The e-tray exercise is exactly the same as last year (I failed it last year, past it this time!). I don’t think you can prepare much for the e-tray, maybe look at civil service fast stream, they have a practice test there.
In terms of the written exercise, after I completed the e-tray you can choose to either take it straight away or do it again another time. I chose to put it off (I planned initially to put it off until the next day) and in that time I got an email saying I passed the e-tray and have 7 days to complete the written ex. I would advise waiting after your e-tray to make sure you pass… would hate to put more effort into the written exercise just to find out you have failed the e-tray.
The written exercise is different from last year (they changed it, I’ve been told, because they thought people were able to prepare their answer in advance due to the details being leaked… got to love wikijobs eh?) .
Keep the tone formal but not OTT. You are emailing your immediate manager about an acquisition that Trafford Lea Books want to make. You have an option from three companies to look at. Be sure to shorten the names so it is easier to type. (i.e. Trafford Lea Books will be referred to in the email as TLB, just make sure you mention this in the opening paragraph so they know what you are doing - They like this by the way, it is something they do in their emails to each other. Also they like bullet points, although I didn’t use any so don’t feel you have to.)
General form of the email, I put something along the lines of:
Thank you for your recent email. I shall now look at the three possible acquisitions Xxx Xxxx (XX), Yyyy Yyyy (YY) and Zzzz Zzzz (ZZ) and conclude which company I feel will benefit Trafford Lea Books (TLB) in its growth strategy.
I then wrote a paragraph of 5-8 lines on each of the companies and a conclusion of about 7 lines. I finished with something like
I hope this information is helpful and if you have any queries regarding any of the information or reasoning of my conclusion please contact me and I can go through my decision in more detail.
In my conclusion I focused primarily on two things. The financials, including the cost of the acquisition, their absolute profit and percentage of turnover that translates into profit and what the board want. In the background information you learn the board of TLB are worried that the previous growth strategy was too passive and want a more aggressive strategy. Due to this I chose the company that I thought would appease the board as you want to show that you take your clients opinions into consideration.
As for the three companies you are given three quite different set-ups.
Company X (I can’t remember any of their names, sorry) has a business model very similar to TLB and also has many of its shops in the same towns/cities of TLB. It has quite good turnover and is relatively cheap to buy. It also compliments TLBs book catalog in that something around 60% of books are the same so is able to expand the catalog without alienating their current clientele.
Company Y (the company I chose) is based in out of town shopping centers. These guys have the highest growth prospects in the next few years as well as the highest profit/turnover translation % (if I remember correctly). They also have a potentially highly lucrative additional revenue stream in that they have in-house cafes (which I mentioned in the e-tray that I thought TLB should diversify into that field anyway). The key drawback with these guys is customer satisfaction is around 30%, staff turnover is high and it is very expensive to buy. - Oh also I worked out the payback period of each acquisition (purchase price/profit) and it turned out to be not too bad for Y. I think in the region of 4 years but then I added that growth potential will reduce this and said things around that point to counter the high price.
Company Z is (in my opinion) a bad buy. They are family run, have very high (~90%) customer satisfaction and no staff turnover, and are very cheap to buy. However their outlets are solely in department stores meaning little space for advertising, no options of any additional revenue and the department stores have ultimate power over any and all their shops.
Good luck. I passed both and am now waiting on my interview day (first and partner in the same day!) If you have any more questions feel free to ask. I applied to consulting, I’m assuming the e-tray and written ex is the same for everyone.