly and always deal with the urgent matters first.


After the exercise the assessor will discuss your notes and method of working with you. You will be asked why you have made certain decisions. Make sure you have sound arguments for the way you dealt with the mailbox.

Another component of assessments is fact finding.