How Hard Is It Out There For a Temp?
January 15, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

For those who are currently working as a temporary employee (preferably in customer service or admin/office positions) -- are you able to find steady work as a temp? How are things in your area for temp work?

I'm currently in a permanent position, but am planning on moving out of state in two years. The job I have now is stable, the work is tolerable, and I'm not likely to be fired or laid off anytime soon, but I'm kind of sick of it, frankly, and it's fairly low-paying so my motivation to keep the job isn't that strong. Basically, the only thing keeping me here is fear of not finding another job.

Since I'm only going to be in this state for another couple of years at most, I find the idea of temping attractive (I've temped many times in my life and enjoyed it overall). However, the economy being what it is, I have no idea what the prospects are right now for temp work. So I'm seeking feedback from people who are temping (I live in New Mexico, but welcome info from anywhere in the country), and/or opinions on whether or not it would be foolish to leave the job I have now. Thanks for your help.
posted by speedythepolkaboy to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This might be an obvious answer, but have you considered calling temp agencies and asking how busy they are and how many hours they could guarantee?
posted by Flamingo at 9:14 AM on January 15, 2013

Even during the heyday of temping, when jobs basically fell out of the sky, temping was inferior to a permanent job. You'll never be guaranteed a number of hours...that's the nature of temping.
posted by xingcat at 9:18 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, have you thought about losing what benefits you already have "earned" as a permanent employee? Paid vacation, sick leave, medical benefits, retirement, etc? Even if they're not great benefits, it's better than nothing. If and when you start a new permanent position, you'll have to start from scratch, but at least you will get them.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2013

It's been a couple years, but if you could get any kind of guaranteed hours I would be totally shocked. I stopped doing it because I had wide-open availability and ended up working, on the whole, maybe 3 days a week on average. I had several assignments that were at least a couple weeks long, but on a number of occasions, work dried up well before it was supposed to, leaving me in the lurch when I had been expecting another full week's pay, etc. There were times I went 2-3 weeks between assignments, with multiple agencies, calling every single day to check in.

A couple years is a relatively long time, for admin/clerical work. I wouldn't avoid applying for full-time positions just because of that.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2013

flamingo, i can tell you've never called a temp agency and asked them such a question--they will often lie just to get more qualified people through the door. and there is no way that any one of them will guarantee hours. their business is way too fickle for that.

despite what people say temp work is actually inflexible. you have to be ready to jump at any opportunity lest you get passed over for someone else. if you're a temp for a long enough time they'll send you to the same crappy assignments over and over. and the fact that you just want to be a temp--and not looking for full time work at any of your assignments will reflect badly and cause you to lose work.

you'll also see a lot of bad workplaces. one of my recent temp gigs had us routinely sitting in an a cube farm for 8 hours doing what was about 1 hours work. then they asked us to work late--overtime!--sitting in the same cubes waiting for work that never came. sitting in a cube with nothing to do is not an easy thing. several of my fellow temps actually were caught playing games on their computer (mindsweeper anyone?). but in the end i was the one cut first because i told them i didn't want to work there full time.
posted by lester at 1:58 PM on January 15, 2013

In my defense, I have temped in DC and have pursued temping in Santa Fe. While neither agency would say, "Yes we can guarantee 40 hours a week", they *did* say, "We've had a shortage of temps and a lot of jobs. When can you start?" I guess it just depends what kind of city you're in and what your job skills are.
posted by Flamingo at 7:57 AM on January 16, 2013

I've been temping in Seattle since August and I've had somewhat steady work. Most of them pay $10-$12 an hour and a good job will last a whole week. Most of them are just one day gigs and I average about 2-3 per week. I've built a good rapport with the agency and I think that helps. It's just barely enough to live off and I've been looking for fulltime work the entire time. Temping is what you do between jobs and is a great way to network because you're meeting all sorts of people. One of them I've asked to be a reference for me while I'm job-hunting.

I have two retail jobs to help supplement my income and if you go with temping, I'd highly suggest having a similar second job that you can work in the evenings and weekends just in case temping is not enough.

I enjoy temping because I like the variety, but I'm behind on some of my bills and I'm stressing out about not knowing if I'll have enough jobs lined up this month. I would much rather have a full time, permanent position (even if it's boring) and get some consistency and predictability back in my life.
posted by E3 at 2:42 PM on January 16, 2013

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