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Unemployment Blues: The Value of Temporary Work

Aug 17, 2007
Although the job market has improved over the past year, many employers are still reluctant to make a long term commitment to growing their employee rolls until it is clear that a solid economic expansion is underway. They need new staff to handle the increase in orders and customer demands but are loath to hire permanent workers who may have to be cut in a few months if business stagnates. Any reduction in force carries major headaches for a company: employee morale falls, lawsuits arise, precious time is eaten up in non-productive meetings, and severance packages cut into narrowing profit margins.

Their solution is often to rely on temporary agencies to provide needed manpower without any precipitous long term commitment. It is estimated, by a well-regarded labor research group, that fully 25% of the jobs created during the past year have been temporary positions!

How can this work to your advantage?

Working for a temporary agency has some drawbacks but also a number of positive aspects.

The primary negative is the lack of investment in your future. While the hourly wage may be similar, or even better, than a permanent employee would receive, you remain on the periphery of the company's organization. Temps are often assigned the more routine tasks which require less intensive training. This makes it more difficult for your competence to be recognized. You are not seriously considered for promotional opportunities nor invited to advanced training or management classes.

It also has personal repercussions. You are uncertain how long you will be needed and tend to develop a strong sense of insecurity. After all, your contract could be terminated without warning through a quick telephone call to the agency. Because you want to minimize the emotional devastation of a sudden departure, you tend to avoid becoming too close to coworkers and perform your duties in something of a vacuum, one step removed from the camaraderie of the permanent work team.

All that being said, there are some pretty inviting advantages to exploring temporary assignments.

Within the framework of your long-term career goals, a temporary position nicely fills in that void on your resume caused by a lengthy period of unemployment. It demonstrates to a potential employer that you are an individual who is vested in being productive even under circumstances where your true talents are barely tapped.

Temporary agencies seldom require extensive background investigation so if there is a blip or two on your work or personal record, it will probably be overlooked. When a future permanent position presents itself, the more distant the blip, the less weight it will carry in the hiring decision.

Entering a workplace as a temp puts you in a very different framework than any mere applicant for work. You become privy to the company's ethics and philosophy so you can better determine if this is somewhere you would be interested in for permanent work. If you find the atmosphere comfortable, you will perform well. Assuming that the company is growing, and the local economic expansion continues, you are in an excellent position to be considered for permanent retention.

Many employers see temporary workers as individuals undergoing a lengthy interview. After weeks or months of good productivity, timeliness, consistent attendance, and reliability, you no longer present the risks attached to the hiring of new employees after only an hour or two of interviewing. Many agencies will let you know in advance that this is a "Temp to Perm" assignment, meaning that if you cut the mustard, you will be offered a permanent position.

On the other hand, if you find that company goals and procedures are at odds with your personal values, you can get out before any commitment is made. Since your employer is actually the agency, you can cut and run from any assignment without it impacting your work history. You take a different position through the same agency and your resume is unflawed by your decision to make a change.

Assuming that you are working in an industry of interest, temporary work provides an invaluable opportunity for networking. Make the effort to get to know your new coworkers and it is highly likely that they either know of opportunities in similar companies or know someone who has such inside information.

Finally, there is the old saw of "Everyone wants to hire you when you're working but no one is interested when you're unemployed." There is certainly a grain of truth in that rather cynical observation. No matter how bad the local economy may be, or how the effects of offshore job flight have affected your industry, there is always a little kernel of doubt in an interviewer's mind: what did you do wrong to lose your job? Could you possibly have been fingered because you were the weak link? Was the choice of you, over someone else, related to interpersonal or disciplinary problems that made you an easy target?

When you are actively working, even if only on a temporary basis, such doubts don't even enter an interviewer's mind. They are more concerned about whether you will be willing to make a change - a point of speculation that bodes well for you in a potential hiring situation.

If you are offered alternative permanent work, you are sitting in the proverbial catbird's seat. You can accept the position if you find it tempting. You can decline if you don't think it's a good fit, knowing that you still have your temp job to keep food on the table and allay that desperation of "I'll take anything" that sets in after a few months out of work.

And, finally, you have the option of going back to your temp work and letting your present boss know that you have been offered a position elsewhere that you are seriously considering. If the company likes you, let them negotiate a counter-offer and then go with the best opportunity for you.
About the Author
A Licensed Psychologist and Rehabilitation Counselor, Dr. Bola developed
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