Onondaga County Personnel Department (2023)

Frequently Asked Questions

A. Applying for an exam

B. Types of examinations

C. After you take an exam

D. Veterans and Seniority credits

E. What is the Role of Civil Service

Onondaga County Personnel Department (1)

A. Applying for an exam

Do I have to be an Onondaga County resident to take a civil service examination?

Most examinations do not require that you be an Onondaga County resident, however some do. Residence information is listed on each examination announcement. Some municipalities have residence requirements for employment, so even though you may not need to be a resident to take the examination, you may need to be a resident to be considered for appointment.

How can I tell when a particular test will be given by the County?
Not all examinations are held on a regular basis. Examinations are prepared and scheduled by the New York State Civil Service Commission. The Onondaga County Department of Personnel requests examinations to be scheduled based on the number of positions, the length of the current eligible list, the age of the list, and the turnover of employees within the title. Eligible lists are valid for a minimum period of one year from the date of establishment and up to four years at the discretion of the Personnel Commissioner.

There are over twelve hundred County and local jurisdiction titles for which examinations can be scheduled. In order to find out if a specific examination is being offered, at the current time you may check the schedule of announced examinations on our web site @ https://employment.ongov.net/

How can I obtain information on particular civil service examinations?
Announcements for Onondaga County civil service examinations are publicized in our office, and on our web site. The Onondaga County Application for Examination or Employment is available in the Onondaga County Personnel Department, 421 Montgomery Street 13th floor John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Syracuse, New York 13202, or may be downloaded from our web site in the Document Center.

Is there an application fee?
There is a non-refundable application processing fee for each examination which must accompany your application. The amount of the fee depends on the type of examination and is listed on each examination announcement. This fee is non-refundable.
Send check or money order payable to the "Chief Fiscal Officer." We also accept Visa, MasterCard, and Discover. A Credit Card Payment Form can be downloaded from our web site. Cash will be accepted only if paying in person.

A waiver of application fee will be allowed if you meet one or more of the following conditions:
- You are unemployed and head of a household.
- You are determined eligible for Medicaid, or receiving Supplemental Security Income payments (SSI); or Public Assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/Family Assistance of Safety Net Assistance);
- You are receiving Foster Care
- You are certified Workforce Investment Act eligible through a State or local service agency
- You are an Onondaga County resident and have honorably served or are now honorably serving in the Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves.

All claims for application fee waiver are subject to verification. If you can verify eligibility for application fee waiver, complete an “Application Fee Waiver Request and Certification” form and submit it with your application by the close of business at 4:30pm by last file date as listed on the Examination Announcement. The “Application Fee Waiver Request and Certification” form can be found in our office lobby or on our web site in the Document Center.

Can I take more than one examination on a test date?
The New York State Civil Service Commission prepares the examinations in such a manner that you can participate in more than one examination on the same day even if it is for different jurisdictions. All examinations for which you have been approved must be taken on the same day in the same testing center. Be sure to indicate on your application that you are filing for more than one examination. It is the candidate’s responsibility to notify our department if you are taking exams in more than one municipality.

Is the experience required in the minimum qualifications always full-time?
Unless specifically stated otherwise, the number of years of experience in the minimum qualifications is based upon the presumption of full-time employment. Full-time employment is defined as 35+ hours per week. Appropriate part-time experience may be prorated. No credit is given for experience totaling less than 5 hours per week.

Are study materials available?
For some examinations, the New York State Civil Service develops study guides. If a study guide is provided for an examination, this is listed on the exam announcement. There are some study guides on our web site and in our office that are for specific examination series such as clerical and Police Officer as well as a guide from the State “How To Take a Written Examination” that may be helpful. The NYS Department of Civil Service advises applicants to use the "subject of information" section of the announcement as a guide for studying and that your local library may be able to suggest texts that would be helpful. They neither provide nor recommend study materials. Some materials may be available through public libraries, public employee unions and private publishers. We can make no recommendation on the quality or usefulness of such materials.

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What are "special arrangements"?
"Special arrangements" refer to requests for examination assistance with regard to scheduling or specialized testing needs*. Candidates who meet the alternate test date criteria should provide the appropriate documentation with the exam application. Those candidates who require specialized assistance should submit the appropriate documentation detailing the assistance needed.

Candidates who are observers of the Saturday Sabbath must file documentation signed by their religious advisor.

*It is the candidate’s responsibility to state accommodations needed for each and every exam for which the candidate applies.

When will I be notified?
For written examinations, admission notices for eligible candidates are mailed to candidates ten (10) calendar days prior to the test date. If you do not receive an admission notice by three (3) days prior to the test date, you must call the Examinations Division at (315) 435-3537 for instructions. It is the candidate’s responsibility to call for these instructions prior to the test date. (If a review of your application indicates that you are not eligible to take the exam, you will receive a notice of ineligibility approximately one month before the exam date.)

Are examinations ever cancelled?
As the New York State Civil Service Commission schedules examinations on a statewide basis, it is very rare for one to be cancelled. In case of weather or other emergency, announcement of cancellation will be broadcast on television station WTVH News Channel 5, WIXT News Channel 9, News 10 Now or any Clear Channel Radio Station.

Do I have to be a United States citizen in order to be employed in civil service?
Unless otherwise stated on the examination announcement or job specification, you do not have to be a citizen. You must be legally able to work in the United States.

I filed for an examination, but I haven't heard...
Notices to appear for a written test are typically received in the mail at least three days before the Saturday on which the test is being held. If you have not received your notice to appear by then, call us at (315) 435-3537.

Disqualification notices are usually sent out much sooner. If you have been disqualified, follow the instructions on your notice if you believe you have additional, relevant information on your qualifications.

Where are the tests held?
The Onondaga County Personnel Department uses several sites to hold examinations. The site for your particular examination will be printed on your admission notice.

What is a provisional appointment?
A provisional appointment is a temporary appointment to a competitive class position for which no eligible list currently exists or for which an eligible list exists with fewer than three candidates who are willing to accept the position being offered. In order to become permanent, the employee who is provisionally appointed must take the next examination for the position in question. The appointment to the position is then made from among the three highest scoring candidates who indicate their willingness to accept the position. Civil Service law does not compel the appointing authority to choose the provisional employee should he or she be one of the three candidates.

B. Types of examinations

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What are the examinations like?
State civil service exams may consist of a written, oral and/or performance test, an evaluation of education, training and experience, or a combination of these. The exam announcement will indicate which type of test(s) will be given. The majority of written tests use multiple choice questions; and they are usually held on Saturdays in locations throughout the State. A booklet "How to Take a Written Test" is available in our office for individuals applying for entry-level jobs.

What is the difference between an open-competitive and promotional examination?
Open-competitive examinations can be taken by any individuals who demonstrate that they meet the minimum educational and experience qualifications cited on the examination announcement. Promotional examinations are restricted to current employees of the participating appointing authority who meet the service requirement and minimum qualifications as cited on the announcement. It is possible for current employees to take an examination both open-competitively and promotionally, and appear on both lists if they pass the examination. Candidates on promotional lists are canvassed before open competitive lists when both lists exist for a title.

What does continuous recruitment mean?
Continuous recruitment refers to those examinations, for which applications are accepted on a continuous basis, i.e., there is no deadline by when an application must be received. The examination is held on certain scheduled dates of which you will be notified. The scores for these examinations are filed with existing candidate scores to form a constantly changing eligible list. Your name remains on the list for a period of one to four years.

What is a training and experience examination?
A Training and Experience examination is a method of testing whereby a candidate receives a test score based on the information contained in the submitted application and/or a questionnaire which is sent to eligible candidates. The score is calculated from weights given to various factors of education (training) and experience.

C. After you take an exam

Who uses Onondaga County Civil Service Lists?
Lists of eligible job candidates established by the Onondaga County Department of Personnel are used to fill vacancies in competitive class titles in Onondaga County government, Onondaga Community College, City of Syracuse, Schools, Towns, Villages, Libraries, and Special Districts within Onondaga County. The local jurisdictions that use lists established by the Onondaga County Department of Personnel are the City of Syracuse, and all towns and villages and their associated school and special districts.

What is an appointing authority?
An Appointing Authority refers to the position in a unit of government that is the hiring authority, i.e. a department head in the County of Onondaga or the City of Syracuse, or the mayor of a town or village or the superintendent of a school district within the County.

What is a "local" jurisdiction?
The term "local" jurisdiction refers to any one of the following jurisdictions that are under the civil service responsibility of the Onondaga County Personnel Department:
- City of Syracuse
- All towns and villages within the borders of Onondaga County as well as their associated school
districts and special districts

How can I review my test?
Some exam questions are open to review after the test is held. This is called "pre-rating review" and you must request this review at the test site when you finish your examination. You will be able to see the questions and the tentative answers, but not your answer sheet. This is the forum in which to challenge what you may consider to be an inappropriate question and/or answer. Some exams are not open to review.

After you receive your score, you may request a computational review, in which you will be able to review a copy of your answer sheet and the final answer key, but not the test questions. Directions for requesting a computational review are included with the grade notification. Reviews are conducted in the Department of Personnel.

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How long will it take to get my score?
The New York State Civil Service Commission scores most examinations. Eligible lists are established, on average, within three months after the examination date.

How is my examination scored? What is band scoring?
The New York State Civil Service Commission designs, prepares and scores the civil service examinations used by the Onondaga County Personnel Department.

Effective June 1996, the New York State Civil Service Commission expanded the use of a scoring methodology called band scoring which groups similar scores together. Band scoring facilitates the assessment of candidate performance on written tests in a more realistic manner than the traditional individualized scoring formulas and is used for both open-competitive and promotional examinations.

In band scoring methodology for open-competitive examinations, the number of correct answers (the raw score) determines which band is applied. An individual band scoring table is prepared for each examination.
The typical scoring formula used in promotional examinations adds seniority credits to the raw score before the band is applied. Veteran’s credits are added after the band has been applied in both open-competitive and promotion exams.

Neither seniority nor veteran’s credits can be used to bring a failing raw score up to a passing score.

I've received my score; what happens next? How is the eligible list used?
Agencies request the list and send out "canvass letters" to enough high scoring eligible's to fill their jobs. A canvass letter is an inquiry into your interest in the job and its location, and your availability. Canvass letters are not job offers. If you receive a canvass letter, do not leave your present employment. Do return the canvass letter by the return date if you are interested in the job. If you return the canvass letter late, the agency is not required to consider you for that job. However, your name will remain active for future canvasses. While the law does not require agencies to canvass or conduct interviews, in most cases they do. However, agencies are required to hire from the eligible list according to the rule of three. (See next question.)

If you are undecided about accepting a particular canvass inquiry, you should indicate that you are interested in being interviewed. If you are called for an interview and after you have found out more about the job, you can always decline. You may write the Department of Personnel at 421 Montgomery Street 13th floor Syracuse, NY 13202 to re-activate your name for agencies, locations, or types of positions you have declined.

What is the "rule of three?"
All candidates at the highest score are immediately eligible for consideration for appointment. Candidates at lower scores can only be considered when there are fewer than 3 candidates at the highest score.

Any candidate's eligibility for appointment depends not only on his or her rank (all eligibles who receive the same score are equally ranked) but also how many other candidates are tied at that and higher level ranks. The following two examples illustrate how this might work:

Example One:


No. of candidates at this score

Rank of candidates










In this case all three candidates at all three scores and ranks are equally eligible to be appointed.

Example Two:


No. of candidates at this score

Rank of all candidates at this score










In this case, only the ten candidates at score 100 and rank 1 are eligible for appointment. If, however, through hiring or declinations the number of interested candidates at 100 is reduced to 2, then all 10 candidates at the score 95 (rank 2) can also be considered. Only if there were only 2 or fewer candidates at the scores of 100 and 95 (ranks 1 and 2) can any of the 10 candidates at the 90 score be considered.

How long does an eligible list stay in existence?
In accordance with the New York State Civil Service Law, an eligible list must remain in existence for one year from the date of its establishment or until there are no candidates left who are willing to accept appointment, whichever occurs first. The Personnel Commissioner may extend the list beyond one year to a maximum of four years.
A new examination in the title may be requested and held at any time during the life of an existing eligible list. It is the responsibility of the candidate on the existing list to keep abreast of the examination schedule and to apply for and participate in the new examination.

At the time of establishment of the new list, a decision is made on whether or not to allow the existing list (over one year of age) to continue or to replace it with the new list. When the "old" list is continued, the new list "supplements" the old list until a predetermined date. The old list is used first.

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What happens if I change my address?
Candidates are responsible for notifying this office, in writing, of a change of address. Do not depend on the postal service to forward your mail in sufficient time to respond to a canvass letter for a position. Include both your new and old address along with your social security number. A change of address form can be downloaded at:
www.ongov.net/employment/document-center.html and then mailed to this office.

Will I get the job if I get the highest score?
If you are the top scorer you might be considered for the job, but having a high score does not guarantee that you will be hired. (See the "rule of three.") The canvass and interview are equally important parts of the selection process. If you are interested, return your canvass letter promptly and do your best to make a good impression during the interview. The interview is also an opportunity for you to learn if this is the job for you.

What is a probationary appointment?
The probationary period is a time when new employees must prove themselves capable of doing the job for which they were hired. The probationary term is a period of not less than eight (8) weeks, or more than fifty-two (52) weeks for most open-competitive positions. Promotion appointments, transfers and entry level Police appointments have different probationary periods.

D. Veterans and seniority credits

What are seniority points?
Civil Service Law requires that due consideration be given to seniority on promotion examinations for candidates who are permanent employees of the participating appointing authority. Seniority points are added to passing scores only. The formula for awarding seniority points is listed on the examination announcement.

What are veteran’s credits?
In accordance with the New York State Constitution, veterans of the armed forces, as defined by New York State Law, are entitled to additional points to be added to a passing score. Definitions of who is recognized as a veteran may be found in the Instructions to Veterans document located in our office or our web site at www.ongov.net/employment/document-center.html.

E. What is the Role of Civil Service

The Division of Civil Service Administration was created in the County Administrative Code to provide for a departmental branch charged specifically with the responsibility for the administration of New York State Civil Service Law, Rules, and Regulations for all political sub-divisions within the boundaries of Onondaga County.

The Division of Civil Service plays a key role in local government human resource management by describing the nature of work to be performed in each job, the skills, abilities and responsibilities they encompass and the minimum abilities needed to perform the work.

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Civil Service Law empowers the Personnel Department to classify all local positions, prepare job specifications and create and maintain a classification plan. The Onondaga County classification plan consists of 1440 separate job classifications, which cover a broad range from doctors and lawyers to clerks and laborers.

The Division of Civil Service Administration also plays a central role in the recruitment of qualified candidates for local positions. Approximately 63% of all titles in the Onondaga County classification plan are competitive class titles. Civil Service Law requires that competitive class positions be filled through competitive examination of candidates and ranking based upon merit and fitness.

Rev 5/2014


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