Temping To Jumpstart Your Career

by | March 10, 2009

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Whether you temp by accident or career choice, youcan use temping to jumpstart your career. But it's not that simple.With the rapid decrease of both permanent andtemporary positions in the current work market, the impression you make might make the difference inwhether you even get called for the few available tempjobs. How can you make a favorable and lastingimpression with any temporary agency and client youwork with, while advancing your career?

Start by knowing why you are temping - this separatesthe successful temps from the disposable ones. Some ofthe strongest temps are those who have chosen theflexibility and variety that temp life offers, whilethe less successful temps are often those who thinkthey are just filling in until they can get a "real"job.

Whatever your situation, recognize that temping is a free education. You get paid to meet potential employers,engage in different types of business, and to learnwhole new skillsets. Even if you are not thrilled withthe temp life, find a way to get excited, and fast!Determine the primary reasons you're temping, and usethem to guide your career decisions.

Develop a winning attitude

Any temp assignment can bea win-win-win situation if you work at it. You shouldwin by bringing in the income you need, havingfulfilling experiences with interesting people, andlearning new skills (or practicing old ones). Your agencyshould win by knowing you are a reliable, qualityemployee at any given client company. The clientshould win by having short-term staffing problemssolved by your presence and efforts. Do a good job ofconsolidating these mindsets, and you should earn yourshare of kudos, callbacks, pay boosts, and assignmentextensions.

Understand the client supervisor's role and needs

Youare on site for one reason: to solve the supervisor'sproblems. The problem might be a general staffingshortage, a maternity leave, a sudden or annualproject, or a backlog in some non-priority function,like filing. Assess the assignment and what it willtake to solve the problem. Solve it. Then makesure your agency knows you solved it.

Project a good image

Have a few good, low-key, business-casualto business-professional ensembles that travel welland are comfortable for you. Take good care of yourclothes so that you appear unrumpled and relaxed. Havesuitable outerwear since you often won't know how long it will take you to travel to your assignment. Carry aprofessional-looking bag in which you bring businessand personal essentials, like a cell phone, organizer,pens, and toiletries.

Be a real person, not just 'a temp'

This can betricky. You want to stand out as a problem-solverwhose expertise and enthusiasm doesn't threaten anyoneelse's sense of job security. You want to fit inwithout getting enmeshed in the client company'sinternal politics. You want to feel relaxed andconfident while exuding a professionaldemeanor. You can do all these things, but it takespractice. Start with having a genuine interest in theclient and assignment, and showing it by askingthorough questions before you begin work. Follow up bygetting along with everyone and keeping everythingprofessional, not personal.

Learn names quickly and properly

As you initially getthe assignment details, find out who your resourcesare going to be - who will sign your timesheet, whowill cover for you on break, who will you sort mailfor, and so on. Commit the names and functions topaper, and then memorize them. Get into the habit ofusing first names to help people feel atease with you, and use titles or salutations if thatis what the environment requires.

Do excellent work within the framework of the environment

You might find the work boring, but do quality workanyway. Work steadily and thoroughly to eliminatemistakes. Bundle similar tasks so you worksmarter rather than harder. Ask to do extra work, butdon't press it if no one bites - some client employeesfeel threatened if someone else asks to help withtheir work. Offer your expertise when it seemswarranted, like tips on software that is familiar to you, but don'tget pulled into taking over workloads unless you getthe assignment extended and your salary upgraded tomatch the your expanded responsibilities.

Use your time wisely

You'll often find you havedowntime, perhaps because the assignment wasn't wellthought out, or some key contact is at lunch and youcan't begin without them. Be sure to get a feel forthe client's opinion on handling slow time; someclients want you to do nothing rather than misusetheir resources, while others want you to lookbusy even if you are surfing theInternet. In all cases, exhaust all career-enhancingoptions first, such as learning client software orcatching up on career resources.

Choose your friends wisely

It's easy to meet people on assignment,but it's equally easy to find yourself sucked intopetty dramas or client politics. You don't want to dothat, because in the end you have no safety net ifsomething goes wrong. Be personable and genuine, butalso a little removed. Be wary of fraternization. Evenif it's a temp job, workplace romances often lead tomisunderstandings and create drama that you don?t want yourtemporary agency to pay for.


Carry a few business cards,copies of your resume, and a thank-you card or two. Ifyou have the genuine chance to submit a resume (andit?s not against your temp agency's policy), you?ll beprepared. You can leave a thank-you card (listing afew of your skills) with your client supervisor whenyou leave. This will help him remember who that terrifictemp was who solved all his problems, and to requestyou to visit again - or perhaps stay permanently.

Developing a winning attitude, professional image, andrealistic expectations for your place in the temp foodchain can go a long way toward making you the firsttemp called on assignments and earning you payupgrades. You can and should find ways to get the bestout of every assignment opportunity, and to generatefuture opportunities for yourself. Above all, plan your tempingstrategy so that it empowers you and helps you advanceyour career efforts. Good luck!

L.J. Bothell is a graphic designer/writer withmarketing communications emphasis who lives andtemps/freelances in Seattle, Washington. Questions?Contact info@bastmedia.com.

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