November 28, 2018 – Many jobs with the County require applicants take a civil service exam – and if you are looking for one of those jobs – you’re in luck! Many exams are available online and applications can be submitted electronically.  

Civil service exams are often part of government employment. In order to get a job, be promoted, move to a different department, you need to take a test.

So why are these jobs – and therefore the tests – worth it? Just look at a current Westchester County employee as an example.

Francis Karintholil decided to serve the County because he wanted something new. He had worked for the Bank of New York until 1990, when he got a job at Westchester Community College as a registration clerk.

“I didn’t expect to stay here, but I liked the environment and I was working with a lot of really nice people. Plus the benefits are really good.”

Francis went back to school eight years after he started with Westchester Community College and got an MBA from Long Island University. The County helped him pay for that education, and accommodated his trips to school after work.

After 28 years, between 10 or 15 tests, and 7 promotions, Francis is an Assistant Commissioner of Human Resources for Westchester County. “My advice for anyone looking to work in civil service is to take as many tests as possible; especially tests for more general positions. Spanish language and technology skills are frequently requested, so if you have either of those, you’ll most likely be eligible for something.”

Any test for a County or municipal job in Westchester County is designed by the state. The people who develop the tests typically base them on a job description and a list of prerequisites. The other guidelines they follow are the expressed intent of the exams: According to the New York State Department of Civil Service, the intent is “… [to test] according to merit and fitness”.

Not all of the County’s positions require a college degree. Many employees go back to school for free at Westchester Community College or use the tuition reimbursement program to attend other institutions.

Working for the County promises other benefits. The healthcare plan is top-notch and there are many opportunities for upward mobility for good, hard working employees.

The permanency system is an especially appealing feature. For twelve weeks to a year following appointment to a position, an employee is on probation.  At the conclusion of a successful probation, an employee gains permanency. After becoming permanent, an employee who tests for a new job and moves to that position is free to return to their ‘permanent’ position if they find the new job does not suit their skills.

The County uses these policies to improve its workforce, ensuring that Westchester is served by qualified professionals.

Although the tests can be difficult, study guides and assistance are readily available. Questions on the exams may repeat because there are similarities among various jobs such as “Supervision” - the questions in this subject are generic and cross all positions where supervising staff is a requirement of the position.  This helps multiple-time test-takers score highly on the exams.

The tests are undeniably a challenge, but many employees such as Francis have enjoyed long careers in civil service.  And over the last few years, the number of test takers has increased.

Vacancies occur when an existing permanent employee retires or leaves. Following that, Human Resources posts the opening and a candidate is appointed from a list of successful test takers.  Note that an offer has to be made to one of the top three scorers willing to accept the position.  If there is no list, an offer can be made to anyone who qualifies for the position.  That person can serve provisionally until he or she takes the test and scores high enough to be made permanent after completing probation. Until recently, taking the exam required a written application. Now, you can apply for exams online, pay the fee, and request notifications when new exams are posted. Tests are held at various locations throughout the County, and vary in length and content based on the position they test for.

The uptick in test-takers is due in part to the new online portal. But Francis notes that there is a new, growing enthusiasm for civil service that didn’t previously exist.

“The younger generation is more interested today in civil service than in past years when the private sector offered generous defined benefit plans and health plan coverage. Now the public sector is almost alone in offering these benefits.  This certainly contributes to the County’s ability to attract a talented workforce.” 

It bears mentioning that not every position in the County is governed by civil service tests.  Certain positions are deemed exempt, non-competitive, labor or unclassified. But just because those positions do not require someone to take a written civil service exam, they do have to meet the qualifications of the position in order that the civil service principle of selecting candidates based on merit and fitness can be maintained.

An example is Stacey Dolgin-Kmetz, who began her work for Westchester County in 1980 in the Department of Social Services. While attending Law School at night, Stacey took a civil service test for a paralegal position and was hired in the County Attorney’s office. In 1984, after working as a paralegal in the County Attorney’s Office, Stacey earned her law degree. Rather than seeking employment with a high-powered law firm, she continued working as an attorney at the County Attorney’s Office, a position that does not require a Civil Service Exam.

Stacey did this because she enjoys her work. “Frankly, I did not think I’d do anything different in private practice. At the County Attorney’s Office I have had the opportunity to represent the County in a variety of matters involving; tax issues, land use, employment discrimination, legislation, family law, general litigation and contracts.” After starting with the County Attorney’s Office over 35 years ago, Stacey is now Westchester County’s Chief Deputy County Attorney.

There are many stories similar to that of Francis and Stacey where employees have enjoyed success in a fulfilling career that spans decades while serving the residents of Westchester County.

If you are interested in taking a civil service exam, you can create an account with Westchester County’s Department of Human Resources HERE.