Have you ever worked as a temp slave?
April 25, 2005 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Anyone here ever kicked off their "back to the world of employment adventure" by using a temp agency?

I've never used one before and I'm curious about: How does the process work? How do you apply? Are there better agencies to use than others? I recognize some names...Robert Half, Randstad, Kelly Services. But I have no experience with them. (I'm in Chicago, if that makes a difference.)

I'm interested in getting to know various companies in the city and possibly changing careers. But I'm not ready to make any decisions yet. That's why I think temping might be a good transitional approach. Long ago, I was a secretary. And I've been an instructional designer and researcher (typing, transcription, document design, writing, organizing, etc.). Hopefully, that will qualify me for something in the temp world. (Fingers crossed.)

Eventually, I hope to find something in the world of special libraries. Until then? Gotta pay the bills.
posted by jeanmari to Work & Money (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
From experience, Select Staffing in Chicago is very good.

You will go in and make an appointment- they will only let you make an appointment if you have enough experience (most places require 1-2 years office experience, it sounds like you easily have that).
You will have a short interview and they will ask you about your relevant skills. You will probably have to take a test on all the skills you claim to have- these may include various MS office progs, filing, copy-editing/spelling, audio typing, basic arithmetic, typing speed, etc.

If you score highly enough they'll take you on.
You then have to show them that you are really interested. Call them a lot to get your first work.

One tip is to make sure you are a good/easy employee for the agency. The better agencies will call the client for feedback so be professional, punctual, reliable, etc.

Also, be a good employee by being very flexible, being willing to take jobs at the last minute, taking short jobs even if they are very dull (like filing). I've had the experience of doing the agency a "favor" by taking an awful job that they needed to fill and being rewarded with something better next time.

(PS. If your web/design skills are pretty good, you may be interested in Aquent for more specialized stuff.)
posted by cushie at 6:28 AM on April 25, 2005

Quality doesn't just vary from agency to agency, but from office to office. I worked for Ranstad for many years, off and on, and even when I moved to the edge between two "territories", it was always my "home" office that found me work reliably. I had a good relationship with my main agent, which made a *big* difference. Try registering for interviews with all of the ones in your area, and use the interview to check them out.

Some tricks of temp-to-perm: None of the temp jobs I had that generated a permanent job opportunity were listed as temp-to-perm. The job I have now (permanent for two years now) started as a "3-month contract". I worked as a temp for a year and a half before they brought me on. A lot of jobs are put in as a two-week or three-month contract because either the company does not think they're looking for a new employee, or they do not want to commit themselves. If the temp is only average (or below average) then the contract ends, and the temp never knows there was an opportunity. If you overperform even menial tasks, you wind up picking up more complex work, and suddenly the contracts get expanded. I've had slacker friends who never had anything but short-term contracts, whereas most of mine got extended. The difference? Attitude.

No job is ever "beneath you". Comnpanies like a known quantity. Even if one job does not extend, if you do a menial job and prove you're better than the average knuckle-dragger, then they'll be more likely to ask for you the next time a job opens up.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:44 AM on April 25, 2005

When my family relocated to Chicago, my mom had a fabulous experience with Mack and Associates. My sister went with them as well and got a temp job at a super cool fancy chocolate shop that I'm sure you've heard of. Their office is in the loop.

I would avoid Kelly Services here in Chicago, though I had good experiences with them when I lived in Albuquerque.
posted by sugarfish at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2005

Good advice above. I gave my temping spiel in this earlier ask thread about jobs.
posted by Otis at 7:29 AM on April 25, 2005

My current job stated out as a temp assignment. I went through Apple One, and as Karmakaze said, it had not been presented as a temp-to-perm. Strangely, the temp to perm assignment I had at the same company ended up being strictly temp, and far shorter than I expected. I had actually interviewed for the job as a permanent employee and not hired (which turned out to be for the better... everyone they did hire, and half the department to boot, was just laid off), so I almost didn't take this assignment.

A good agency will ask you what you enjoy doing, what kind of work atmosphere you like, even what industry you're looking for. They will actually try to match you with the job- both what the employer needs and what you want. They will make you feel like the companies who need workers are a secondary concern, and that they really work for you. My agent was completely honest. She would tell me when a job had no chance of ever being permanent, and when a company had a history of actually hiring their temps.

I went to some bad agencies, too. Places that had taken out job ads for specific positions, only to get there and find out that job didn't exist, but several other much lower paying ones in the exciting and growing telemarketing industry did. I went to places that were more concerned about harvesting my work history to find new clients for their agency than with finding me a job. Places with one agent working, and three people scheduled to interview at the exact same time.

You can actually find work through a temp agency, but you need to be persistent. Go to several. If you get a bad feeling or think they're pushing you into a job you don't want, leave and go elsewhere. Follow up, call them and look for updates if they haven't given you an assignment yet. If they know you're interested and sincere, they'll work harder to find you a job.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:31 AM on April 25, 2005

I've seen several library-specific temp agencies in Chicago in the Monster.com listings — one was Library Associates, I can't recall the name of the other off the top of my head. But I get the feeling that most of their work is in special libraries, so it might be worth your time to check out.

I haven't used these or any other temp agencies, so I can't help you there.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:36 AM on April 25, 2005

Show up to the agency every morning, even if they say you don't have to, until you get an assignment. You can spend the morning breezing through "training" exercises if they don't have any urgent calls. If something does come up, though, you're right there, first on the list.

And the more you show your face, the more the folks at your temp company will recognize you, and the more they'll remember you when plum long-term assignments pop up.
posted by breezeway at 7:44 AM on April 25, 2005

Like others in this thread, I got my current job (as an office zombie) through a temp agency. I can't recommend temping, as such, but it is better than outright unemployment.

Getting your first assignment is important, it's the proverbial foot in the door, but I don't know that showing up at the agency every day is the best way to get it; you might just end up being annoying. What you need to do is make a favorable impression with the folks at the agency, so that they can be comfortable sending you to their clients.

The key to making temping pay (and mind you, it doesn't really pay) is getting good reviews from places you temp at. While it may be true that when working a one week assignment, you'll never see the people you're working for again, they do give feedback to the agency, and that will affect what sort of assignments you'll get down the line.
posted by Mark Doner at 8:17 AM on April 25, 2005

Right after I left the Marines in 1983, I became a Kelly Girl (and damn proud of it ;-) in Las Vegas. IBM MagCards were THE office technology item, and word processing was in its infancy. I knew how to use all of them, plus I could type 80 wpm.

Especially in that town, a lot of clients were shocked when this young, buff crewcut guy showed up representing Kelly Girl, but I already knew many filing systems and learned new ones quickly. Plus, I could spell- and grammar-check on the fly or draft original correspondence. I preferred short-term emergency assignments where some department was working on a deadline that they were unlikely to meet.

I preferred the tough assignments where deadlines were critical, and for a hefty pay raise, Kelly asked if I wanted to transfer to Augusta, GA where Georgia Power was building a new nuclear power plant. With my security clearance from the Marines still active, that got me in the door of the nuclear industry and from there, I built a fairly successful career.

Granted that was 20 years ago, but the basics are still the same.

Be exceptional at the fundamental office skills: typing, filing, answering phones, etc.
Take every opportunity to learn new technology.
Don't just perform large, mundane tasks, eliminate them as quickly and as precisely as possible, and don't be shy about using whatever resources are available to you.
Take the known high-stress contracts and then maintain a calm demeanor.
While on-site, keep your ears open for opportunities beyond the scope of the contract.
Network! You may only see those people for a short period, but they are potential references for future jobs.
If you take a slacker attitude, you will get slacker assignments.
Make the most of every situation. Your professionalism and enthusiasm will net dividends.

My time as a temp was among the most exciting moments of my career. If I was in my 20s or 30s now, I would love to jump into temping all over again.
posted by mischief at 8:35 AM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Show up to the agency every morning, even if they say you don't have to, until you get an assignment.

Show up in person? Huh. It never occurred to me to try that... when I was temping, I generally applied to as many agencies as I could, and called them all each morning until I was assigned (which did not usually take long). In New York, a lot of the agencies are all in the same area (east side midtown) so I would make an appointment at one office and then just stop by a bunch of others that I found in the phone book or sometimes just by reading the building directory (if I was already going to that building).

In my experience they make you take tests for typing, spelling, proofreading, MS word, MS excel, and at the design-y agencies, quark, photoshop, indesign, etc. The tests sometimes have tricky little things on them that you wouldn't necessarily know if you're a self-taught user of the program, so never hurts to pick up a book and review some of the more fancypants uses of the programs, like macros & merges. The tests are (or were when I was doing this 6 or 7 years ago) usually automated, so you only get a couple chances to try an answer, & can't search around through the menus to remember where stuff is.

It's pretty easy to stay regularly employed through temping, so don't be afraid to comparison-shop from your end and find the agency that will give you the best rate / most enjoyable least mind-numbing work.
posted by mdn at 8:41 AM on April 25, 2005

Temped for Kelly for a stint. The tests you take are ludicrously easy. Unfortunately, I don't think extra ability counts for much. I typed at 90 wpm. on my test, but the person administering it said they only cared if you could do more than 35. I aced every computer test (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), yet only recieved two offers of temporary employment in as many months. Luckily the second was for a temp-to-hire position.

A word of warning: if you take a temp-to-hire position, the months you work as a temp do not count for unemployment benefits, if you should so need them later on. Basically, when you are hired on full-time, the termination of the "temp" position (and Kelly's contract with you) is treated as though you willingly quit your job with Kelly. This little-known bit of trivia can bite you in the ass if you're not awares.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:04 AM on April 25, 2005

I got my current job as a temp assignment. It was not temp to perm, but was instead a three month contract. Three months stretched into four, and then I lost my health insurance (that I had through my spouse's job). I approached the place I was temping and told them that they had the right of first refusal on hiring me, but that if they passed I would be quitting soon.

I was hired within a week and got a HUGE raise.

Before this assignment, the temp agency sent me to a temp to perm assignment. I hated every minute of it. I finally told the employer that I did not want to stay, but that I would remain there until they found a replacement. Much to my surprise, they told me to pack my things that minute and get out.

My agency was fabulous about this, and had me working somewhere else the very next day.

Good luck!
posted by Sheppagus at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2005

The only 2 "real" jobs I've had so far ("Real" meaning salary, health insurance and 401k) were offered to me after I had worked there as a temp.

Be reliable, be adaptable, don't alienate people, find ways to streamline even the most mundane tasks and you may find yourself with a job offer even though the position was never specified as "temp-to-perm".

If you are working with other temps and you *know* you are out-performing them then demand a higher hourly rate from the agency. If you get it, don't tell any of the other temps.

I'm not quite sure why temporary work has a stigma attached to it. It seems like an excellent arrangement for employers and employees to try each other out before making any commitments.

Oh, and keep the business card of your temp agent/recruiter. If you are hired, he or she will likely get 10-15% of your starting salary as a fee. If you ever need another job look them up again; they'll probably make an all out effort to place you in something good since you're a proven "money maker".

Also, savvy employers will hire you at 'X' salary and then shortly raise you up to 'X+Y' to minimize the agent/recruiting fee.
posted by de void at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2005

Once, long ago, I worked as a "recruiter" for a temp agency. If your application has no typos or misspellings, you can type, and are familiar with office software and machines, most temp agencies will love you.

I wouldn't recommend showing up at the office everyday, though, as suggested above. Calling every morning, definitely, though. Also, if you have a day when you're not already assigned, call in the late afternoon, too.

If there's particular companies you're looking to work for, try to find out what temp agencies they use. Most companies only use one or maybe two, so if you're not signed up with that agency you won't get to work at that particular company.

As for working in special libraries... if you want to be an actual Librarian, you'll need to get your Masters in Library Science. If you're looking for a temporary job C. Berger Group, Inc. is a temp agency in Chicago that works with libraries and has positions that don't require an MLS.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 12:13 PM on April 25, 2005

These are some wonderful ideas.

INTPLibrarian, I'm looking into accredited MLS programs. Could I ask you a related question offline? owner (at) houseinprogress (dot) net
posted by jeanmari at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2005

An idea, JeanMari, try posting your resume as "temp" on Monster/CareerBuilder/HotJobs/etc. Most of those services allow you to have more than one resume. If you have one that's searchable as "temporary", then the jobs will find you.

I also am in Chicago, and I've had great success with First Associates and Chicago Hire. They're wonderful, especially First Associates.

You may also want to try searching for a law librarian job - I'm in the legal world and I've seen at least five openings for a law librarian at various law firms in the past month.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:03 PM on April 25, 2005

In Chicago, I've had good experiences with Advanced Personnel, both in working for and hiring from. Another agency you may want to check out is Palladin Staffing (assuming they're still around; I couldn't get their Web site to load just now).

I would register with several agencies initially to get the ball rolling. You'll probably end up working with just one or two, though.

It's been about eight years since I last temped, but I found that if you turn down an assigment, you probably won't hear from that agency again. The only exception to this was when I had a longstanding relationship with the recruiter at an agency.

The agency will use your test results determine how much they can charge a client for your services. When you score high, you generally get better assignments and more pay.

Some large employers may have temp pools that you can register for. Back in the day, U of C had one. I'm not sure if they still do.

I have to agree with other posters that if you show initiative and competence, you'll be catnip to your temp employers. I was offered a permanent job at nearly every place I temped--and some of the jobs entailed nothing more than reading People and answering the phone every half hour.

The only caveats I would share is that some of the temp work really stinks and you have to put up with it to a certain extent to preserve your relationship with your agency. The only other warning--and this is almost a question, really--is that I just wonder how unemployment has affected temping. It seems that a year or two ago, I heard from those in the biz that there were a lot more people than positions, so it was a little harder to get good assignments. Still, if you have the mad skillz, you'll stand out.
posted by Sully6 at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2005

One clarifying question:

If you sign up with more than one agency, and both call you, don't you risk angering the one you have to turn down?

Or does that just not happen because the jobs are few and far in between?

posted by jeanmari at 3:26 PM on April 25, 2005

My experience was that if an agency called me while I was on an assignment for another company, I could just tell them that I was working and would check in when I was available again. That didn't seem to create any problems for me. I found, though, if you turned down assignments time and time again or for reasons like "that doesn't interest me" or "I just want to take the rest of the week off" you probably wouldn't hear from that agency again. This was just my experience, though, and it's nearly a decade old, so this may not still be the case.

I recommended registering with several agencies just to increase your likelihood of getting an assignment sooner rather than later. I think you'll find during the interview/registration process that some agencies leave you cold while others might specialize in industries you're interested in. One agency may even promise you a higher level of compensation than another.

I ended up working almost entirely for Advanced for about year because they paid me very well, even if the assignments weren't always the most interesting. As soon as one assignment was over, they had another one lined up for me the next day. They offered me a nearly steady paycheck, which is what I needed.

I hope this helps.
posted by Sully6 at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2005

I've done several stints of temping, one pretty long (1.5 years, many many different jobs) in Minneapolis.

Generally you call the agency, and arrange an interview. Come prepared like a regular interview. They will probably have you complete a formal application and take tests to determine your skills, i.e. typing speed and computer proficiency (MS Office is the coin of the realm, though I found being ambidextrous in PC and Mac was a plus). They'll talk you through the sorts of jobs you're looking for. It sounds to me like your skill set should be good for clerical temp.

I worked with Jeane Thorne and Robert Half. Both treated me well. In the most recent round Jeane Thorne was not doing as good a job of getting me work and I had better luck with Robert Half. Remember, there is no reason you cannot have contracts with more than one agency.

Some tips: I always tried, particularly in the early stage, to take whatever they gave me, even if it was sort of crap (the nadir: giving rednecks surveys about pickup trucks during intermission at an indoor rodeo at the Target center on a Friday night. Not a joke). It's good to be seen as an accomodating employee, and to make that connection in agency employees' minds soon after you apply and interview. If you turn down a lot of work they will send less your way. Also, obviously, make a good impression (unlike a lot of temps I always showed up in business formal the first time and kept it up unless it was obvious that the office was casual and I'd mentioned I would dress down a bit to my supervisor, for example). It really helps if you find a good advocate among the agency staff, having a personal relationship helps you get more and better work. Call in every day you are available to work to check for jobs. Temping gave me a reasonable income during several periods when I needed it, introduced me to one later longer term employer, and gave me the freedom from need to wait for the right job a couple of times when I otherwise might have been forced to settle for something I didn't want. It's a good option.
posted by nanojath at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

jeanmari, I've found that getting more than one offer can actually be beneficial. If you are a efficient, flexible and dependable, the temp companies will want to keep you employed with their agency and will do whatever they can to keep you from taking assignments with another firm. My advice would be to register with as many agencies as possible and not worry about multiple offers. You may eventually work with only one or two of those agencies, but I think the competition is healthy.
posted by Otis at 5:32 AM on April 26, 2005

You may also want to try searching for a law librarian job - I'm in the legal world and I've seen at least five openings for a law librarian at various law firms in the past month.

Law librarians usually have both an MLS *and* a law degree.

(Ok, I admit to being a little defensive about my profession and the fact that it requires a degree...)
posted by INTPLibrarian at 2:26 PM on April 26, 2005

If you sign up with more than one agency, and both call you, don't you risk angering the one you have to turn down?

You're not an object they own, you're a resource they wish to have access to. If you have a better offer from someone else, you politely and professionally inform them of this, and (unless you're expecting to stay at the one assignment endlessly) you encourage them to keep you in mind for future positions. It will only make it clear that you're a capable, qualified worker, who's "in demand".

As I said above, I always signed on with as many agencies as I could, not least so that I could compare the rates and expectations of different places. Especially if an agency thinks you're less confident, they will definitely attempt to give you the lowest rate they can get away with. Remember that the money they don't spend on you goes directly into their pocket, not into some amorphous budget as with a regular job. They might charge the company $30/hr; if they can get away with giving you $14 instead of $18, that will increase their take considerably (I dunno what admin rates in chicago these days are, apologies if that's way off).

So don't be afraid to shop around a bit, and remember that you're the product, you're what makes their company work - don't think of them as the boss and you as the minion; think of yourself as the "talent", and them as the agent. You absolutely must be respectful and courteous, etc, but be confident and aware of your worth as well.
posted by mdn at 9:28 AM on April 27, 2005

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