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Ten Tips for Surviving as a Temporary Employee

Updated on September 2, 2017
Sacramento Riverfront
Sacramento Riverfront

You must be the good little subordinate at all times

I’ve worked for many years as a temporary employee – on and off since 1999, actually. Yes, you could call me a temp. For better or worse, I suppose you could also say I’m an expert at being a temp. I guess that’s something like saying I’m an expert at home data entry, but I’ll take whatever achievements I can muster.

I’ve worked as a temp primarily in the clerical/bookkeeping field, so the tips I provide will pertain to that work experience, though, of course, much about which I write could be useful in any line of work.

Therefore, if you're starting your first temporary job, or if you’re trying to figure out why you’re having trouble with your present temporary position, please read on. It’s okay, you can learn from my pain. I don’t mind a bit.

1. Always Remember the Three C’s

The Three C’s are right out of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Right at the top of Carnegie’s list is the suggestion: “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Whether you’re working as a temp or have a permanent job, you simply must follow this three-part rule. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with criticizing, condemning or complaining, but you should never do any of the aforementioned at work. These C’s are downbeat, while you need to be positive at the workplace. People have enough trouble with their jobs – they don’t need your negativity!

By the way, before I finish this article I hope I don’t start sounding like the second coming of Dale Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin or Confucius!

2. Don’t Make Yourself Look Bad

Whatever you do, don’t argue, lose your temper or get defensive. Such emotional states overcome us from time to time but don’t let it happen in the workplace. People will cut you some slack, if you actually have a permanent job, but the temp should not raise his or her voice in anger or frustration at any time. People who act this way look terrible. If they could just see themselves in a video!

3. The Boss Is Always Right

It’s truly amazing how much clout even lower level bosses wield in the workplace. If you’ve ever run afoul of one and had to deal with the resultant retaliation you know what I mean. This isn’t fair, of course, but there’s nothing democratic about the work environment. You’ll be at a great disadvantage when confronting a boss, because they simply have more power, and if you take one on while working as a temp, you’ll be out the door quicker than a spitwad fired at close range.

For that reason, try to avoid “boss trouble” by helping him or her look as good as you can, even if that means ignoring their screw-ups. Watch your coworkers – they’ll be doing the same thing, so follow their lead. But avoid kissing tail. At first, the boss may like you for kissing up, but in the end you’ll downgrade yourself. Few people like brown noses.

4. Avoid Controversial Issues

Everybody knows that you should avoiding talking about politics and religion in just about all social situations, and the temp should never discuss either while on the job. In fact, the temp should avoid discussing any controversial subject. Abortion would be an obvious example; others could be gay marriage, tax increases, drug testing in schools, even sports. (You may not want to tell anybody at work you’re an Oakland Raiders fan.)

If you’re uncertain about the possible ramifications of talking about such issues, do yourself a big favor and keep your mouth. It’s hard to get in trouble if you don't say anything!

5. Don’t Be Too Ambitious

Since you don’t have an actual job where you work, you may want to show your desire to obtain one. There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Just make sure your ambition for obtaining a job isn’t so obvious that you go around telling people how much better you would be for a particular job than say, Bob or Jackie. In short, don’t ever give people a reason to feel threatened by you!

6. What Comes Around Goes Around

While working at your temporary assignment, you may have time to chat. If you’re somebody like me and have many years of experience working in offices, you may want to regale your coworkers with your trials and tribulations in this particular field. This is all right, just make sure you don’t make specific references to real people and places. I live in Sacramento, California, a city of about a half million people, and its amazing how small this town can be. (It appears, the smaller the town, the more careful you’ll have to be!) So, be advised that if you speak badly of someone or a particular company, this candor can come back to haunt you.

7. Beware of Coincidences

Not long ago, I was assigned to work at a company located right across the street from the temporary agency for which I worked. Because of bad luck or bad karma perhaps, this company was where two people were now working with whom I had had some tense interactions about five years before at another company across town.

They were now working right across the street from the temp agency!?... What were the chances of this happening? This coincidence still baffles me!

Anyway, I kept my mouth shut about these past incidences. Nevertheless, on the morning of the second day, I was dismissed from this assignment. My supervisor at the company said something about them having computer trouble, so they no longer needed me. But I knew better.

I guess the lesson here is that no matter how hard you try, you’ll sometimes bump into a hornet’s net. That’s how the temp universe works!

8. You're All Alone

When there’s trouble in the office, don’t expect any of the regular employees to stick up for the temp. You’ll be left alone in such situations, so get used to it. Even if you think somebody else should admit they made a mistake, take the blame anyway. (As long as it’s not something real serious, of course.) This tactic will help maintain a good business relationship and the employer may bring you back some day.

9. Everybody's Beautiful

Don’t ever say anything negative about a co-worker’s appearance. You probably should avoid compliments as well, because sometimes a compliment can be twisted around to sound like an insult.

10. The Complete Package

We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. Just try to be good at all aspects of your job. Show up every work day on time and ready to work. Be as accurate and hard-working as you possibly can and, perhaps, above all else, behave yourself. If they think your Excel skills aren’t up to snuff, make sure they know how good you are with data entry, collections, correspondence or whatever. As a temporary employee, you’ll want to present the complete package.


You certainly don’t want to be known as incompetent, but if you don’t behave yourself on the job, you could be let go much quicker than if you were simply incompetent. Nothing will get you dismissed from a temp job quicker than bad behavior. Moreover, you'll have a much more pleasant work experience if they actually like you.

I hope this advice is helpful!

Please leave a comment.

© 2011 Kelley


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    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 17 months ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Tracy. I think it's safe to say that all jobs can be a pain in the butt, so if you were let go, just tell yourself you may have avoided another hornet's nest. Bye!

    • profile image

      TraCY 17 months ago

      Great article! I was just axed from a temp job that I was hoping would be permanent, I only wish I read your article sooner. Also, I really appreciate that you spoke honestly about the small town in a big city and the hornet's nest.

      It's amazing how emotional the rejection can be. I wasn't expecting that!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 5 years ago from California

      Thanks for the compliment, Londonlady. These tips could be used for any job, temp or otherwise. I've learned a lot working in offices for decades. Later!

    • Londonlady profile image

      Laura Writes 5 years ago

      This is relevant to me. I particularly agree with the part on not arguing with your boss. I can't tell you how many times my coworkers have argued with my boss (and let me just add that my boss WAS in the wrong) but arguing didn't help in the end. We still had to do what our boss said, and my coworker was irritated the entire day because of the fight. Great hub, voted up!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the good tips, marellen. I wasn't born in Sacramento, but I've spent most of my adult life there. Later!

    • profile image

      marellen 6 years ago

      Thanks neighbor.....I live in Folsom, Ca. I have worked for temps agencies also. Remembering who you work for is also important. You work for the Temp agency not the company they place you at. If you have a problem or don't like your placement, let the temp agency know not your supervisor at the company you work for. Also, I have found working as a temp rewarding but it doesn't come with benefits.

      PS Kosmo: is that your home in Sacto? Love it...

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Simone Smith. Having to put up with the BS of the workplace certainly can be depressing and disheartening. Later!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I've worked in temporary positions for years before getting my current (AWESOME!) position at HubPages, and do agree with most of your tips... as depressing and disheartening it can be to follow through with them. Thanks for sharing your advice!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the compliment, Kathy. I can use all the links I can get. Later!

    • profile image

      Kathy Justi 6 years ago

      Excellent helpful information! I'm posting to FaceBook for others to read.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the compliment, Cardisa. As a temp, I have lots to recommend. Later!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Kosmo, you have some really good advice there. I would recommend them to anyone in any work environment. Very useful info!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks, step sis, I really appreciate your appreciation and thanks for reading my story. Later!

    • profile image

      Debbie Adams 6 years ago

      Hey Step Bro...

      Nice write up.... You should be writing for a living...but you know that... Best to you and temping.