Surviving the World of Temping

In today’s economy most families cannot survive on one income alone. Nothing drove this point home more than when my friend Julie called me one afternoon in tears. She had been fired from a job she hated. Her husband has a pretty good job but they still needed her income. Even though going to work each day at this particular job mad her feel queasy, she had to do it. Not sure of what to do next Julie finally decided to call a temp agency.

Many women today take this step after being fired, laid off, after graduation from college or as a re-entry point into the workforce. One of the best benefits of going this route is a person can take a variety of jobs to find out what they like and what they don’t like. These jobs can last a few days to a few weeks or even a few months. Temp jobs can be helpful in paying the bills while at the same time allowing a person to take their time to hunt for their dream job. In many ways, the world of temping can be a positive experience at a rather rough time in someone’s career.

Another great side to temping is the ability to “try out” a job before you accept it. Some temporary assignments can lead to full-time permanent jobs. A company may request a temp when they have a position opening. They may interview others at their leisure and at the same time they may choose to keep the temp after the contract expires. This is like a two-way on-the-job interview because both the company and the temp can get a feel for each other. When the contract ends the company can offer the position if they wish or they can simple say, “thank you for all of your hard work” and part ways. This also gives the temp a chance to see if she likes the job before an offer for a full-time position is offered to them.

If you decide temping in right for you there are many things you should keep in mind as you enter the temping world. Not all temp companies are created equal so don’t be afraid to research a particular agency before signing up. You may need to sign up with more than one company to keep busy. This will largely depend on what type of work you want, your experience and skill level and where you live. Each company will test you on your skills, review your resume and contact your references. Then you wait. Hopefully you will soon be receiving offers for work.

This is where it gets tricky. When Julie got her first call she forgot to ask some important questions. The first offer she received was a reception position at a sales company. This company sells building materials for landscaping and other exterior uses. Their busy season is during the summer months and they needed extra help at the reception desk. Julie was told she would be answering phones and doing some light office work. They told her the job was a week or two in duration so they would have time to find and hire permanent help. Julie really wasn’t looking for a front desk job but she figured she could handle it for a week or two until they hired someone else.

Sounds good right? I wish I could say it turned out that way. What Julie’s temp agency did not tell her was that she was just the latest in a long string of unsuspecting temps to accept a job that no one on the planet would want to have. The company itself was wonderful but the woman she would be working with was another story all together. Perhaps if they had told Julie what to expect she would have been better prepared to deal with that would come next.

One week stretched into two with not one person coming in to interview for the position, which left her supposedly short assignment stretching into its third week. Julie was, during this time, berated and belittled by her coworker but felt strongly that she should stick it out and finish the assignment. She was often left baffled by the actions of this woman and completely frustrated. After several calls to her temp agency Julie got the feeling they did indeed know what was going on with this company, they had just neglected to tell her. What Julie did not know until it was too late was that the working conditions were so hideous they couldn’t keep anybody in the position for more than a few days or weeks and that it had been a revolving door for different temps for quite a while.

If you ask Julie now she would tell you “to be a temp and maintain any sense of self-respect, you have to have a backbone. You have to be able to say no, otherwise you will find yourself driving your own car to the bosses’ house and cleaning out her garage or something equally horrifying.” There is a difference between being a flexible team player and being a total doormat. When her hours kept getting longer and longer and her responsibilities no longer even remotely matched what she was originally told, she stuck it out but was counting the days until she could leave. She kept bending over backwards to accommodate each new development that was tossed her way but her resentment was building. The company finally hired another girl to fill the position and Julie was free to go.

Just a few weeks after this assignment ended Julie received another call from her temp agency begging her to go back. The sweet, timid girl the company had hired did not last long. They told her it would be “just a few days this time” and they also told her the company loved her and was requesting her. Julie really needed the money and thought she could handle it for a few more days, so she accepted. This time the job passed pretty uneventfully because the coworker who had given her so much grief was on vacation. When the company called her yet again for the same job, she reluctantly accepted. Her agency hadn’t gotten her any other jobs and she was pressed financially into going back yet again. This would prove to be her very last time temping for this particular company.

Julie again found herself working with the co-worker from hell. This time the woman decided to take her frustrations out on Julie and the fax machine. The woman declared that she was quitting and she didn’t care who heard her. She spent most of one day faxing out her resume and berating Julie in a passive-aggressive way under her breath. Julie wanted nothing more than to hide under her desk and cry.

The final straw for Julie ended up being the issue of having time to use the restroom. If Julie asked for a few minutes to use the restroom she was treated to a speech about work ethics and attitude problems. One particular day Julie really needed to use the restroom. There are certain times when a woman just has to use the restroom and we really don’t want to, nor should we have to, spell it out for someone. Julie told her coworker she was off to the restroom and returned three minutes later to find her coworker on the phone with the human resources department complaining about her. When she got off the phone she threatened to start docking Julie’s pay for her restroom trips and berated her again, accusing her of having an attitude problem. Apparently one restroom break mid-morning and one mid-afternoon was just too much.

That night Julie called her temp agency and left them a long message and told them she was not going back. They called her the following morning trying to persuade her otherwise. They tried to make her feel guilty for weaseling out on the assignment before the agreed-upon end and feigned ignorance over the real nature of the job and this horrible woman. She did return the following Monday with the promise that the evil coworker would not be there. Thankfully she wasn’t and that was Julie’s last day there. She later found out she was entitled to two 15-minute breaks each day in addition to her lunch break. She figured the company owed her for 13 hours of breaks she didn’t get to take. The coworker knew it all along.

Julie has gone on to some great temp jobs since this experience. The biggest lesson she learned was that she needs to be vigilant in asking for more information about her assignments. She has also learned to know what is expected of her before she begins an assignment and to know exactly what she gets in return. She knows when she can take her breaks and for how long and she makes sure she gets them. She also learned that she should be flexible and accommodating but she should also be sure to stand up for herself in extreme cases. There is a difference between doing what needs to be done and being bullied by a coworker. She has also learned that if a job does not go well, she should do everything she can to complete her assignment but under no circumstances should she accept another assignment for that same company.

Though temp jobs as bad as Julie’s are rare you may at one time find yourself in her position. Immediately call your temp agency and let them know what is happening. Chances are they know it’s a tough assignment and they may have some advice for you. If the assignment is short term it may be in your best interest to stick it out and complete it. If it is a long-term job ask your company to find a replacement for you as soon as possible. Remain cool, be responsible and be flexible but don’t become a casualty.

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