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Thread: Civil service exams and keeping one's job

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Civil service exams and keeping one's job

    Hey.

    Here's the situation. In New York State, government employees at every level are required to take periodic civil service exams to advance. That includes everyone - DPW guys, clerks, and planners. I think some management positions are exempt but that's it. In my case, I had to take two tests: one for the position of Assistant Planner and one for the position of Planner, which is one step higher. I'm eligible to take the latter test due to the amount of time I've been working here and time spent in a previous planning-related job. The tests are only offered every 2-3 years or so, so this was my one opportunity to take them.

    Prior to the test date, I asked around the office to see what the story was on these tests. Everyone I spoke to emphasized that the tests have nothing to do with one's job - the tests are basically a crap shoot, you go in there and wing it the best you can but there is little prep work that you can do beforehand. Upon taking the test, I found this to be the case in the extreme. Most of the questions were actually civil engineering and traffic engineering questions - things like "calculate the correct placement for this roadside drainage culvert based on the centerline of the road". This has zero to do with what I do here on a day to day basis. DPW deals with that stuff.

    I got my tests results back a few months latear and I passed both tests fine, which was great. After informing my boss of this, she asked me how I ranked among test takers - unbeknown to me, it turns out that passing the test is not sufficient, that I needed to be in the top 3 of test takers to be in the clear. I was #5. This, apparently, is bad, and could cause me to lose my job as some byzantine law requires that the occupant of my position be among the top 3 test takers. Technically, the municipality would have to go out and interview the top 3 test takers for my position, let me go, and hire them in my place.

    Needless to say, that would suck for me. I work hard and am good at my job and my boss knows this. She is going to bat for me with the powers-that-be in the municipality to have my position reassigned as Planner, rather than Assistant Planner, since I passed the test for Planner and was among the top 3 finishers. She can't guarantee the outcome because there is yet another byzantine state civil service law that requires that a pay raise be given along with a new job title, and with the current fiscal climate, that would be tough to get (even though it's only about $5,000). They cannot simply give me the new job title without a raise.

    That's where I'm at. I find it all to be batsh!t crazy but that's how things work in government here. It's out of my hands for now. It's a most unfortunate situation for me but I'm circumspect about it given the carnage taking place at so many other planning offices as of late. I sent out a resume yesterday and will do a few more by weeks end just be to be safe. What do people think about this? I'm union, so should I be high-tailing it over to my union rep to get his input on this?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    I was in the same situation of needing to take the Civil Service exam. The rule of three applies to most NY State Civil Service exams. As I was concerned about the ramifications if I did not finish in the top three, I spoke with our City Attorney. Off the top of his head he mentioned that there may be some way to keep a provisional employee on for at maximum 18 months in order to "complete a project." If you have a good relationship with your Corp. Counsel you may want to discuss things with her/him.

    Also, I believe the next step is for your Civil Service people to go canvas the top 3 from the list to see if they are interested in the position. If they decline then you move up the list. So best case, the ask the top 3, two decline, and you make the short list. Then you can be hired on as a probationary employee. If I were you I'd talk to the your Civil Service/HR people to find out next steps, timelines.

    Regarding your Union, I would check to see what you were hired as. If it was provisionally it could mean that you have limited protection by the Union.

    Sometimes living in a hickburg is a good thing. I was the only one who took the Senior Planner test, I passed and finished #1 on the list.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Dandy, thank you. I am indeed provisional so that limits the degree to which the union can help me. Word on the street now is that admin will be canvassing for the position shortly. I'm nervous but am crossing my fingers.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Just got word that interviews will be taking place and that I will need to resubmit my resume for my position and potentially re-interview as well. This is batsh!t crazy. I'm putting out feelers for other positions as this has me pretty spooked.

    Be forewarned, people - this type of BS is one of the major downsides of union/civil service jobs.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Wow, that is so lame.

    Good luck to you on this. If your boss is behind you on this, she should pull hard for you to get another position elsewhere.

    When I contemplate getting potentially getting laid off, I basically assume that my bosses would owe me, big time. . . for being one of the most productive people in the office, yet still without job security. This is part of why I am making a big effort to do well right now. They may not have a choice about laying me off, but they will have a reason to call in favors to find me a new job.

    Even in a bad economy, it's better to have this support than not have it. . .

  6. #6
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    Hey Folks,

    So what happened MacheteJames? My husband is in a similar position too, and we are trying to prepare.

    I called the county office yesterday to ask...

    "Has NYS done any research to find out if there is a significant correlation between success (a high grade) on a civil service exam to actual job success?"

    The answer (at least on the county level) was no. So, I am going to call the state public information office and ask them.

    To me this is an important discussion to have, because the state is claiming to use these tests to find the best person for the job. But, they have never looked at the exam to see if this is the actual outcome of the test. It is infuriating.

    Well, MacheteJames, I hope all has worked out for you either way!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    It was a horribly nerve wracking experience but I kept the job. There were 5 others that I had to compete with, and only 1 or 2 indicated interest in the position. Since 2 candidates were out of the picture, that moved me up to #3, so I was safe. It's an F'd up system (like so much else in New York State) and my next job will not be within the civil service system because this left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

    How many other candidates is your husband competing with? I doubt you'll get an answer one way or the other re: civil service exams and their correlation with real-world performance. Good luck, I hope it works out.

  8. #8
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    Oneonta civil service

    I am being force to take civil service exam to keep my job as well as one other person. We have to take this exam this Sat. Does anybody know if we can be grandfathered in without taking the exam? I have not taken an exam since college 20 yrs ago.

  9. #9
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    Thanks

    Thanks for the prompt response. Unfortunately, 5 people are ahead of my man. He has been in the job for almost two years, and he still had to take the test. So, I don't think you can be grandfathered in, but if you find out differently please post info. here.

    It is a wonderful time to be jobhunting!

  10. #10
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    He's Been Let Go

    Hey Folks,

    Just thought I'd post here again to update you on my husband's status. He has been let go. It is so weird because his bosses are saying things like, you've been so great at this job, and the system stinks, blah, blah, blah, but no one can do anything.

    Obviously, it is a weird situation when you get let go and it isn't because of money (downsizing) or because of the lack of job performance. I wish I could help those of you going through a similar situation, as a citizen of New York (who pays for these stupid tests to be administered), I am embarassed and appalled.

    Good luck to all of you.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I'm really, really sorry to hear that. It is a horrendously bad system and the most damning aspect of it is that you can't study for the tests because the test itself has little to nothing to do with planning. Like so much else it NY state government, it's a broken system in desperate need of an overhaul and increased oversight. Best of luck to you and your husband, this is a rough thing to deal with.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    pritebrd24, sorry to hear about your husband's situation. Best of luck to him on his job search.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

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