Saturday, January 18, 2014

All About Temping

For many Americans, especially those just getting into the workforce for the first time, temporary work is an important part of maintaining a career. Having both been a temp and supervised temps during my career, I wrote this summary assist those who might be thinking about getting into this kind of work.

“What is 'Temping?'”

Unlike a lot of business jargon, the term “temping” means exactly what it implies. It is a work relationship by which a person works for a company (usually) for a limited amount of time.

In many cases the temp worker is not technically employed by the company, but by an agency that specializes in matching temp workers with companies that need temporary help. The opposite of a temp is a full-time, or staff, employee.

“What’s the difference between a temp and a freelancer?”

Both kinds of workers differ from full-time employees in that temps and freelancers are “hired guns” who companies bring in to fill holes or complete specific tasks. Mostly, freelancers work on projects (short-term activities that have a defined goal and time frame), while temps often work in operations (a business’ day-to-day, ongoing activities).

Unlike freelances, many times temps are brought in on short notice to substitute for someone else. In general, freelancers have more specialized skills, and get paid more money than temps. They are also more apt to consider their career choice to be a way of life, instead of a stop-gap measure.

“Why should I temp?”

You can’t find any other work. This might be the most common reason why people become temps, especially in today’s economic climate where full-time work is scarce.

You’re not interested in full-time employment, either because you're waiting to find a full-time job in your preferred field, or you have another job that’s seasonal or involves a non-traditional schedule.

You’re not sure if you want to work in a particular industry. Less often, people will become temps at a company or in a field to get a sense of what it’s like to work there. This is more likely to happen in times when employment is high and there are a lot of job opportunities available.

“Why do companies hire temps?”

They need to replace someone who is not available for work without having to hire a new full or part-time staff member.

The company is expanding and needs to quickly increase its workforce. Hiring temps is a quick way to get bodies in the office without the time or effort needed to find, recruit, and hire full-time workers.

The company is downsizing and needs help packing up and keeping the doors open. Many times companies in the middle of downsizing will get rid of staff members who are key in maintaining office operations. This problem can be fixed by bringing in temps who can cover various ongoing activities and then be quickly and easily dismissed.

They want “low-level” work done cheaply. Every large company has a percentage of its workforce made up of temps, because from a financial perspective temps are a bargain.

“Where can I get temp work?”

Every city has several agencies that place temp workers, and they always have big ads in the phone book or newspaper. If you’ve never been a temp or are not sure (or don’t care) what job you will get, it’s probably easier to start off with the bigger agencies in your area (Randstad, ManPower, Banner, Kelly Resources, etc).

If you’re interested in working with a specific company, know that large corporations often have strong relationships with one or two agencies that are always on call to provide them with last-minute temp help. You can contact the company directly to find out which agencies they work with, or ask around. Asking temp agencies who they work with might not be as successful, since temp agencies rarely disclose who their clients are.

“What can I expect from a temp job?”

The application process for all agencies is pretty much the same: you send them your CV, they look it over and maybe bring you in for an interview, you have the interview (which often involves taking some skills tests and in some cases a background check and drug screen), and then if you are what they are looking for you wait to be called for a job.

The application process is rudimentary, some might say almost insultingly so, but you’d be surprised how many people out there can’t find it within themselves to make is past this stage, either because they really are that incompetent or they don’t care enough about temp work to take it seriously. Many temp agencies have been burned by sending bad workers out to client companies, so they are being more vigilant about who they sign up to represent them.

Trust me, it’s a cattle call. Even inside the agency is crazy, something I discovered while doing temporary work at a temp agency. Basically the sales people spend day after day frantically calling businesses asking if they need workers. They are competing with all the other temp agencies in the area that are calling the same companies and offering their services.

Smaller agencies tend to have a more intimate relationship with their companies, which means they are more likely to have jobs available, but they are also more selective in who they hire.

You won’t get paid much. Basic administrative work (filing, answering phones, etc.) starts at around $10 per hour in large cities. Specialized skills like knowledge of Microsoft office will increase your pay to $15 and up, even more if you have in-demand skills like computer programming or accounting. In any case, your pay rate will be significantly lower than if you were a “real” employee.

You will not get any benefits. While you do get overtime pay, you do not get vacation, holiday, sick leave, maternity leave, personal days, or any other paid time off that is standard in full-time employment. Basically, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. You might be eligible for health insurance from your agency, but only after having worked with them for a certain amount of time.

You might find some good opportunities for full-time work. Some temp jobs last ½ of a day, others can go for years, others can result in the temp being hired as a full-time employee. What happens depends on the company’s needs and the particular temp (more on that later).

“What does it take to be a successful temp worker?”

Half a brain. I’m only half-kidding about this. Most of the work performed by temps is easy stuff that most professionals can do.

Professionalism. How you carry yourself while doing work that is simple, repetitive, or boring goes a long way in determining if you’ll be asked back to work for another day.

Flexibility. Temporary employees who can do several kinds of work and quickly learn new processes and technologies (especially those that are specific to the company) are more valuable to employers than someone who only knows how (or is only willing) to do one thing.

Positivity. Courtesy, a friendly demeanor, and simply acting like you want to be there can go a long way in making everyone more satisfied with your work. If forced to choose between someone who doesn’t quite know what their doing but who has a great attitude on one hand, and a competent jerk on the other, most companies will choose the former. Office skills can be taught. Mind-sets can’t.

“What are the big temping dos and don’ts?”


Show up on time. This should go without saying, but it’s amazing how many temps start out three steps behind by not doing this simple thing. Make sure you know where the office is before heading out on your first day. This may be a temp job, but it’s still a job.

Dress and act like everybody else. Your first day of work should always be business attire. This generally means no jeans, no t-shirts, and no sneakers. A suit is probably a bit much, unless you know you will be working for a company where that is expected. You might get permission to dress down if you are going to be doing work like moving boxes, filing, etc., but check with your agency to make sure.

During your first few days of work, look around for cues as to how to behave in the office. If everyone is walking around in jeans on Friday, your probably can do the same. If the office is dead quiet during working hours, keep it down. If people are having chair races in the hallways during breaks, feel free to join in. When in doubt, ask.

The point is that a temp job is not really the time or place to express your snowflake-like individuality or your contempt for the soulless corporate machine. Doing either can really hurt your chances of being asked back. Better to play it cool and get to know the office environment first.

Do your job, and ask questions. There are many times when a temp will be thrown into the middle of a half-finished project. In these cases, seemingly obvious ways to do things are not quite so cut-and-dried. During one of my temp jobs, I spent half a day carefully filing away a stack of files I found on my desk, only to be notified later that those were files the last temp had spent a half-day taking out of the file cabinets. The moral is, make sure you know what you’re doing, even on those most simple tasks.

Look for ways to be useful. One of the nice things about temping is that no one expects you to work extra hours unpaid (or at least, they shouldn’t. If they do, let your agency know immediately). Still, many companies appreciate it when temps step up and volunteer to take on other tasks or work that might need doing. Not only will you learn more about the company and get to do new things, you might also put your self in a position where the company decides you’re too valuable to let go.

Follow the rules about transitioning to a full-time job. If you find yourself temping at a company you like, get to know the people in the office and let them know if you’re interested in full-time work. But be careful. Many temp agencies have strict policies about their temps stumping for full time employment. Most of the time the company must pay the agency a “finder’s fee” as a condition for allowing their temp to go full-time. As long as you let all the relevant parties know what is going on, you’ll be fine.


Leave your temp job without adequate notice. Doing this will guarantee that the agency you got the job from will never use you again. They won’t even return your calls.

Some people simply don’t care if they bail on a job for another, better, one. But why damage a business relationship when you don’t have to?

Most agencies expect a standard two-week notice before a temp leaves a job, but they also realize that their temps are always looking for opportunities and might get a full-time gig at any time. If you’re on good terms with your agency, more often than not they will be flexible enough that they will not hold it against you if you need to leave their employ on short notice.

Make an ass of yourself. Showing up late, leaving early, taking long lunches, slacking off because you’re bored, gossiping, having a bad attitude, and on and on and on – any kind of behavior that would get you fired from a full-time job shouldn’t be done at a temp job. The fact that it is a temp job doesn’t matter.

Use company resources to look for a “real” job. That includes time. Most companies understand that occasionally during the day you may have to call back a potential full-time employer or check your personal e-mail for leads, but if you’re spending two hours during the work day on the phone conducting your job search, someone will notice and take action. If you focus on the work in front of you and develop a good relationship with your employers, you might find you don’t have to look for another job.

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