Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I drove into town early this morning to take the state worker’s office support exam. I hear the state still has a hiring freeze, but there are an awful lot of vacancies appearing on the state’s employment web site. Assuming they’re not putting them there just to keep somebody busy, I’ve been applying for as many as I think I qualify for. Most of them require that I take the office support exam, hence my getting out of bed a lot earlier than I usually do on a Saturday.

And I wasn’t the only one. The test is given in the same lecture hall on the UW-Madison campus that it was in when My Darling B and I took it five years ago. I’d guess it holds maybe five hundred people. We had to sit in every other seat so that’s, what, two-hundred fifty people if it was filled to capacity? It was, or so close to full as to make no difference. A lot of people looking for jobs. And almost every one of them there to take the office support exam, even though they were proctoring several other tests. About fifty people were there to take the HVAC maintenance test, maybe twenty were taking the Sheriff’s sergeant exam, and just one woman was there to take the assessor’s test. “Whatever you do, don’t withdraw,” the lead proctor advised her. “Your chances are looking real good.”

We had four hours to take the test. I don’t know how thick the other tests were, but the office support exam was almost two-hundred questions, most of which were about proofreading, operating Microsoft Office software applications, calculating pay and grammar.

I’ve gotten quite a lot of practice proofreading correspondence in the past two years, updating templates used to generate correspondence and reviewing letters my coworkers wrote to mail out to customers, so I felt pretty good about that part.

I can operate just about every software application in the Microsoft Office suite but I found this part of the test slowed me down quite a bit because most of the questions weren’t accompanied by graphics, but instead ask for key combinations. For instance, to make a type face bold you use what combination of keys? I do that every day but I don’t think about it, I just do it. I found myself tapping out key combinations on the desk top, then trying to remember which keys were under which fingers.

Calculating pay was a cinch after calculating mortgage payments, so the past two years working in loan services served me well there.

Grammar might have been a problem if they’d asked me to parse sentences. I’ve never been all that good at identifying parts of speech, but that wasn’t their purpose. Questions leaned toward the obvious: “Which is correct: Please pick up you’re pencils, or, Please pick up your pencils.” All of the questions like this also had “Either is correct” as an option. I’d really, really like to know what percentage of the people taking the test answer C.

After slogging through it and turning in the test material, I was shocked when I saw that I’d finished it in two and a half hours. And a little relieved. I used to test for promotion every year and they gave us four hours to complete that test because it took four frigging hours! Not this one.

Parking at the UW is usually so limited that it’s crazy to even try to find something close to the lecture hall. There’s a parking lot not too far away and I headed straight for it. On the way, though, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find an empty curbside spot just up the road. The problem was that it was only half-empty because a woman in a Ford Explorer was parked across two spaces. She was in the car with the engine running, though, so I wasn’t going to let her get away with that.

I pulled up next to her, put my car into reverse so she could see the lights come on, signaled right, dramatically threw my arm over the back of the passenger seat as I turned to look back and successfully locked eyes with her. She smiled, but otherwise didn’t do anything. She wasn’t gabbing on her cell phone. She wasn’t singing along with the radio. She was just sitting there, smiling at me.

So I backed into the half-space behind her. There was no room to turn in properly, but that wasn’t my intention. I only wanted to get the butt-end of my car firmly planted on that spot and leave the nose of my car sticking out into the lane, where she could see it in her side-view mirror. And I waited.

After fifteen or twenty seconds she let the Ford inch forward a bit, acknowledging that she had more than enough room in front of her but not giving me enough room to turn in. I waited a bit longer. She moved up maybe another three or four inches. Still, I waited. And finally she gave me all the room I needed by pulling out and driving away. Okay, not what I was after, but at least I could finally park and quit blocking traffic.

testing testing | 5:25 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, office work, work
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