Surprise! Pop quiz, job seekers

By Stephen Harris

June 30, 2014

OK, I am now officially over the hill.

That’s because word has come to my hometown news desk that folks now have to take tests on the internet when they go looking for a job.

So if you view using a computer as something akin to kissing a rattlesnake, you’re probably going to be left poor, unemployed and sitting at home watching weekday TV soap operas and game shows.

The trend is for employers to administer tests online in addition to the familiar job applications on which you simply give name, Social Security number, job history, education and such.

More than one-third of new jobs filled in 2013 required taking a school-like test first, “The Washington Post” reported last month. That’s up from 18 percent in 2008, according to the “Post.”

Job seeking, almost always a trying process, is getting even more difficult.

I remember when Sunbeam Corp. announced in the early 1960s its plans to start up a new electric-shaver manufacturing plant near Elkin. They invited folks to come downtown and put in an application.

“The Elkin Tribune” at the time published a picture on the front page showing a line of job applicants (that included my mother) on the sidewalk. The line of people wrapped around the corner of Bill Davidson Chevrolet, now the present-day Habitat location, at Market and North Bridge streets.

But no more of that. These days folks wanting work may have to find a computer somewhere and spend who know how many hours wide-eyed and trying to figure out internet links and web sites and searches and passwords.

I don’t think I’m the only one appalled by this development. But then I’m now over the hill.

And get this. As you puzzle over a test’s stupid questions, know that there is no right or wrong answer. Often, the tests are geared to evaluating personality, not knowledge, according to the newspaper.

So one employer, for instance, may like answer (a) while another may like answer (d).

Here’s a sample question, courtesy of the “Post”:

You are working in a noisy environment and after your first day on the job, your ears hurt from all the loud noise. No one seems to be wearing any kind of ear protection. What would you do when you return to work the next day?

Take out your No. 2 pencils and good luck with that one.

Normally, only the tests’ high scorers get invited to subsequent job interviews, where the first personal contact occurs, according to the newspaper. There is a concern that the best potential workers will test poorly and get rejected before they actually get to see someone about a job.

Word of this comes as people debate, at times heatedly, the new Common Core curriculum in schools. The state legislature is about to drop Common Core, a national guide to teaching in schools. It was adopted here in North Carolina in 2010.

Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma have dropped Common Core this year. Missouri and Louisiana are seriously debating it. Virginia is among four states that never signed on.

No one seems to be able to explain Common Core very well including a hometown school board member whom I cornered last year and asked for details.

But much of the criticism of Common Core that I’ve seen deals with testing.

Teachers and other educators have complained for years, for decades, of the standardized tests used to judge students’ progress in school. Critics say teachers teach the test and don’t truly educate.

But test-taking appears to be gaining in importance. Move over, readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.

I remember some unfavorable final-exam schedules back in the day that left me physically, mentally and emotionally spent. I fared better with tough basketball practices with lots of running here in the hometown than I did with some of those final-exam weeks in college Down East.

Some essay exams forced me to hand-write (no personal computers then) feverously for up to an hour and a half in a blue-book testing notebook without the time or space to say all that I wanted to say. Yes, that was an hour and a half trying to answer just a couple of history essay questions.

I didn’t see the point at the time but now I wonder.

In fact, my employer these days has taken to springing on us required computer courses called continuous learning. I must pass multiple-choice tests at the end in order to keep my job.

So kids, when your teacher surprises you with a pop quiz, don’t moan and groan with the others.

Just think of it as job training.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.