Merit Principles & Recruitment Examinations

Civil Service and the Merit Principles

As employees of the local government, we are all part of the "civil service." In the civil service, the California State Constitution establishes that all appointments and promotions must be made based strictly on the employee's ability to do the job, meaning on that person's "merit." The requirement that only a person's ability to do the job be considered when making decisions is known as a "merit principle". The process of hiring and promoting people based on the above is called a "merit system". The two terms are often used interchangeably. Factors other than the individual's merit and job-related qualifications, like political affiliation, ethnicity, and gender for example, may not be considered when making hiring and promotion decisions in California civil service.

What is a Merit System?

A merit system is a process of hiring and promoting government employees based on their ability to perform a job, rather than on their political or personal connections. Federal legislation established the following six merit principles that apply to those state and local governments that are required to operate a Merit Personnel System as a condition of eligibility for Federal assistance or participation in an intergovernmental program, such as a county government.

Merit Principle 1 – Recruitment and Selection

Employees are recruited, selected, and advanced on the basis of their relative ability, knowledge, and skills, including open consideration of qualified applicants for initial appointment.

Merit Principle 2 – Compensation

Merit Employees are paid equitable and adequate compensation.

Merit Principle 3 – Training

Employees are trained, as needed, to assure high quality principles.

Merit Principle 4 – Employee Retention

Employees are retained on the basis of the adequacy of their performance, correcting inadequate performance, and separating employees whose inadequate performance cannot be corrected.

Merit Principle 5 – Fair Treatment

Applicants and employees are treated fairly in all aspects of personnel administration without regard to political affiliation, race, color, national origin, sex, religious creed, age, or disability and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights as citizens. This "fair treatment" principle includes compliance with the Federal equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination laws.

Merit Principle 6 – Political Rights and Prohibitions

Employees are protected against coercion for partisan political purposes and are prohibited from using their official authority for purposes of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office.

Pursuant to California Government Code Section 19800 – 19810, the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that counties that receive federal funds for programs within their Social Services and Child Support Services departments adhere to the federal merit principles.

Recruitment Examination Processes

The examination process is conducted in various ways, depending on the number of qualified applicants, and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job. The examination process may consist of one or more of the following and is used to assess and rank candidates:

Supplemental Questionnaire

A supplemental questionnaire consists of questions designed to elicit specific information regarding an applicant's experience, education, and training needed to perform a job. In this examination component, a subject matter expert will review and rate responses to these questions. Each answer on a supplemental questionnaire will be scored separately. The supplemental questionnaire is used to assess an applicant's experience, education, and training in job-related areas. It is important that responses be as complete and detailed as possible. Applicants who fail to respond to supplemental questions may be eliminated from the recruitment process.

Performance Examination

A performance examination is used to evaluate a candidate's skills or abilities in performing certain tasks. Examples of performance exams include: physical agility tests, welding tests, equipment operating tests, computer skills tests, or software knowledge tests.

Written Examination

When you take a written examination, you are demonstrating your knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to a given job classification. Written examinations are the basis of evaluation of your potential for success on the job.

Please pay close attention to the tentative examination dates on the job announcement. Once your application has been reviewed by Human Resources for the minimum qualifications, you will receive a notice of your application status. Candidates who meet the minimum qualifications will receive an email that provides details on when to anticipate receiving further instructions around the written exam from our exam administrator, IO Predict.

Most of our exams are administered remotely, and candidates will receive an email notification from IO Predict, at on or about the date indicated in the job announcement. That email notification will provide you with specific details on completing the examination including the time limit, along with a link to begin the exam. If you do not receive the link to a test at least 48 hours prior to its completion deadline, notify Human Resources at least 24 hours prior to the deadline for assistance with the link. Once the testing window closes, it may not be reopened.

You should allow for enough time to complete the testing session when you begin. If you wish to take the test later, you should save this email and the test link in a safe location so that they may be accessed when you are ready to take the test. However, you must take the test before the deadline indicated in the email or your score will not be processed. If your testing session is interrupted due to a power outage, computer crash, or any other incident, you can resume testing by clicking on the link provided in the email from IO Predict.

You must test alone in a quiet, distraction-free area using a reliable computer with a high-speed internet connection. The test will be fully compatible with the latest version of Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. Safari users will have to follow the onscreen instructions after clicking the test link provided for enabling the auto-play function within the Safari browser. Please note, Microsoft is no longer supporting Internet Explorer thus the test may not be compatible with the Internet Explorer browser. In addition, please do not try to take the test on a mobile phone.

Structured Oral Examination

The structured oral examination is competitive and structured. An oral examination is not a hiring interview, even though it is conducted in an interview format. The structured oral examination is a selection tool that is used to measure job characteristics that are difficult to measure via a written test, such as oral communication skills and interpersonal skills. The examination is also used to evaluate an applicant's ability to perform a job. During the examination, candidates are asked a series of objective job-related questions and the responses are rated by a panel, using pre-established answer guidelines. All candidates are asked the exact same job-related questions in the same order by the same panel members and are provided the same total amount of time to respond.

It is important to note that the panelists are not given a copy of your application or resume; therefore, it is important that your responses to the questions be detailed and provide sufficient information about your qualifications.

Examination Results

You may expect examination results within approximately two weeks following the date of the examination. Results of some examinations may take a longer or shorter period of time, depending on the number of candidates, any special testing arrangements, and the length of time it takes to process all candidates.

Transferring Written Exam Scores/Retest

Applicants are not permitted to take the same version of a test within six months of the date that they last took the exam. Applicants who have taken the same version within the last six months will have their scores automatically transferred from the last recruitment to the current recruitment.

Applicants who have taken the same version of a test within the last seven to twelve months have the option of transferring their scores or taking the exam again. By default, the most recent score will be automatically transferred, however should an applicant choose to take the exam again, the score on the most recent exam will be used in the current recruitment. Human Resources will notify all applicants whose scores are being transferred, and their eligibility to take the exam again. Applicants who receive notification of being scheduled for a written examination are not eligible to have their scores transferred and must take the exam in order to continue in the recruitment process.

Special Testing Arrangements

Special testing arrangements may be made to accommodate applicants for disability, military, or religious reasons. If you require such arrangements, please contact Human Resources at or 530-621-5565 upon notification that your application has been approved. Documentation from medical, military, school or church officials outlining the accommodation request is required and must be received by Human Resources a minimum of five business days prior to a scheduled examination.