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Temping To Jumpstart Your Career
L.J. Bothell, VAULTWhether you temp by accident or career choice, you can use temping to jumpstart your career. But it's not that simple. With the rapid decrease of both permanent and temporary positions in the current work market, the impression you make might make the difference in whether you even get called for the few available temp jobs. How can you make a favorable and lasting impression with any temporary agency and client you work with, while advancing your career? Start by knowing why you are temping - this separates the successful temps from the disposable ones. Some of the strongest temps are those who have chosen the flexibility and variety that temp life offers, while the less successful temps are often those who think they are just filling in until they can get a "real" job.

Whatever your situation, recognize that temping is a free education. You get paid to meet potential employers, engage in different types of business, and to learn whole new skillsets. Even if you are not thrilled with the temp life, find a way to get excited, and fast! Determine the primary reasons you're temping, and use them to guide your career decisions.

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Develop a winning attitude

Any temp assignment can be a win-win-win situation if you work at it. You should win by bringing in the income you need, having fulfilling experiences with interesting people, and learning new skills (or practicing old ones). Your agency should win by knowing you are a reliable, quality employee at any given client company. The client should win by having short-term staffing problems solved by your presence and efforts. Do a good job of consolidating these mindsets, and you should earn your share of kudos, callbacks, pay boosts, and assignment extensions.

Understand the client supervisor's role and needs You are on site for one reason: to solve the supervisor's problems. The problem might be a general staffing shortage, a maternity leave, a sudden or annual project, or a backlog in some non-priority function, like filing. Assess the assignment and what it will take to solve the problem. Solve it. Then make sure your agency knows you solved it.

Project a good image

Have a few good, low-key, business-casual to business-professional ensembles that travel well and are comfortable for you. Take good care of your clothes so that you appear unrumpled and relaxed. Have suitable outerwear since you often won't know how long it will take you to travel to your assignment. Carry a professional-looking bag in which you bring business and personal essentials, like a cell phone, organizer, pens, and toiletries.

Be a real person, not just 'a temp'

This can be tricky. You want to stand out as a problem-solver whose expertise and enthusiasm doesn't threaten anyone else's sense of job security. You want to fit in without getting enmeshed in the client company's internal politics. You want to feel relaxed and confident while exuding a professional demeanor. You can do all these things, but it takes practice. Start with having a genuine interest in the client and assignment, and showing it by asking thorough questions before you begin work. Follow up by getting along with everyone and keeping everything professional, not personal.

Learn names quickly and properly

As you initially get the assignment details, find out who your resources are going to be - who will sign your timesheet, who will cover for you on break, who will you sort mail for, and so on. Commit the names and functions to paper, and then memorize them. Get into the habit of using first names to help people feel at ease with you, and use titles or salutations if that is what the environment requires.

Do excellent work within the framework of the environment

You might find the work boring, but do quality work anyway. Work steadily and thoroughly to eliminate mistakes. Bundle similar tasks so you work smarter rather than harder. Ask to do extra work, but don't press it if no one bites - some client employees feel threatened if someone else asks to help with their work. Offer your expertise when it seems warranted, like tips on software that is familiar to you, but don't get pulled into taking over workloads unless you get the assignment extended and your salary upgraded to match the your expanded responsibilities.

Use your time wisely

You'll often find you have downtime, perhaps because the assignment wasn't well thought out, or some key contact is at lunch and you can't begin without them. Be sure to get a feel for the client's opinion on handling slow time; some clients want you to do nothing rather than misuse their resources, while others want you to look busy even if you are surfing the Internet. In all cases, exhaust all career-enhancing options first, such as learning client software or catching up on career resources.

Choose your friends wisely

It's easy to meet people on assignment, but it's equally easy to find yourself sucked into petty dramas or client politics. You don't want to do that, because in the end you have no safety net if something goes wrong. Be personable and genuine, but also a little removed. Be wary of fraternization. Even if it's a temp job, workplace romances often lead to misunderstandings and create drama that you don't want your temporary agency to pay for.


Carry a few business cards, copies of your resume, and a thank-you card or two. If you have the genuine chance to submit a resume (and it?s not against your temp agency's policy), you'll be prepared. You can leave a thank-you card (listing a few of your skills) with your client supervisor when you leave. This will help him remember who that terrific temp was who solved all his problems, and to request you to visit again - or perhaps stay permanently.

Developing a winning attitude, professional image, and realistic expectations for your place in the temp food chain can go a long way toward making you the first temp called on assignments and earning you pay upgrades. You can and should find ways to get the best out of every assignment opportunity, and to generate future opportunities for yourself. Above all, plan your temping strategy so that it empowers you and helps you advance your career efforts. Good luck!

About the author: L.J. Bothell is a graphic designer/writer with marketing communications emphasis who lives and temps/freelances in Seattle, Washington. Questions? Contact

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