I discovered this week how feeble my skills apparently are with office automation software when I was asked to take a proprietary test given by a local employment agency. They wanted to determine my office “bones,” if you will. The results were less than stellar.
I have never operated under any delusions of grandeur in regard to my computer proficiency. I am fully aware that I have skill set limitations. Specifically, tasks that require creating impressive-looking charts, doing any kind of advanced number-crunching, or attempting something beyond elementary html to create web page are examples of efforts for which I seek help from others. The best part about having lots of helpful co-workers is that someone invariably will share what they know so that you don’t have to recreate the wheel or suffer from any extended inferiority complex (H, C).
On the other hand, what skills I do hold are ones that have served me well. I am well versed with enterprise email software, word processing, and the basics of spreadsheet construction. I have worked with those dreaded Powerpoint slides, designed newsletters using publishing software, and produced simple spreadsheet files to track budgets. When I wasn’t sure how to do something, and a particular co-worker was unavailable, there was always Google to find a source that would show me how to do it with point-by-point instructions. I never knew who these angels of cyberspace were who designed such pages, but whether it was a simple PDF or a more elaborate video posted on YouTube, because of them I always managed to figure out how to do something in a pinch.
With all of this as background, it was just short of humiliating this week in the comfort and privacy of my own home when was I asked to take an online test on the many features of office software. I had passed this employment agency many times since arriving here, and I finally decided to look at their website to see what they offered. They asked for a resume, and I duly uploaded mine never really thinking twice if I would hear back. Like clockwork, I received an email the following morning asking for additional information such as a generic cover letter and a list of references. I was also asked to fill out their application in which I was queried about my likes, dislikes, career goals, and where I thought I would be in ten years. As you can imagine, the last question had me in stitches with the possibilities, but I nonetheless played it straight. In the narrative field provided, I made it clear that I was only looking for a part-time job to supplement my retirement income. The following morning I received yet another e-mail providing a link to this proprietary test of theirs.
The test was broken into three parts of the Microsoft Office Suite: Excel, Outlook, and Word. A fourth exercise involved a standard typing test. Except for the typing test which was five minutes, I was allowed as much time as I needed for each of the test’s segments. They did inform, though, that they would be observing how long it took me to answer and complete each one. They also made clear that the test would unceremoniously end if I tried to leave it in the middle, and there could be no re-doing it unless I called them to explain why I had prematurely ended it. In other words, no opening up another window to Google the answers and cheat.
In spite of not using Outlook since the 1990’s (my last employer used Lotus Notes), I was familiar enough with the basics of it to answer the majority of the questions correctly. I did the same for Word, though they did ask for a few things dealing with macros that I’ve never had to use. My typing test scores were average. It was the Excel segment, however, in which I had what can only be described as an epic failure.
My spreadsheet usage has always been primarily for the tracking of expenditures only. I am adept at putting in the total amount of a given allotment and then computing a simple formula to add columns for a final balance. Sometimes I even created TWO columns. If I needed to get fancy because of credits or supplemental funding, I am able to do that too. In my world, I can handle Excel.
However, this test wasn’t measuring such elementary usage. It was looking for way more advanced spreadsheet knowledge with formulas, tables, tables with formulas, charts, dynamic charts, reports, report filters, etc. Suddenly I was back in freshman biology class listening to the professor talk about the left and right dorsal aortas and how they’re connected to the arteries. Difficult words and concepts are floating by me, but all I’m really thinking about is why my roommates all know the lyrics to “Louie Louie” and I don’t.
And so it was with this Excel test. There were 55 questions in all, and by number 22 I pretty much stopped trying because it was apparent that it was way over my head. I suspect this employment firm won’t be placing me for an interview to be the new corporate controller of the local orange grove plant in my town.
The instructions I received before I took the test were that after I completed it, I should contact my references to be on the lookout for either an email or phone call from the agency so that they can vouch for my splendid work abilities. Yet, just as I was about to take the test, to my shock and disappointment, I received text messages from two of my references asking me about emails that they had already received (Hi, N and E). Hey, unfair!!! You said after the tests were completed! I then had to step back, send out a quick apology, and inform my references about what was happening.
We were not amused.
According to the employment agency’s latest e-mail, now that I have completed the testing, I need to wait till a suitable opening is available and an interview can be arranged. I assume my file has been assigned to one of their recruiters, and he or she has already furrowed their brow while looking at my test scores. I am sure he/she is wondering exactly what they can do with this numbers-challenged retiree. Actually that’s the more polite scenario. More likely it’s like, “Hey, Carol, come check out this Bozo they’ve assigned to me!”
As I discussed previously, I am not itching to be employed again. My darling wife did make a little too much money last year, and this has sadly left us with a bit of a tax bill to Uncle Sam and the state of Oregon. It would certainly be helpful for me to do my part in helping to retire that debt. I would also enjoy bringing in a few shekels for continued enjoyment of our nightly martinis.¹
¹ I personally am satisfied with the more pedestrian Seagrams, but Gorgeous’ refined palate will only consume the expensive and exotic Hendricks. We all have our limits, it would appear.