When I applied to a temp agency for the first time in 2009 looking for work, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just needed a job, and I heard that staffing agencies help you get hired.
After 3 years of hopping from job to job, I’ve learned a lot. I’m going to share what I know about working as a temporary employee. I’ll provide as many real-world examples as I can to use as reference.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TEMP TO PERM
PAYMENT & BENEFITS
You can sign up with multiple temp agencies at the same time. Of course you can only physically be on one assignment at a time. You can still field offers from different agencies in the mean time.
To kick start the process, you need to apply to a temp agency. I actually didn’t apply directly to my first one. I responded to a job ad on Craigslist to be a janitor, not knowing that staffing agencies post jobs on that site and others like it to fill positions.
It’s better to just apply to these agencies directly online, though. Just run a search for temp agencies in your state and fire away. Applying for a temp agency is like applying for any other job. You have to fill out personal information and upload a resume. Then you just have to wait to be contacted.
Once you do hear back from one, you’ll be asked to come in to their office to fill out some more paperwork. You might get drug tested on the spot, have some pre-employment training done or even have to fulfill a skill-assessment. It all depends on which agency you sign up for.
After you’ve registered, the agency will start looking for temp jobs to place you at. More often than not, all the jobs I was offered were relatively close to where I lived. That may change depending on your situation.
A “no call, no show”, (not showing up for work and not informing the temp agency beforehand), will almost always result in immediate termination. From the assignment, and from the temp agency itself.
Once you receive an assignment, it’s pretty much the same as working any other job.
One of the main differences with temporary employment is that you don’t work for the company, you work for the agency. I hated hearing this because it sounded so stupid. I mean technically, you still do work for the company.
What that really means is that you report to the temp agency for everything. They are the ones cutting your checks. If you are going to be late or absent, you must let the agency know. The temp agency is basically the middleman in the arrangement.
Companies look within to fill job openings before advertising them outside. This includes temporary employees as well.
One other major distinction of temporary employment is that the length of the assignment can vary wildly from job to job. Some will last a few months, some only a few days. And there’s not much you can do about that.
I was told by a relative that a temporary employment period is only supposed to last three months. After that the company is supposed to hire you. I never found that to be too true.
I’ve worked as a temp on a shipping clerk assignment for almost 9 months without being offered full time employment. Then again, I’ve also been offered a job through a company two times in the span of about a year. It all depends on what company is offering the assignment.
Cover Your Ass (C.Y.A.) should be your personal motto as a temporary employee. That means to not only double check your work, but to also work in a way that minimizes the chance for you to make an error.
TEMP TO PERM
You might hear the phrase “temp-to-perm” thrown around a lot while looking for temp jobs and employment. What it means is that an assignment could potentially turn into employment through the company
if you perform well enough.
I’ve worked a lot of temp jobs these past three years. Many of them claimed to be temp to perm. Only one of them actually was. My advice is to treat every assignment that is temporary as just that. This will keep you on your toes and not have you all distraught if a job should suddenly end.
There are a few ways to improve your chances of getting hired. Or consequently, of not getting fired.
One is to always look busy. The turnover rate for temporary employees is pretty freaking high. But if you work diligently, and always appear to be busy, you stand a way better chance of coming back the next day.
Notice I said look busy. The nature of some jobs is that there will be periods of downtime here and there. Of course employers don’t want to hear this. So you should always look like you’re doing something, even if you aren’t. It’s sad, but you have to play the game.
I’ll give you an example. When I was working in a warehouse loading trucks, it would always be slow in the morning. But come mid-day to afternoon, the pace was non-stop. One of my fellow temporary employees told me that if there was no work to be done, to grab a broom and start sweeping.
I didn’t want to hear that at first because that wasn’t my job. But knowing what I do now, he was giving me some sage advice. It’s much easier to look busy when you actually are. However, that might not always be the case. Double-check the work that you already finished, or go find something light but time-consuming to do until the real work comes in.
Another way to increase job security (and even negotiating power) is to fill a crucial position within the company. When I was a shipping clerk in a small warehouse I was chosen to oversee all FedEx and UPS shipments. Not by choice really, but it worked to my advantage.
Eventually I got so turned off by the company I was temping for that I threatened to leave. No one took me serious at first. However, when the day came for me to quit, they sent the “big boss” to try and talk me out of it.
I saw an opportunity and ran with it. I tried to negotiate it so that all the temporary workers, including myself, would get hired full time. I was told that wasn’t possible, (go figure), but I was at least offered a week’s unpaid vacation to rethink my position.
I still ended up quitting. I did learn one thing from it: if a company needs you, they won’t be so quick to let you go.
Because of the unpredictable nature of temporary employment, I advise you to be smart with your money. Save as much as you can from each payment. Maybe even consider taking a 2nd job until you find stable employment.
PAYMENT & BENEFITS
Some temp agencies pay employees weekly, as opposed to bi-weekly pay checks distributed through a company. You might be given an account and a card through the temp agency where paychecks are deposited instead of receiving physical checks. Some agencies also offer direct deposit.
I have worked for agencies that have done all of the above. There was even one that only mailed paychecks or allowed you to pick them up from the office.
The best time to look for a job is when you already have one. The same holds true for temporary employment. In fact, you should be actively seeking full time employment while you work as a temp.
The agency you work for may also provide benefits to you as a temp. I’ve personally only been given limited benefits (and I do mean limited). But every little bit helps. Plus, you can use that fact as incentive to find full time employment.
In addition to standard benefits, there are a number of unofficial advantages available to those working temporary jobs.
One of which is the ability to learn new skills that can open up future employment opportunities.
With temporary employment, the barrier to entry is a lot less high than it is trying to find a job on your own. So if you want to work in a certain field, try to find a temp job through an agency in that industry.
Then gain as much experience and as many skills as you can and use that to beef up your resume.
The full time job with benefits that I have now is a result of nothing other than the fact that I worked as a shipping clerk in the past. Even though my most recent job was in data entry. The fact that I had shipping experience is what got me hired.
I’m not gonna sit here and say that temporary employment is the greatest thing to happen to the planet, because it’s not.
But like any opportunity, it’s what you make it.
You have to approach working as a temp with a plan in mind. I made the mistake of getting comfortable at my data entry assignment, and then one day it ended. And I was collecting unemployment.
If you are fortunate enough to have any kind of employment, make the most out of it. Use it as a stepping stone to better yourself and your situation.