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Bizarre testing experience

Racing heart, hyperventilation and the screaming heebie-jeebies - and that was just the practice run!

The hunt for temporary employment is on. On Calvin Bexfield's advice, I applied with a temp agency serving the call center industry. The original plan was to get into phone support for the revenue service, because despite my limited expertise in tax matters, I get asked about them all the time (similar to me and computers, really. People see me, they conclude that I must be some sort of computer nerd and ask me questions which usually turn out to be above my actual skill level. Sometimes, I manage to be helpful anyway). That didn't work out, because the revenue has strict rules about who gets to peek into their database, and people with their own companies (as defined at least in part by having their own VAT number) aren't allowed to do so. Can't fault them for drawing a line, I guess, but it was a bit of a bummer for me that they've drawn it there. I'm not even registered at a chamber of commerce...

Still, the agency needs people, hard, so they've contacted me twice about other opportunities, quizzing me about my past experiences and my ability to do cross-selling. They also practiced some cross-selling on me by bringing up the possibility of doing outbound telemarketing, which I flatly refused. I do have some pride left. And they sent me a link to a test to fill in.

The test is interesting. It consists of three parts: a Dutch language proficiency test, which I don't think was problematic*); a speed and accuracy test, which I didn't get around to doing, and a timed skills test, which was the reason I didn't get around to doing the speed and accuracy test.

The skills test consists of exercises in which you have to read a piece of test and then enter data extracted from it into a web form, as if someone is telling you his travel plans over the phone and you have to replicate them in a web based travel planner to tell them when to leave. Before the actual test, you get two opportunities to do a practice run, so you at least know the drill in advance. I did the first, got a twitchy mouse, hit a TAB key causing me to get knocked out of the window, and just about failed to finish in time. I did the second and finished that in time... but at the end, my heart was racing, I was hyperventilating, my hands were shaking and I needed to get away from the screen for a little while. Once I'd recovered, I fired off an email telling the agency I was calling the whole thing off.

To be clear about this, what I experienced wasn't normal test stress. I've done exams. I've done IQ tests (under time pressure) as part of the application process for other jobs. I've done job interviews, performance reviews, all the regular stress fests that come with getting and keeping jobs. I've worked to deadline, I've worked past deadline. I've taught classes full of unruly children. I know how the body normally primes itself for pressure and this wasn't it. I've never had stress symptoms physically incapacitate me.

Calvin tells me that the actual work he does is pretty much at the other extreme from this - that it's dull and that his biggest problem is not falling asleep. Let's hope the next agency I try has some more representative tests, then, because I can't cope with this one.

Has anyone else reading this had this experience? How do I prevent it from happening again?

*)Though, to be honest, it was more difficult than I expected. I am becoming like those geezers my own generation used to mock, who'd had their primary education before 1952 and still spelled common words according to the official spelling rules of the day. Since I left University, there have been not one, but two official spelling reforms, the latter of which was so controversial that an organisation was founded to promote an alternate spelling manual. This has eroded my confidence in my own Dutch spelling prowess, which used to be formidable, but probably isn't anymore.

Comments (3)

Just face it mate! You're way too smart for tests like that! :) Like Calvin said: Booorring! Not for smart people. :D

Do you have a link to this test?

Alas, it's under a login.

I've since found out that this phenomenon is actually fairly common among people who for one reason or another have to take tests years after leaving the education circus. My doctor prescribed some drugs to prevent a reoccurrence, though in the longer term, the answer is more likely to build up testing routine and confidence again.

It was probably a mistake to write a long rambling post about my existing anxieties just prior to taking the test, by the way.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 8, 2007 10:14 PM.

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