Why can't I get a job with the temp agency?
June 10, 2013 6:58 AM   Subscribe

I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

I've been signed up with one agency since last fall, and another one since March. From November to March, I found a temp job from a personal connection so I stopped applying for temp agency jobs. Since late March, I have been applying for jobs each week on both sites. I've yet to receive any job offers. I have, of course been applying to many jobs outside of the temp agencies as well.

I have 5 months experience as an admin assistant and several years of customer service experience. All I want is to build on my admin experience, so I'm applying for all receptionist, admin assistant, executive assistant, customer service and general clerk jobs.

I've tried calling to inquire, and each time I am told to just keep applying online because that is how their process works. I get the feeling that they're just giving me a stock answer because a couple times they haven't even asked my name.

Before I signed up, I was under the impression that a temp agency is a place where you can get short gigs in the in-between times where you're unemployed (which I currently am). But it's been nearly 3 months now. Is there anything more I can do besides signing up for yet another agency? Should I be more persistent when I call to inquire? Or should I forget the whole thing?
posted by winterportage to Work & Money (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you should be friendly with the recruiters? In the past I got a short term and permanent jobs with temp agencies by mentioning a charismatic friend and then being friendly andnice to the recruiters during my interview.
posted by discopolo at 7:04 AM on June 10, 2013

There is nothing one can say without knowing details like location. Markets vary. And if they don't like you, they're not likely to say so. And it's possible you're not with the agency that actually has positions in your location. If you don't get any opportunities, you go to another agency, and you keep doing that until you have work. It's that simple.
posted by Goofyy at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2013

In case it helps, I am in Ottawa, Canada ( and I am bilingual).
posted by winterportage at 7:10 AM on June 10, 2013

Depending on where you are, there can be many hundreds (or even thousands in a place like LA or NYC or Chicago) of applicants, and one job for every twenty or fifty or hundred.

The placement people can't really give you anything more definite than "keep applying" because if your name comes up in a database search it comes up. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Unless you have some unique or specific skills, you're undifferentiated in the database. They don't need to know who you are because the process if the same for everyone and you can't get preferential placement without being placed at least once.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 7:11 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

My (one) experience with (one) temp agency was that I applied online through their system, then dug up an email address online (googled for things like "info@website.com" and such until I found something attached to a linkedin profile) and emailed my resume and a short "about me" to that address directly.

I got a call asking to come in so they could meet me, I went in wearing fancy person clothes, talked to a recruiter, made like I was the friendliest most employable person in the world, aced all their MS Office and typing tests, and then started getting placement calls.

I was also a highly desirable candidate with a variety of experience who had just hit a long streak of bad luck and had PLENTY of free time (I said I was available to work at any time), so I was easy for them to place.

Apparently my results are not typical, but I think the fact that I went there and actually talked to them was key.

Good luck!
posted by phunniemee at 7:15 AM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Weirdly enough, there aren't as many temp jobs for admins as there once were. If someone goes on vacation, usually the company can get by for a week without that person. Back in the day, a manager would need an admin to field phone calls, type letters, etc. Now, with electronic communications and email, that's no longer the case.

Temp gigs are much more about working with specific programs, Excel, PowerPoint, Salesforce.com, etc. It's not worth it to train someone for a short period of time, only an extended absense, like FMLA or maternity leave.

So my suggestion is become an expert in a particular program and concentrate on finding a full time gig.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:28 AM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Some thoughts:

You should try to set up an appointment for an actual in-person interview and skills test at as many agencies as you possibly can. Applying online just won't cut it.

Five months of experience as an admin assistant is not very much, unless your word processing skills are truly exceptional, so you should make it known that you will accept any jobs they have to offer.

Once you have some personal contacts at a number of agencies, you should call each of them at 8:00 AM (or earlier depending on the working hours in your locale) in the morning to let them know that you are available to work and ready to go. You must actually be ready to leave the house immediately upon receiving an assignment. Most of these will be one-day assignments. You can also explore the possibility of going to the agency in the morning and waiting there for an assignment to come in.

Eventually you will build relationships with people at a few agencies, you will hopefully accumulate good reports from the various places you have been sent, and you will start to get better assignments and work your way up their priority lists.

Things have changed a lot since the 1990s boom days in the temp marketplace when you could get an assignment easier than falling off a log. There are tons of people looking for the same things you are, and the reality is that lots of companies are willing to let a desk go empty for a few days rather than spending the money on bringing in a temp. Meanwhile, when the do bring in a temp, they need someone with the experience and skills that they can jump right in without missing a beat. Good luck.
posted by slkinsey at 7:29 AM on June 10, 2013 [11 favorites]

A couple of options are to upgrade or expand your skills. Take some classes in newer versions of Word or Excel or advanced topics in those programs. Learn Powerpoint, graphics programs like Photoshop, Outlook, Adobe Professional, etc.

You could also look around at a few non-profits and maybe volunteer a few hours a week. Don't necessarily volunteer all of your time but it should be a good opportunity to network.

We have had some bad luck with temps, more than good luck. The worst, always said they knew the programs but anything more advanced than spellcheck was a challenge. Forget mail merges, macros, formulas, etc.
posted by JJ86 at 7:38 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sign up with more agencies, the ones who test your (typing speed, computer, filing) skills. If possible, find agencies that encourage you to call rather than go through online. Calling is much faster, a good agency does this anyway so their people can make sure you're a good fit for the job.

Then call, every day. Be polite, but give them an incentive to find work for you.

If an agency goes more than a month and bupkis, then sign up with another agency and move on.
posted by emjaybee at 7:44 AM on June 10, 2013

Unfortunately, the fact that you took that other job via another connection and then are only just now coming back to them makes you an unknown AND unreliable commodity in their eyes. You didn't give them a chance to put you out on an assignment and see how you did. And 5 months' office experience isn't a lot, unfortunately; I have over ten years' experience, but it'd still take a couple weeks for a new company to send me out.

All you can do is keep re-applying, and check in weekly, or even twice a week, to remind them that you're available and able to work. And then take what comes along so they have a chance to see how you do in the field. And sign up for more agencies, too. Also, see if they have "standby" employment - some companies do this, where you are either waiting in their lobby or dressed and ready for work at home, and you're one of the short list they call for same-day work in case some company's receptionist calls in sick and they're desperate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you done the skill tests? Most temp of the good temp agencies have a series of skill tests you go in and do on their computers (though you may in some cases do them online they like you to go in so they can be sure it is you doing the test) especially for Admin style jobs. These will be tests in all the major software you say you know, to check you typing and data entry speeds that sort of thing. You don't have to ace these tests so much as they record the sort of things you do know. This really helps them place you.

When they get you a job, ring before it ends, say a week or so before, about your next job. I have found a strange tendency for them to keep those that are working at the top of the "lists". Early on take any shit job they give you and do it as well as you can, the reviews from those jobs help them make decisions about you, so even though you don't want to do retail, work those early jobs like you love it.

Call at least weekly, if the agencies don't take calls I'd be suspicious, I've never heard of ones that didn't prefer working the phones to anything else but the last time I temped was before the economy tanked so things may have changed.

Sign up with more agencies, when I temped for a living I had between 3 - 5 agencies working to find me jobs at any one time. Work on your data entry skills, both typing speed and numeric entry only, a good way to get into the admin jobs is to get data entry work and sort of segue, as you don't have a lot of actual admin experience. I got my first 3 admin jobs that way and it's a skill that is super easy to practice at home and build up speed. Remember you can resit agency tests as your skills improve, and as you don't have a lot of admin experience you will need to keep working on those skills to make you stand out from the crowd.

If your agency doesn't test, and the staff won't talk to you I'd go put my names down with a few more agencies.
posted by wwax at 8:11 AM on June 10, 2013

You need to be signed up with at least 10 agencies, each of which you must call daily.

Don't just apply online. Follow the above advice regarding connecting with an actual person on LinkedIn and going to their office to register in person.
posted by tel3path at 8:13 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Building relationships with recruiters absolutely helps. It doesn't make you a shoe-in, but it helps. If the agencies you're talking to right now keep pushing you towards their website, call more agencies and ask if you can meet in person with a recruiter, and treat that meeting like an official interview, or just one step down from it (wear first-day-of-work clothes, bring printed copies of your resume on nice paper, show up five minutes early). When you check in weekly, call the recruiter you met with. If the recruiter passes you on to another recruiter, call them too!
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do you specifically want to temp, or are you looking for employment in general? On my most recent job search, I had much better luck applying for permanent positions than I did with temp agencies.

Also, definitely try to get in-person interviews with the agencies. If you can't get through the door of the agencies you're registered with, find one that will let you come in. When I was temping, there were several times when I went to the office to register, and a job came in while I was there. They will take the person they've actually seen and talked to in person over someone who's just a name on a computer -- being a known quantity offers a big advantage.

I agree with Metroid Baby that if you can build a relationship with someone at an agency, that can be very helpful. When my wife was applying for temp jobs, she regularly spoke with and hit it off personally with a recruiter, who ended up moving her to the front of the line for a contract position interview, which she got. It's totally unfair, of course, but you do what you gotta do.
posted by Mo' Money Moe Bandy at 8:34 AM on June 10, 2013

Recruiters work a lot on instinct and how well they read people: they basically are guessing that someone who is more or less a stranger will not only decline to steal stuff from a client but will also do an honest day's work under unfamiliar conditions. It's in your interest to get and keep a recruiter on your side, and, as a corollary, to stop wasting time with a recruiter who is not on your side.

How you get a recruiter on your side is you go in to an in-person interview, looking sharp and acting well-prepared and enthusiastic. You fill out the paperwork and do the testing quickly and cheerfully, and you make it clear that you want to work even if the pay is not great to start. You want to say "yes" as much as possible and "no" not at all.

If you do all this, then the recruiter has a chance to form a good first impression of you. But understand, that's only a chance. There may be something about you that rubs them the wrong way: your race or your age or your gender, or your accent or the pattern on your tie. So you have to pay attention to the signals after that.

Find out when your recruiter wants you to check in and how, and then check in exactly per those instructions. Once you have checked in for the week or the day or whatever it is, stick to your phone like glue: answer it and don't let it roll over to voicemail, and if you get a text or an email, stop whatever else it is you're doing to respond. And when you respond, be cheerful but not gushy: basically you want to be that ideal, no-complaints employee that everybody wants to have working for them.

You do all this for a month or six weeks, and if there's no work at all forthcoming, then you can pretty much decide this recruiter's not going to place you. Get on the books at another agency and start the process again. (Or, rather, you should be on the books at two or three agencies at any given time. Recruiters know people do this and they respect you for it; the thing is, when you accept a spot from Agency A, then you need to contact Agency B and Agency C immediately and personally to update your availability. What you don't want is for Agency B to be coming down to the wire, trying at 4"30 on Friday afternoon to place someone for Monday morning, and they call you, and you say, "Oh, I'm busy then.")

It does not hurt to ask a recruiter "what sort of skills are you currently getting calls for?" and then going out on your own to learn these skills, even the rudiments. After a couple of weeks, you can get back in touch and say, "You mentioned you were getting some calls for PowerPoint and I've taken some time to brush up my skills."

One dirty secret I can reveal from my early temping days, which coincided with an economic downturn in NYC: I lied. If the recruiter called and asked, "have you done WordPerfect," I'd say "yes, I did a spot with some WordPerfect about this time last year," even though I'd never seen WordPerfect before. That would get me into the job at which point I would bluff my way through for the first morning or so until I could get up to speed on the rudiments of WordPerfect. After that, I would be established with the recruiter as having WordPerfect, which means I would be open for more spots that came in. (I kept thinking this would backfire on me but it never, never did. My fallback position if I got caught out would have been to say, "this was a different version from what we used before," but I never had to haul out that excuse.)

Oh, and one last thing. Everyone hates answering phones. If you want to make a recruiter love you, wait until they ask, "how do you feel about phones," and answer "Heavy phones don't bother me." You'll end up having a couple of nerve-wracking days with awful phones, but, again, you'll demonstrate you're willing, and that's what the recruiters are looking for.
posted by La Cieca at 10:09 AM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Though my experience was in the U.S., I want to just agree with the above posters that the job listings by the temp agency are not the way to go. Sometimes those jobs are already filled when they post them, and the idea is simply to get more people in to sign up with the agency.

You must call them (at least) weekly, let them know you're available. You might call in one day just after they've had an order, and get lucky. And if not, your name and availability will be noted. Do take any computer tests that you can show proficiency in. In fact, if you don't have proficiency in certain programs, you can often spend a couple hours in their computer room doing tutorials in unfamiliar programs (or brushing up on what you know). It is also a good way to show your willingness to work, if they have computers available to do it.

Although it seems obvious, dress up! I've seen so many folks in temp agency waiting rooms that are just not dressed for "professional" offices. It's not enough to say you CAN, you have to show it.

I don't know if they have the same agencies there, but one huge one that got me a lot of jobs back in the day is Robert Half, which is both Accountemps and OfficeTeam.

On previous, what La Cieca said.
posted by Glinn at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you signed up with agencies in Gatineau or in Ottawa? Since you're bilingual, why not go out of your way to look for Gatineau jobs... I bet the pool of competition will be smaller there. Make sure your language skills are way clear on your resume, too. That should be a big boost for you, maybe enough to make up for the fact that five months is not really much admin experience.

I think it does really depend whether you've been in for an interview and testing. If you have, and it's a good agency, you should have the name and contact information of someone there you can contact at any time. You should be calling that person at least each week when you're actively looking for work. I've never done daily calls, and have still had success as a temp, so I think it depends on the agency how much you need to pursue them. If you do have a contact, maybe you can ask her or him what you could do to increase your attractiveness as a temp? Maybe they can offer you an online Office course or something.

I've had good experiences with Kelly Services and Adecco in Saskatchewan, and Groom & Associates in Montreal. Of course, YMMV!
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:36 AM on June 10, 2013

Seconding Glinn-- I always had luck with the Office Team division of Robert Half International. My current (permanent/full time) job started as a temp position with Office Team.

Sounds like you're doing the right things (call every week to say you are available, et cetera). Best of luck!
posted by stompadour at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2013

« Older Help for a houseplant   |   Educate me on modern mathematics! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.