Please tell me about temping
June 3, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Need a briefer on all things temping, how to get a temp job when your office experience is minimal (but not your knowledge), and recommendations for staffing agencies in the Moorestown/Collingswood/Philly NJ suburbs area.

I am looking to move to the Philadelphia suburbs, the Jersey side near Collingswood or Moorestown and have been considering temping agencies for employment.

However, I know absolutely nothing about temp agencies. I've read the previous AskMetafilter questions but still am not sure on a few topics.

1. How Does This All Work?
My understanding is temp agencies work like this. Am I correct?
- You call
- They ask for a resume and hopefully set up an appointment
- You arrive at the appointment and try to wow them
- They tell you whether or not you're hired with them
- Once hired, you call all the time asking if they've found a position
- When they find a position, you go to that position

2. Office Experience
I have a year's worth of official office experience that I did a couple of years ago, and everything else has been on-and-off barista work while I bounced in and out of school (and still haven't finished my degree). I can get great recommendations from my previous employers, but again, it's barista work. I'm extremely competent with answering phones and typing and MS Office and all of that, but it doesn't show on my resume. Is there any chance at all of me getting hired?

I also read in previous questions it's good to have an idea of what you want to do through them--but I thought most temp work was clerical. What other type of temp work is there? How do I express that I'm not particular on the industry or job, just that I get a salary?

3. Pay
What is a reasonable amount to request for pay? $10-11/hour seemed an almost luxurious amount of money when I was working as a barista, but it seemed from previous questions that temp jobs pay higher and I don't want to lowball because I'm used to poverty.

4. Recommended Agencies
A search engine like this one pulls up a billion-and-one staffing agencies in the area I'm looking. Do I call all of them? Is there some place that rates agencies? Should I focus on larger agencies, and what are these larger agencies? Can anyone give recommendations?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Response by poster: When I say "larger agencies," I mean the national-level ones. There's Kelly, Manpower, what are other big temp agencies? I'm coming from a place of complete temp-idiocy here.
posted by Anonymous at 8:07 AM on June 3, 2009

I can't answer your US-specific questions, but in my experience with UK temping agencies (which include Kelly, Manpower etc) they test your typing and MS Office skills in-house, so experience is less of a problem than it might be. Even if you don't "know" the function being tested, it's often possible to use your general ninja intelligence skillz to work it out during the test.
posted by altolinguistic at 8:13 AM on June 3, 2009

During my college summers off, I got my jobs through temp agencies. I made an appointment, went in, talked to them, took some typing and spelling tests. I failed miserably at filing, but that didn't seem to faze them. Up to then, I had no previous clerical experience, but I learned on the job pretty quickly. Nothing I did was too brain-draining.

Then I waited to hear back from them. If there was a job, they'd call me and describe the position and pay. Jobs ranged from office temping to factory type jobs so the pay differed from job to job. You can probably tell them to call you for jobs over a certain amount of money. I wasn't that picky back then, so I took anything they threw at me. I did everything from stuff circular ads into Sunday newspapers to being a receptionist to being an actual secretary / personal assistant. These days, you might have to be more pro-active rather than reactive, so good luck.

FYI - I grew up in Cherry Hill and also lived in Maple Shade and Collingswood. Just call every single agency you can find and you'll probably get a better chance of more offers to choose from.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:19 AM on June 3, 2009

For general office stuff you want to start with Unique Advantage who does all the temp contracting for UPenn. You'll be working in a more intresting setting, with more interesting people than your standard corporate temp job and the pay will be equal or a little better.
posted by The Straightener at 8:20 AM on June 3, 2009

When I've looked into temping specifically with office white-collar work in mind, they've given me data entry tests and some online tests for Office (and Wordperfect, back in the day) proficiency, and used that to base placement on. Two out of the three times I was placed by those, I was hired by the company I was temping for and became permanent; in the other, after 4 months, they ran out of work and I went back to the temp agency to find something new.

As for non-clerical work: if you're able-bodied, there's far more manual-labor temp work than office work (at least around where I am), and it's shorter duration, which may be nice if you're also looking for permanent work at the same time. During my three-year stint as freelance writer/web developer, I temped a lot, and delivered windows to construction sites, assembled and delivered office furniture, loaded bread trucks, and a few others that don't come to mind. Hired muscle is in demand; plus, they could care less about your computer skills -- if you remotely seem like you can follow instructions, you're ahead of a lot of people.

As for pay: It's unlikely you get to request pay, other than as a filter for the jobs available for you. The cost of the temp is negotiated between the temp agency and the business looking for a temp, and you get paid whatever fraction of that is afforded for the temp's hourly rate.

Overall, my experience -- both as a temp, and in working with temps -- the bar is very, very low for temp skills. Willingness to work is a HUGE component, as is the ability to understand instructions in english and carry them out without hand-holding. Anything more than that is icing on the cake, so don't focus on your office skillz as the big deal: emphasize your work ethic, your competence in working independently, and you might have an edge up on Betty, the 40-Something-Temp who hops from job to job, biding her time until the company gets tired of her doing her nails and texting all day and sends her back to the temp agency.

Lastly: do NOT work with a temp agency that makes you pay them anything for placement. The respectable temp agencies I've worked with are paid by the business owner for the temp's services, the temp doesn't pay to be placed.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2009

One last thought after hitting "send": after your first initial interview and testing with the temp agency, don't just sit back and wait for them to call you and drop a job in your lap. If you're not working, call and see what they've got; they might not have the perfect clerical job, but they might have a three-day job putting stickers on pill bottles (did that, too); then you'll at least have 3 days of pay in your pocket, more than you'd have just waiting for something to happen. Also, if they don't place you after two or three weeks, and they haven't heard from you either, they may figure you've given up or found work elsewhere. If you keep yourself on their minds, they'll find work for you. I'd say no more than once or twice a week, but don't wait more than two weeks without checking in with the temp agency.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2009

I've worked with/through temp agencies since before law school. I've found that they are a great way to get a job, if there are any jobs out there.

In my experience, you send a resume then follow up with a phone call. The agency will want to see you in person to see how you present yourself. If there are any jobs, then the agency will call you, tell you what the job is, what it pays and what the hours are. If you agree to those things, then the agency submits your resume to the client-employer. If the client likes your resume (or just doesn't care), the agency will call you back and tell you when and where to be as well as answer questions (check on what the dress code is for that client's office!).

Hudson is one of the big ones in the Philly/Jersey area (I'm waiting on a phone call from the NYC office re: whether I have a project starting tomorrow; all of the contacts I'd give you, though, are for the legal divisions that contract out paralegals, assistants and attorneys). One way to find temp agencies is to check craigslist for the Philly/South Jersey area. Sometimes the agencies will post a message seeking resumes from candidates.

Once you are registered with an agency, call them weekly to remind them you exist and are available for work.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2009

I temped for a year and a half in DC before getting a full-time offer. Had no office experience, and had no idea what I wanted to do. Temping seemed the best way to address both problems without completely leeching off my wife.

I did have a dry couple of weeks during the summer, as I'm sure companies were getting the most out of unpaid interns. Save your money wisely. You won't have a lot of it.

Like the others here, they glanced at my resume before putting me in front of a computer for a MS Office skills test (which I thought I blew, because none of the keyboard-shortcuts worked in the fake Office environment). They're looking to see if you show up on time, seem put together and know how to use a computer. I'm convinced that the feedback from your first couple of assignments is the real interview.

To reiterate what has been said: bug the hell out of them at first, calling them every day until they have something for you. Some stuff may be on the weekend (conventions at hotels), and some may be extremely short contracts.

I didn't turn down anything at first, but eventually the agency got feedback that I was polite and competent, and I was able to choose between multiple contracts, most lasting 3+ months. I know there will be the temptation to breeze in and out, but if you take the time to get to know your supervisors a little, you could have them requesting you specifically when they need a temp again.

While this doesn't apply to you, if someone else searches in the future: TRAK Services in the DC area is excellent. They still get their cut, but they were understanding and very helpful in finding me a temp position that turned permanent. And if I ever need extra cash, they told me I was on file and could call up for weekend/after-hour work any time.

Also, check out It's a bunch of humorous essays about temping experiences back from when "blog" was a relatively fresh new idea. I saw the author here on metafilter a couple of times.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:24 AM on June 3, 2009

Just reinforcing that the most important thing you can do is ace the typing, Word & Excel tests. In Word, they almost always test Mail Merge (creating labels/envelopes etc.) which is not a commonly-used feature outside of offices but extremely simple to learn. If you can type "fast" (>60 WPM) you are golden.
posted by hamsterdam at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2009

I worked for J & J for a few months and was then permanently taken on by the company I was temping at. The process I went through with them was as follows:
1. I dropped into their office (Woodbury NJ location, but there is one in Cherry Hill) with a resume, which was given a quick glance over. I was briefly interviewed.
2. I took some data entry accuracy tests, filing tests (done on a computer, mostly just making sure you can put things in alphabetical order), tests in Microsoft Word and Excel (Excel was optional).
3. You select the kind of work you are willing to do. You should select "clerical" and "light industrial". Light industrial is just silly stuff like counting out and bagging x number of screws in each baggie. It usually pays slightly better than clerical temping.
4. I called them 2 days later to see if they had any work on the roster and got my job. If there is no work available when you call, just call every few days (2-3 times a week). I've generally found that they will not seek you out for the job (because really anyone can type nowadays) but if they have an opening they need to fill sitting on the desk and you call that day, its yours.

I actually got my job because the company sent back the previous temp because she was not doing her work well (surfing the internet too much). Be aware that as a temp it is really easy for a company to get rid of you, so you need to be a stand out superstar at work. I choose only to go for temp-to-perm positions (meaning that once I temped for x weeks, the company would have to hire me), but I know a lot of people who will go from temp to temp position and do ok. When they tell you about the job, they tell you the pay. There is no negotiations on your pay unless you are being hired by the company the temp agency sends you to. Expect to make about $10-$16 per hour in South Jersey.
posted by WeekendJen at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2009

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