Temporary Insanity?

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By Camilla Chafer
It may be National Temporary Workers week, but some members of this huge workforce will hardly be celebrating. After all, the estimated 1 million workers in Britain are often overworked, undervalued and underpaid. But that’s not to say temping work is pointless and potential temps certainly shouldn’t be discouraged. Quite the opposite in fact.

I’ve had numerous experiences in the temping field, good and bad. As a university student, during the long summer breaks, I found it incredibly difficult trying to get a job with barely any hands on experience. I soon turned to temping to raise some much needed funds.

My first placement took me to a large insurance company where I started off with data entry, progressing to switchboard before being offered a permanent role as a clerk. I spent a happy three months there before returning to my studies. Temping gave me the experience I couldn’t get elsewhere. I learned a multitude of transferable skills which I was able to put to good use in the future. And even better – I got paid. Crucially though, I was able to build up my CV ready for the post graduation job scrum.

However, that’s not to say I was always appreciated. I often got the most dire jobs (filing for seven hours a day, anyone?), quite often my name was miss-pronounced or changed entirely and employers thought nothing of treating you like the office idiot or letting you go at a moments notice.

This loose type of employment worked both ways though. As I became savvier, I began to use numerous agencies. Why should I limit my loyalty when they more than made their money from me? And as my skills and experience grew I was able to pick better contracts with better pay. I certainly didn’t stay anywhere I didn’t like. Much as an employer could choose to keep me on, I could choose to ditch the less than nice employers.

When I got to London after my Masters, I quickly turned to temping again whilst looking for permanent work. It was a natural solution to keeping the bills paid and infinitely better than the dreaded dole.

My first one-day assignment was on reception at a large government agency. I met numerous high profile foreign government dignitaries, had a picnic lunch in St James Park and kept a smile glued to my face. A few days later the same agency gave me another role but this three month assignment wasn’t nearly as peachy.

The second assignment was ‘sold’ to me as an on-going admin role with plenty of potential but my hopes were soon dashed. Five of us (a struggling actor, three graduates and one whom can only describe as a waster) with seven degrees (count ‘em!) between us were there simply to open post and weed out bits of paper. Needless to say, none of us wore a suit the second day. If it weren’t for the above average wage, none of us would have stayed for so long. I spent my days bored stiff and frequent evenings in tears at the hopelessness of temping.

But finally, my ship rolled in with a job that lasted nearly a year. I joined a fledgling government department as PA to the finance director and spent months building the role and gaining experience as the team grew. I did anything and everything. I offered to pitch in where possible and made sure my colleagues knew how enthusiastic I was. My hard work paid off and I was promoted to researcher. It took me nearly a total of two years of temping to actually get a job I was more than qualified for. Had I not temped though, to get the experience and a foot in the door, I wouldn’t have made it.

Along the way, I learnt some very important things about being a temp that temping agencies don’t print in their glossy guides.

1. Always be enthusiastic and willing to chip in. Employers remember the good ones and good feedback gets you more jobs and better pay. Don’t be like one temp I knew who insulted every member of staff within a week and reduced myself and another colleague to tears. Needless to say, she was promptly showed the door and the agency never used her again.

2. Budget. Jobs don’t always last as long as advertised and you’ll need cash to cover periods of none work or sickness. Some agencies pay holiday pay which is a great perk. And don’t forget to find out the hourly rate, it varies for different roles and locations.

3. Make the job yours. Assignments are often miss-advertised and some consultants take little care in checking out details. It will never hurt to offer to do more than what you’ve been brought in to do.

4. Cover your own back. You’re expendable and the finger of blame will sometimes be pointed at you.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get goes the old adage and it couldn’t be more true. Your consultant may not have thought of you for a role you’ll be perfect in.

6. Don’t accept anything. Try and structure the jobs you take to make up a consistent CV, it’ll look better when you try for permenant roles.

7. The recruiter is your best friend. One recruitment consultant told me that they sometimes had hundreds of people walk in off the street so they never touted for new temps. Similarly with so many temps on their books, they don’t have time to run after you. If you call them, and take the time to drop in, they’ll think of you first.

8. Build up your skills. If you’re not working, many agencies will let you take IT classes on their premises. It’s a quick, easy way to learn something new from typing to spreadsheets and beyond.

9. Keep your CV up to date. Almost every time you take an assignment, you’ll learn something new. Make sure your CV reflects what you’ve been doing and is tailored to the industry you are working in.

10. Once the foot is in the door. Check notice boards and in-house magazines for jobs. Learn from your colleagues and find out what they are looking for in permanent employees.