Temp agency work sometimes necessary, always sucks

Try to keep up, Granny, we're on page 5. And you're the one that's going to die if we have a fire.

Stay with the group, Granny! You're the one who's going to die if there's a fire.

Temp agencies provide a valuable service – short-term work for employees and companies that need the flexibility. Some also offer basic job training and health insurance, and can keep their best people gainfully employed week to week. Certain assignments even lead to full-time jobs, usually administrative positions that no one really wants. Some agencies will quibble over hourly rates and sell out a temp to any client that comes along. After all, it’s really all about money to them; people are just interchangeable bodies. Go to a temp cattle call sometime to get the full effect. It’s demoralizing, like recess, when the cool kids don’t pick you for their team, even though you know they’re not cool and the game isn’t fun anyway.

Temping is an option to explore after exhausting your unemployment benefits, not before. It won’t yield much more than collecting the government’s free money. And you theoretically have to work. Still, temp agencies can be a safety net for the unemployed who find themselves in a bind. They serve a valuable short-term purpose. Be careful though, perceived desperation can make people do silly things – things they don’t have to do – like taking a bad job even though a better one will be along shortly. Ms. Right Now sometimes masquerades as Ms. Right. When you’ve loved and lost like Normy has, the difference becomes obvious, in hindsight anyway.

The first time I temped was to make some extra money. I was living in suburban Maryland near DC and DJing four to five nights a week. The plan was to move to New York City within a year and become a music industry bigwig, so I needed to save a little. I signed up for a temp company that placed me with a computer contractor working at the corporate office of a major hotel chain, one with heirs that don’t do porn. (These days I believe you can specify your preference on the initial application.) I was part of a team that updated software for the Y2K switch. The work was excruciatingly boring, but the t-shirt they gave me to wear while handing out flyers to employees made it all worthwhile. It carries a big “2000” and sports one of the worst corporate names ever. I still wear it to the gym sometimes, and start conversations with people about the coming apocalypse.

This second phase of the assignment was to update computers in various hotels. I was retained in a project coordinator role, scheduling technician visits at properties around the country. After a few weeks, my boss was fired and the project was put on hold. But Wendell – the jolly, fat guy who talked about church a little too much – and I were kept around in case the project started back up. It never did. And there was nothing for us to do except show up and sit at our desks. Ass picking was optional. I taught myself Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint from tutorials, since I had been away from computers and not exposed to all the newfangled stuff (like screens that weren’t green). I built a database for my CDs; I wrote a short story. Once a week, Wendell and I wandered to another part of the building and asked a random manager to sign our time sheets. They always did, and we always got paid.

Eventually the assignment ended, probably because some big wig somewhere got around to reading a memo and picking up a phone. It only took about four months. I was moved to another field office. The opportunity for me to move into a fulltime position existed, but I wasn’t interested. A desk job with a computer contractor wasn’t in my plans. So I either quit or was let go. The answer to this great question is lost to the ages. But the temping experience worked out well in the end. I banked more than enough for my move, worked very little and picked up some useful skills. Onward and upward, or at least sideways.

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5 Comments

  1. Tim wrote:

    I totally agree with on the issue of Temp. Agencies. I have used various types. Some good, so horrible. Once or twice it lead to a very good paying job. Now, I am a blue collar working guy, and i have been laid off some months ago, temp agencies seem my best bet. Lately, though, there seems to be a huge influx of the unemployed, i.e. like me. I think it is saturating even the temp. Agencies, perhaps all over the country. I curious about your thoughts on that. Tnanks Norm.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  2. Norm wrote:

    I haven’t temped in about 7 years, so I’m not up on the temping climate. But with all the layoffs and the climbing unemployment, I think people are flocking to temp agencies. But how much work do temp agencies have? On one hand, their clients are cutting back on stuff that’s not absolutely necessary. On the other hand, those same clients still need people to do work, especially after they’ve laid people off. Don’t get me wrong, if you need money now, you should try temp agencies. I would sign up for multiple agencies. Just set up a bunch of meetings, and spend a couple of days going in, filling out paperwork and taking the tests. Then call all of them everyday and see who gets you work. It may lead to something. I had one temp assignment lead to a job. And at the time, it worked out really well. I’ll be posting about it sometime soon. Good luck.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink
  3. I’m finding that most temp agencies since 9/08 are pretending that everything is fine with their contractors by still asking about availability but never responding with assignments.

    I would love to get an email blast announcing the truth about the impact the economic downturn is having on their business instead of chirpy blather about how great things continue to be.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Norm wrote:

    In my experience, temp agencies act earnest and honest to your face and then do whatever’s best for them. Worse than not caring about me is then lying to me about it.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  5. Tori Jones wrote:

    Temping should only be a last resort. Temps are treated unfairly, and your assignment can end any given moment. One slip up, and you are gone. Or it might even be someone at the client company doesn’t like you, for any trivial reason, then you are gone. You have more job security working in a fast food restaurant or retail. Temping should only be considered if you can’t get a job at McDonald’s. I am serious.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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