Frequently Asked Questions about Tompkins County Employment and Civil Service
1. Who is Tompkins County Government? What programs/department/areas?
Tompkins County (TC) government is composed of two primary sections: elected legislators (fifteen Board of Representative members) and a variety of departments or programs providing services to the community of Tompkins County. The Board of Representatives formulates legislation and allocates resources to meet the needs of County residents and our community. A complete list of departments and programs can be found at the county web site:www.tompkins-co.org.
2. How can I learn more about Tompkins County as an agency (programs, services, mission) and as an employer?
The easiest way to access information about the county is through the county web site at www.tompkins-co.org or by calling County Administration at 274-5551. At the web site, the Directory Link will provide you a list of all departments and services currently being offered by the County. The Job Link provides available information regarding vacancies, applications and examinations.
3. What is Civil Service? Why, where or how did we get the laws about civil service testing and the procedures for hiring within the government come about?
Broadly defined civil service encompasses employment in federal, state and local governmental agencies. The civil service system originated in an effort to end the spoils system. The spoils system was a mechanism, whereby every newly elected party, whether at the federal, state or local level would give government jobs only to their supporters and dismiss any employee who were members of the opposing party. As a result, the political appointees who were working for the government were not necessarily the most competent or best trained people. Civil service was designed to end the inefficiencies and constant turnover created by having party loyalists as opposed to the best trained people for the job. The modern system of civil service seeks to ensure that appointments to municipal public service jobs are based on merit and fitness which, as far as practical, are determined by competitive examination.
4. Are all jobs under in the County government considered under civil service jurisdiction?
A majority but not all positions in the County are considered under civil service jurisdiction. There are five classes of jobs in local government:
5. How do I get information on government positions and what types of positions are available with the County?
The best way to gain information about jobs available with the County is to go to the County web page http://www.tompkins-co.org/ and click the Jobs Link under the County Services section. This will take you to the Tompkins County Personnel site where you can click on the Vacancy Link which will take you to a list of all jobs currently being offered by the County. Or you can stop by the Tompkins County Personnel office or one of our 103 posting locations to obtain a paper copy of the current vacancies list.
6. If I want to explore certain types of positions (clerical, management, technical, etc) but don’t know titles exist, or where I should start?
If you are interested in exploring career options, the best place to start is the Tompkins County Personnel Office, 125 E. Court St., Ithaca. Here, you will find a list of all job titles and several books containing the corresponding job descriptions. These books are open for public use and contain specifications for most civil service titles. (Elected and Exempt class titles do not necessarily have job descriptions).
7. Are there job descriptions I can review to determine the kinds of positions I may be interested in exploring?
Job descriptions of all competitive civil service positions can be found at the Tompkins County Personnel department. This information due to its substantial volume is not available on the Internet site and can be accessed only at the Personnel Office. See question #6 above for more information.
8. How do I know minimum qualifications for positions?
9. What is the County's connection/relationship with the City, Town, School District and other municipalities?
The County handles all civil service related work for all positions in Tompkins County towns, villages, school districts and special districts, except for the City of Ithaca and the Ithaca School District. It is the County’s duty to ensure that all positions under its administration are in compliance with civil service law.
10. If I want to apply for a job in County government, what do I have to do? What are the steps for applying for a job?
There are three ways to gain civil service employment; temporary, provisional and permanent. In all cases, candidates must submit an application and meet the minimum qualifications set for the position. Temporary and provisional appointments are quite common. These vacancies are advertised on the Current Vacancies List. Permanent appointment can only be gained after examination. In order to be eligible for permanent status, you have to be chosen from among the top three candidates on an eligible list who are willing to accept the position. There are 600+ titles that exist in Tompkins County. You could "pre-file" for any one of these titles and wait no be notified of the next vacancy or exam date. Applications are kept active for one year. If the exam is announced during that time frame, you will be notified. Once on an eligible list, you may be called in for an interview. If you successfully pass the interview, you may be hired on a permanent basis with a probationary period of 8-26 weeks. Once you pass 26 weeks, you hold permanent status. If you have been hired on a temporary or provisional basis to fill a vacancy, you must take the next exam when it is offered. In order to be eligible for permanent status, you must score among the top three candidates willing to accept the appointment.
11. How do I find out what tests are available (now and anticipated in a few months)?
The easiest way to find out what tests are being offered is to check the County web site at www.tompkins-co.org. Under the Jobs Link you will find the examination subdirectory which will list all available examinations being offered in the near future. You can also access this information at the Tompkins County Personnel Office and 103 other posting locations. 12. Where is the Personnel office located? When are they open? Are there weekend or evening hours? Does the County and Personnel office have a web site? The Tompkins County Personnel Office is located at 125 East Court St., Ithaca, NY, 14850. Normal business hours are 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M, Monday through Friday. Currently there are no weekend or evening hours . The Personnel does maintain a section of the Tompkins county web site. Please visit us at http://www.tompkins-co.org/personnel/index.html.
13. Do I need to be able to type or have certain skill levels/experience of computer expertise for certain positions?
All job positions have minimum qualifications that must be met. These qualifications, however, vary from job title to job title. The best way to find out what qualifications must be met in order to apply for a particular position is to check under the job descriptions on the vacancy list, available on the web, or to come to the Personnel Office and check the descriptions in the job directories.
14. Does the County have an affirmative action program or workforce diversification plan for under represented candidates?
Tompkins County government, as an employer, strives to represent the diverse population of the county and to be inclusive without regard to race, color, national origin, ethnicity, sex/gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, status as a special disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran, or status as an ex-offender. Also, veterans and disabled persons will be eligible for extra credit. The County’s current Affirmative Action program has a strong commitment in the recruitment, civil service reachability, and retention in the employment of affirmative action protected class groups.
15. Are there temporary positions (i.e.: summer) or internships to gain experience with the County?
Yes, the County does have temporary positions which are usually filled on an under 90 day basis. Temporary under 90 day positions are not usually posted. They are often filled from existing applications or eligible lists. If you have applied for a position with the County, your application may or may not be used to fill a temporary slot. You should contact the Tompkins County Personnel Office to express an interest specifically in temporary or part-time employment. You should contact your school's employment office for details on internship opportunities.
16. Are there part time or less than full time positions?
Yes, occasionally there are positions available that are less than full time. However, these positions (if they are to be filled for more than 90 days) must still conform to all of the civil service laws. Therefore, applicants must go through the complete examination and interview process for the available position.
17. What are the advantages and disadvantages in taking temporary or provisional positions?
The advantages of temporary employment with the County are that immediate employment is possible, it provides an opportunity to prove your skills and abilities to the employer and it allows for "real life" on-the-job experience. The disadvantages, however, are that employment is short term only, there is little possibility of becoming a permanent employee and benefits do not usually apply.
18. If I start employment in one department, can I apply or transfer to another similar position in another department? in another municipality? in another state or location?
Yes, civil service employees can transfer by job title across departments and to any municipality in New York State. They cannot transfer positions across states. Also, within New York State, employees can transfer to different job positions if the civil service exam for that particular job is comparable to the exam of the previously held position. In transferring employees must follow internal transfer protocols.
19. Why do I have to take a test to determine if I can get a job or not? Isn’t experience in a similar job and/or a degree in the identified field enough?
Tests are required for impartiality. Tests allow candidates to be evaluated purely on merit. However, tests alone do not determine whether a candidate gets a job. The top three scorers must go through an interview process, where anyone of them has an equally likely chance of being hired. At this point, a previous job or a degree in the identified field may make you a more attractive candidate.
20. How can I best prepare for the civil service tests? Are these study materials available?
The best way to prepare for the civil service examinations is to use one of the study guides available for that particular field. Some State provided study guides are posted on the Tompkins County website. Others can be ordered from the Civil Service Employee Association, Labor Education Action Program. Order forms can be obtained at the Tompkins County Personnel Office. Study guides may also be available at the Tompkins County Public Library or through your local bookstore.
21. After I take a civil service test can I see my results? Can I find out which questions I have missed or answered incorrectly?
Test results are provided in the form of a "Rank and Score Letter". This letter provides each candidate with his/her score and position on the list relative to the other candidates (rank). As far as finding out which questions have been missed or answered incorrectly, there are three types of review available to candidates; pre-rating, post-rating and computational. A pre-rating review occurs the Saturday following your test date. This review occurs at a State review center and enables you to compare the actual test questions and answers against the tentative rating key. You can make objection, at this time, to the wording of questions or answers. If enough people have a problem with a specific question/answer, it can be thrown out of the series and the rating scales are adjusted accordingly. A computational review occurs after the test papers have been scored and the list established. At this point, each candidate will be notified of his/her score and relative ranking on the eligible list. Candidates have ten days from the date of the letter to request the materials necessary for a computational review. The State then provides a copy of the answer sheet and the master-scoring key. The scoring key tells you the subjects of the examination and how many questions were included for each one. With this review, you are never allowed to see the actual test questions again. But, you can use this review to compare your answer sheet to the scoring key, which will help you to determine your areas of strength or weakness. This, in turn, can help you to determine which areas you need to focus on for the next test. A post-rating review is done whenever the examination consists of an evaluation of a candidate's training and experience. After the "Training and Experience" examination, each candidate will be notified of his/her score and relative position on the eligible list. Any candidate, receiving such notice, or his/her duly authorized representative, may inspect the examination papers in the office of the Commissioner or in the presence of a designated representative of the Commissioner, provided they make a request for such inspection in writing within the period of ten days after the date of the postmark of such notice.
22. If I have a scheduling conflict or miss a scheduled civil service exam have a scheduling conflict with the date for an exam, what are my options.
The County does have an alternate test date policy. However, candidates must inform County Personnel as soon as possible that a scheduling conflict exists and the reason. If the issue is brought to the attention of the Personnel Office early enough and if it meets the criteria, we may be able to make provision for an alternate test date. If you miss a scheduled examination and there is a valid and verifiable reason, the Personnel Department may be able to provide an alternate test date. It is your responsibility to contact the Personnel Office immediately and provide whatever backup is necessary to confirm your reason.
23. Is it helpful to talk to the chair of the hiring committee or program department head if I am interested in working in their department/area?
A resume' and/or cover letter directly to the committee or department head might be a good way to get your foot in the door if you are applying for a provisional or temporary position. However, you must still file an application with the Personnel Department. If there is an existing eligible list, and you are not among the top three candidates willing to accept the appointment, there is very little that a hiring committee or department head can do towards getting you permanent status if you are not "reachable". The whole point of the competitive examination process is to remove politics from the hiring decision. All candidates are hired on the basis of merit and fitness as determined by competitive exam. In addition to this competitive exam process, you must also successfully complete the interview process. It is at this point where a personalized cover letter and/or resume' might provide some advantage.
24. Do I need to be a resident of Ithaca to apply for work with the County? I am a student and live here only part of the year (academic months), does that count towards any residency requirement.
We define residency as domicile. It is where you lay your head at night to sleep. Candidates must have been a legal resident of Tompkins County or one of the six contiguous counties for at least one month immediately preceding the date of application and (in certain instances) maintain residency throughout the life of the eligible list. Students who are residents during the academic year are eligible for employment with the County. You may be required to provide some proof, such as a copy of your lease, phone bill, utility bill, etc. The residency requirement is waived in some cases, but this is decided on a position by position basis.
25. What are the benefits available to full time employees?
Full employment with the county offers several key benefits. First, once you gain permanent status, you hold civil service rights to that position. Second, you become eligible for all fringe benefits (defined annually by contract negotiations by labor grades or groups) and the NYS retirement plan.
26. Does the County offer any job or professional training or development assistance for employees?
Yes, the County does offer job and professional training for its employees. In an on going effort to improve efficiency and enhance the knowledge and skill level of its employees, the County Personnel Office has an office of Training and Development specifically devoted for this purpose.
27. Are there career ladders or opportunities for advancement within Tompkins County? How are promotions handled?
Yes, there are career ladders for advancement. Civil Service Law says that, where practical, positions shall be filled by promotion before using open-competitive options. All promotions, however, are also based on an examination. In order to be eligible to participate in a promotion examination you must hold permanent competitive class status and meet the promotion qualifications designated for the position. This is the case unless the employee is promoted to a non-competitive position.