This story originally ran at in The Insider and is reprinted with the author's permission.
Last month I started a part-time job shortly after my 71st birthday. I have had a wonderful position since 2017, conducting vocational assessments for a human services organization, but my hours dropped dramatically after Covid emerged. In fact, my W2 form arrived last week and, after breaking down my gross income by my hourly wage, I discovered that I worked on average a little less than one hour a week last year. That barely qualifies as mini-time, let alone part-time.
But my job hunt was not financially motivated or driven by a burning desire for increased human contact. Rather, like millions of other Americans, my waistline has expanded since the pandemic reared its virulent head. I get on the treadmill or elliptical machine for at least 45 minutes five times a week, but I’m done by 9:00 and too much of the rest of my days have been spent consuming YouTube TV, Netflix and food, both healthy and of dubious nutritional value.
I wanted something that would get me out of the house and away from the TV and refrigerator — but like the millions of Americans who have quit their jobs, potentially exposing myself and others to Covid in a workplace was a major concern. I wanted to work only in a place that demanded employees and customers wear masks. I’m vaccinated, boosted and cautious in public, so I felt any risk I may be taking is a calculated one weighed against my physical health, as my weight goes up and my mental health goes down out of boredom.
I did not give my comparatively advanced age any thought when I started looking for part-time work. The hardest part was finding something that remotely appealed to me. I didn’t want to be a driver or delivery person, so that ruled out many of the listed jobs for Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Amazon or UPS. I didn’t want to be lifting and carrying things all day, so that nixed warehouse work. And since I tend to run on the cool, curmudgeonly side of the warmth scale, I saw myself as a poor fit for the hundreds of job board listings for in-store sales associate or similar positions.
But after searching the internet for about 20 minutes, I came across a gig as a proctor for an organization that conducts pre-employment tests for private and public organizations, licensure testing on behalf of state and the federal agencies, and exams for certification with professional organizations and associations. The position was for two days a week and located just 15 minutes from my home. Perfect.
Any fear of ageism would have been silly. I updated my résumé, emailed it, and was offered the job after two 20-minute phone interviews. My training consisted of three consecutive days of training via Zoom, followed by on-site sessions at the testing center.
I confess that I struggled to stay focused for more than an hour on Zoom, so those full-day sessions were simply brutal. Blessedly, we trainees (there were five of us) weren’t required to keep our cameras on the entire time. This allowed me to at least yawn, check emails, play online Scrabble and roll my eyes while listening. I finished my third day bloodshot and with an even deeper appreciation of, and sympathy for, students forced into remote learning by school shutdowns.
Two days later, I reported for my first official day in the office. The test facility was nothing like the sleek, bright, warm, spacious center I’d seen on Zoom. This one would make a Secretary of State branch office look like Mar-a-Lago.
The reception area where my desk is located had gashes in the walls and stained areas, paper shards on the floor by the shredding machine, and boxes of office supplies competing for floor space with the hard plastic chairs for candidates to sit on while they waited to be registered. It was a thoroughly bleak and depressing environment for everyone.
Fortunately, the field trainer brought in to help me get up to speed was of a similar mindset. During the two weeks she was in town, she did a spectacular job of reorganizing the reception area to make it more inviting for candidates and functional for the proctors. It will never be mistaken for the luxe locale in the training videos, but it no longer looks like a den in a frat house on double secret probation.
There are typically three test sessions a day. My responsibilities require a combination of Walmart greeter, TSA security, FBI surveillance and CDC enforcement. I welcome test takers, provide a mask if needed, check their ID (sometimes two kinds) and ask them to read and sign two forms: a Covid Health Screening questionnaire and an outline of mandatory test security procedures.
All candidates are photographed (sans masks and glasses) and must remove their coats and watches, empty their pockets and completely shut off all electronic devices (which I confirm). Their possessions are placed in a large, zippered fabric bag, which is locked but remains with the test taker, who receives scratch paper, a pencil and any other materials relevant to their test.
Once testing has begun, we monitor everyone on walk-throughs and with cameras, looking for mask compliance and signs of cheating. Suspicious behavior, if repeated after a first warning, can result in a test being canceled.
Following the test, all materials must be accounted for. This includes scratch paper, so that questions and answers can’t be given to friends who will take the same exam. One fellow returned a sheet with a small strip missing. I informed him that, unless he could find it, his test might be invalidated. He stuck his hand in the wastebasket next to my desk, rummaged around and produced the piece of paper in question. It contained his chewing gum.
My biggest challenge (and frustration) has been getting all my usernames and passwords set up for their testing platforms and company websites. I now have eight and still haven’t memorized them, but I sure can rattle off the phone number for Technical Support. I’ve already been locked out of three sites because I exceeded the number of incorrect log-in attempts.
We typically have between four and ten test takers per session. Most are seeking licenses in health and beauty, real estate, insurance sales and residential building. The best thing about the gig is when people come out of the testing room after learning they’ve passed. There are smiles, sighs of relief, fist pumps and the occasional happy dance. I’ve always been a sucker for watching hard work and sacrifice be rewarded.
Of course, not everyone passes. Some people take exams multiple times. Some ask for tips on how to study differently. More often they simply want to commiserate. I’m happy to oblige, as long as no one else is in the reception area.
I’m still getting the rhythm and flow of everything down. I haven’t decided if I like this job — or if it likes me. It’s only been a few weeks, so I haven’t seen a change reflected in my bathroom scale, but at least my weight hasn’t gone up. And there’s still a bag of unopened tortilla chips in the pantry, so that’s something.