As a shortcut around today's competitive job market, more and more savvy jobseekers are turning to staffing agency assignments as a way to get their foot in the door of prospective employers.
"Temporary agencies are a great resource in today's job market," contends temp worker Terry Lee of Sacramento. "I have worked for two temp agencies starting as early as 1985 and again in 2000."
He says companies primarily use temp agencies for two reasons: to fill an immediate staffing need and to see if a temporary employee fits with the company. If he or she matches what the company is looking for, the temporary job is converted to a permanent position.
Using this approach, some companies have eliminated their human resource departments and staff entirely through temporary agencies.
Voice of Experience
Lee has some tips for jobseekers: If you want to work for a specific company, learn if it uses a staffing agency - then contact that agency to get on file. In addition, Lee recommends finding out who is the placement specialist handling your specific area of expertise - accounting, administration, etc. - and talk to that person. That increases the chance of getting a quality assignment.
"My background is in manufacturing and I have seven temp agencies working with me right now," he explains. "Basically I made contact, told them I was available and to keep me in their tickler file. I also sent a resume."
He adds that agencies need to know what level of position you're willing to accept. Are you only interested in professional positions or will you accept an entry-level gig to pay the bills? Salary expectations should be discussed freely with the agency.
Lee says he calls the agencies about once a week to stay in touch. He says this is more important now because hiring is pretty quiet and temp agencies are inundated with people looking for work.
"I have gone into an open-ended job knowing it would only be for 60 days just to have the opportunity to network within that company for a permanent position," he explains. "It's part of my whole career search."
Opportunities on Call
Others have used temporary agencies as that first step down a career path.
"I came out of school at the time of the last recession in the 1980s and started with a temporary agency," explains David Walker, branch vice president of Accountants on Call in San Francisco. "I did a good job and apparently my employer thought
I was 'smarter than the average bear' so I got noticed. I also networked."
He says typically during downsizing and layoffs the temporary employee market is jumping - but in six months many companies will once again return to direct hiring.
"I am seeing clients [firms] who do not have the ability to hire now because of budget constraints and are using contractors to help with the work flow," he notes. "Employers aren't sure where the economy is going, so they are holding back on permanent hires."
Walker says many temporary workers don't understand it's important to go out of the way to be flexible, accommodating and to show they are good employees.
"If it's a monotonous filing job, do the best filing job in the company and you will get noticed," he urges. "Most important is to subtly network with people of authority; they can help you."
Melissa Roark, OfficeTeam branch manager in Oakland, agrees. "If a worker is sent through a service . . . they meet people in the company and have an inside opportunity to really show off their stuff and audition for the job."
She says she's been in the industry for twelve years, and many times a client is so pleased the company puts the temp on the payroll as a regular employee.
"Working is also a confidence booster for any jobseeker," Roark contends. "Most importantly, candidates are getting exposure to different companies where he or she might learn new software while keeping their skills sharp."
New Lease on Life
Two years ago, Diana Barnard of San Francisco was between jobs and growing desperate. "I didn't think I would survive, so I contacted a temp agency and they put me to work as a receptionist at a commercial real estate office," she recalls. "I did light typing, invoicing and accounts payable."
During her three-month assignment, she became comfortable with the company and its employees and discovered real estate was something she wanted to pursue as a career.
"It was an exciting, booming time for the real estate business, with scores of leases signed everyday," she says. "And I felt it was a more stable business to get into than the dot-com world."
Her high profile position as receptionist also got her noticed. "The president of the company relied on me for a lot because I was dependable," she says. "As a result, I was offered a permanent position at a salary of $10,000 more than my last job. In addition I was made assistant property manager of three large commercial properties in downtown."
Barnard contends employers are wary of hiring people just from a resume and one interview. They want to take people for a "test drive" to see how they work and interact with other employees.
"Temping is a real good idea," she affirms. "It's a good move for the employer and employee."
Here are some temp agency websites to get started: