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Temp agencies in NYC, then and now
April 14, 2014 12:30 PM   Subscribe

How has getting work through NYC temp agencies changed since the 1990s?

There's a lot of general advice online about temp agencies, but I haven't found anything comparing the current experience in New York City with that of the 1990s.

My temp agency experiences in New York are from the golden-era 1996-1999 period. Back then the process to start with an agency was, first, physically show up at the agency offices, submit resume, fill out forms, have interview with a recruiter about skills, experience and job goals, maybe take software-related tests. Then, depending on the agency, either physically sit and wait at the agency offices every morning to be "on call" for potential jobs, or call the recruiter from home early each morning asking about available jobs. The jobs I was looking for and being offered were clerical/office positions. Within weeks or a month I would get an actual temp job.

I'm out of work now, and I'm looking into signing up with one or more temp agencies again. However I feel very naive about how temp agencies work in this post-crash downsized world. The temp agency web sites I've seen never say anything about visiting their offices — they all seem to ask you to register online, submit a resume, and search job databases for positions that one must apply to. Is this how it actually works? If I register online, is anyone from the agency ever going to call me for an interview about my skills, etc.? Will I ever be contacted about jobs I don't know about, or is it up to me to find and choose listed jobs and apply for them? Do I need to physically go to the agency offices to start the process? Or would that be counterproductive? I have seen conflicting answers to these questions online.

In brief: I basically am looking for information on how folks get started with a NYC temp agency in 2014, with emphasis on how the process has changed since the 1990s.
posted by gubo to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The temp agency as we knew it is dead.

Used to be you could get gigs filling in for folks for sick days, jury duty or materinity leave. Those things are long gone.

With email and voice mail most people don't need anyone to answer the phone, or type letters, or file anything. So if an Admin is out for a week, it's not a big deal.

Frankly, it's easier to look for contract or freelance work than it is to get on with a temp agency and to get any steady work.

Now temp agencies work on placing people in contract positions or into long term projects. So you would apply for an opening just like you would apply for an opening directly with a company.

Temp agencies today are mostly ways for companies to avoid hiring full-time employees, and if they're that much into penny pinching, you know the jobs are shit.

Focus your efforts elsewhere.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:37 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I used to work for a temp agency (as in, I was an employee of the agency, not a temp) in NYC until about three years ago. That agency I worked for was roughly what you describe: sign up however it is you do that, show up for an interview, take some tests, give them a copy of your resume and then go home and wait by the phone/check your email regularly. Most jobs were given to people just coming off an assignment because the placement people knew they were good employees, so they got first assignment. Most of the jobs were admin/clerical stuff, and most of them the client interviewed the temp as well.

Our agency was, for lack of a better term, a relic. That being said, I've never heard of an agency where you have to find your own positions, but it sounds like a natural evolution, especially if the agency wants to save some money. However, other agencies I interviewed at also had dedicated actively-working placement specialists like the one I worked for.

Other temp agencies are different, but here's what I would do based on the admin/clerical route (i.e. these rules don't necessarily apply if you're temping as a Rocket Scientist):

-Avoid any agency that charges you money. The only legit time you'd be asked to pay any money is if the place you're temping at wants to hire you before your contract is up. But in that case, the place you're temping at should be buying out your contract, not you personally.

-Follow up regularly. A person with a good resume and good scores and a relationship with placement personnel is a lot more likely to get called to work. At some of the nicer agencies (not mine, but ones I interviewed at), placement people get commission so be the golden-est ticket you can.

-Be careful refusing assignments. Some temp agencies have a blacklist for people who refuse assignments, sometimes even if there's a valid excuse.

-In that vein, always show up to work if you said you're going to show up. My agency had a rule that anyone with a single first day no-show was blacklisted.

-Make sure you can pass a surprise drug test. A lot of the big companies -- your JPMCs and so on -- drug test their temps.
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on April 14


The temp agency I used three years ago was exactly like the old system that you describe. Nothing changed that I know of.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:53 PM on April 14


contract positions or into long term projects. So you would apply for an opening just like you would apply for an opening directly with a company.

I feel I should mention this is slightly misleading in two ways.

1) A "contract" position is a "temp" position. It's a term of art to make it sound slightly better, but it's the same thing: W2 employment via a third party company (the agency.)

2) You wouldn't "apply directly." Well you could, if the hiring company itself advertised it. But tons of companies don't want to do the screening for non-permanent hires, so they still use agencies to fill these kind of jobs. I had one such gig as a web developer for 14 months, and I filed a time sheet to the agency every week just like any other temp job.

It had been a while for me, but the only difference I could see was now I could file my hours by email and not have to fax it so they could incompetently lose it and then not pay me on time.

I haven't done clerical-work type of temping since the '90s, so I can't speak to that. But in general most places don't want applicants physically coming to their offices anymore. I'd imagine they want you to apply for one of the "jobs" they list online. "Jobs" in quotes because these positions tend to be fictional- they're a way to try to lure in people with the skills they think they might be able to find work for later. Then if you're a good match probably they'd call you, you'd do an interview/assessment with the agency, and if they like you you're "on the roster" and they'll call you when and if they have work for you.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:27 PM on April 14


My friend just got done with about a year of temping(/contracting) in new york after grad school. She had a medium-to-OK time, and the company she was contracted to by the temp agency offered her a full time admin job after about 6 months of temping for them. My guess is her agency probably specialize in recent grad students, but I could be wrong. It pays badly, true, but is quite a lot better than looking for part-time retail or food industry work these days! So basically exactly like it used to be.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:50 PM on April 14


First, a dissent:

The temp agency as we knew it is dead.

I'm very surprised to hear that a "dead" business has been paying me a regular income for the past ten months.

Anyway....

Back then the process to start with an agency was, first, physically show up at the agency offices, submit resume, fill out forms, have interview with a recruiter about skills, experience and job goals, maybe take software-related tests. Then, depending on the agency, either physically sit and wait at the agency offices every morning to be "on call" for potential jobs, or call the recruiter from home early each morning asking about available jobs. The jobs I was looking for and being offered were clerical/office positions. Within weeks or a month I would get an actual temp job.

Things today are nearly identical. The only changes -

1. You submit a resume online now, typically; either email it, or upload it to a web site. Then follow up in a day or so with a phone call, asking if they received it and asking if they want to set up an appointment. If they do, it's the same skills/software tests/interview so they can see what your scene is.

2. Depending on the agency, you don't call every day, more like every couple days (at first; maybe just once a week after that). In my experience the only agency who did a "sit at our office ready to go" thing had that as a thing they let everyone have a turn with, where they "hired" you for a couple hours to just be sitting there and if no one called you still got a couple bucks anyway. you only did that if they specifically invited you, and everyone got a turn.

3. The out sick/vacation leave gigs are still out there, but there are a lot more longer-term maternity leave/sabbatical/"we're figuring out whether we need to hire someone outright or whether the number of admins we have can handle this" kinds of things. A lot of financial places have ongoing temps because it saves them money - a gig I had in the mid-'00's lasted for FOUR YEARS (and they did ask me if i wanted to go permanent, and I was the one who said no at that time).

It's always wise to sign up with more than one agency, too. But it was the last time you were temping as well, I suspect.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I'm registered with about five temp agencies. Have been for half a year. Have yet to receive any jobs from them.
posted by dekathelon at 4:30 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


*shrug* I'm registered with two, and at one point in late January they were fighting over who was going to give me my next assignment.

gubo: your skills and experience have a large percentage to do with whether you get placed, of course; but since you've temped before, this will be helpful, I'm sure. If you want recommendations of specific agencies in NYC, memail me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 PM on April 14


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