Getting Professional Experience Through a Temp Agency

Experience, Experience, Experience! That’s what you’ll hear when you ask the best way to prepare for a job after graduation. Most people will tell you to get as many internships as you can. However, many advisers and students overlook one avenue because of its bad reputation.

People generally believe temp workers get little pay and do grunt work for companies who don’t care about them. Today, that’s simply not true. Temp work is a great way for college students to get the flexibility they can use, the extra income they want, and the experience they need. According to the American Staffing Association, workers earn an average of $10 or more per hour, in some instances more than their permanent counterparts. Temp positions are available in many fields, including health care, business, and computers, and you set your own schedule.

There are four ways temping can help put you on the path to a permanent job:

1. Use temp jobs to make job contacts directly with companies in your field. Making job contacts is imperative in today’s job market. You will need something to make you stand out in the pile of resumes employers receive each day. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, nearly 45% of employers will hire less college grads this year than in past years.

To compound this quandary, the economy is bad, and experienced workers are looking for jobs too. According to the U.S. Dept of Labor, the national unemployment rate was 6.0% in April, 2003, an increase of nearly 2.5% from the same month 2 years ago. So not only will you have to compete against your co-grads, but also against older, more experienced workers. The only way to compete is to get experience, and one way to get that experience is temp work.

You can also use the temp agency’s vast resources to make job contacts. Meagan Kelly, a temp service representative for Westaff in Iowa City, IA, says, “If we have an excellent candidate we will market them to clients, and they can hire them from us for a fee.”

2. Use temp jobs to help you get internships. It can be difficult to get internships if you have no experience in your field. Some students have trouble getting paid internships without unpaid experience, but it’s hard to get unpaid internships without other unpaid internships. This is where temping comes in. If you can get a temp position at a company in your field, they will recognize your name when you interview for an internship, and you will have a slight advantage over the competition, especially if you did a good job when you temped there.

Ed Crowell, a former temp worker said, it isn’t difficult to do a good job either. “A minimum of showing up will get you a good review,” he said. “. . . that’s all their after.” Ed temped over summer break, in the mailroom of a large corporation in Kansas City, MO, when he was an undergraduate. He’s currently a law student at the University of Iowa.

“If you approach a company who has an opening for summer and tell them that you would like to use it as an internship, about 90% of our clients would be willing to call it that,” Kelly said.

3. Use temp agencies to set you up with a company who wants to hire a permanent employee. Nearly 75% of workers gain permanent employment while working as a temp. This can work one of three ways.

First, the temp agency can connect you directly with a company who seeks to hire a permanent employee. Molly (who prefers to be identified by first name only), a Manpower representative in Iowa City, IA, said, “If a company calls and wants a plant manager, we would collect resumes and submit them for a sourcing fee.”

Second, you can temp-to-hire. “Companies are looking to get a feel for people,” says Kelly. Companies who are looking to hire a full time employee often use temp services to hire employees on a trial basis, kind of like a probation period. “If a person performs well, they could be hired,” she said.

Third, similar to the other ways to use temp experience to your advantage, if you’ve temped or interned at a company, they will recognize your name when you apply for a full time job. You may even have a personal contact who can put in a good word for you.

4. Become a full time temp. You will be at the top of the list for jobs by the time you graduate if you start temping part time while you’re still in school. Many people don’t take temping seriously. Prove that you’re reliable, and you will get called for jobs first. Then, if you find yourself in a position where you’re about to graduate and don’t have a job lined up, you can call your agency representative, and set up enough temp jobs to keep you busy. But you’ll also have the flexibility to look for other work.

Workers who find that they need flexibility for family responsibilities, or other non-work related activities can work when, where, and however they want. “Temp jobs last anywhere from one day to a year, but most are around 90 days,” says Molly. You can design a work schedule to fit your individual needs. While this may not be a great option for some because it doesn’t offer benefits like health insurance, paid vacation time, or sick leave, others are willing to make that trade in order to pay the rent. Even though temp agencies do not offer paid vacations, you will still have the opportunity to take time off from work since it’s you, not the company that sets your schedule.

Temping in college provides many opportunities to get experience and exposure with companies that you will likely apply to when you graduate. To get your foot in the door, you will need an advantage, and temping can provide one.

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