Isn't This Just a Glorified Cover Letter?
September 25, 2018 9:59 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of answers would a hiring manager want to see on a government employment "exam"/self evaluation?

California State government agencies use an "exam" system for hiring, but in some cases the exam is not really a test, it is just a list of questions asking you to describe your experience with various tasks. I am taking such an exam for an industry that I have worked in for many years. There are 10-20 items, and many of them are things like "Describe your experience editing documents." I feel like just saying "Yes, I do that, see how my resume says I have done that for years?" Obviously this is not what they want to hear.

What kinds of things does a hiring manager really want to read in response to such an inane question? The exact number of documents I have edited in the past decade? My deep thoughts about the value of good editing? Descriptions of specific documents I have edited? Strange and amusing editing anecdotes? A paean to "track changes" and "document compare" tools?

Is this "exam" really a creative writing test, or do I just need to give them the ammunition to check a box somewhere that says "applicant meets this requirement"?
posted by agentofselection to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ahhh, no, it's not at all like a cover letter. If the questions are anything like the ones where I am (NSW) the assessment of your experience has to be done through the selection criteria or directed questions and not from your resume (so as to get the candidate with the best skills, rather than the longest CV). Hence the STAR method of answering questions (which, depending on the manual, is Situation/Task/Action/Result, or variations on those).
In my role at xyz company, I had the job of editing these specific documents [Situation]. This involved liaison with authors to make sure each document conformed to the requirements of the brief, and were of sufficient quality [Task]. Where alterations had to be made, I worked with the authors and the potential readership inside and outside the company to make sure the eventual document would serve its purpose [Action]. The document went through forty revisions during the time I was with xyz and was used by the company to carry out its functions [Result].
It's a tedious but recognisable formula that's very different to describing your career. It's absolutely as you say about giving them what they need to check a box (to compare you against other candidates).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:20 PM on September 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

The exam I took to qualify for my California State job classifications had similar questions. I answered them much like Fiasco da Gama says to above. I found many of the questions repetitive and had to be careful not to repeate my examples of work accomplished.

For what it’s worth I scored highly and my state worker position is easily the least stressful job I’ve ever had. It’s a lot of work to get in but if you enjoy the work it’s worth it.
posted by lepus at 10:40 PM on September 25, 2018

I would assume that there is an HR person who knows nothing about the subject hang to determine whether you qualify as having X years / degree of expedience doing the task. Toward that end, I'd throw in a lot of numbers and carefully align it with the printed job qualifications. They need 2 years experience? "From 2003-2008, my job at X company required significant editing as nearly 50 percent of my workplan. During this time, I edited the following reports: .... Because these were multi-chapter reports drafted by a technical staff, they required advanced editing to improve the document structure and readability for a lay audience while maintaining scientific accuracy."
posted by salvia at 4:42 AM on September 26, 2018

This is how the Canadian government does hiring as well. The STAR method as Fiasco da Gama describes is the way to go. They may additionally be evaluating your writing skill from these answers but that will be secondary. It's not meant to be entertaining prose. It's probably worthwhile to list dates as well. ("In my position as Articles Editor at XYZ company from 2008-2015 I performed A, B, and C specific duties").

The reason for this hiring method is that every decision needs to be justified. The hiring managers need to be able to prove, with documentation, that the person they hired met the qualifications for the job, so everything is very specific.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:45 AM on September 26, 2018

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