No Money, No Job and No Job Offers. How to Land and Keep a Temp. Job That Will Keep You afloat.

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I earned a Master’s Degree, applied for jobs for three years, finally landed one in a medical editorial office, only to have the funding, and thus the job, discontinued after four years.

I had a kid to support and this was no joke.

I took the summer off and collected unemployment. In September, I began applying for other jobs.

Nothing happened.

Unemployment ran out.

Still no job.

What next?

Say hello to the temporary, aka temp., industry.

A temporary job is better than none.

I had no idea what to expect.

I updated my resume, took the prerequisite tests, (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), filled-out paper work, and left the agency with a set of instructions. They advised me to read things over carefully and call if I had any questions. I wasn’t sure my skill set was up to par with those of professional admins., nee secretaries. My previous job was as a manager/editorial assistant, so it had been a few years.

But as it turned out, I had plenty of skills.

I wanted a job in downtown Boston, to work with a nice group of people, and have an easy commute. This was non-negotiable. I was spoiled from my last job, but if you don’t put it out there and say what you want, you won’t get it.

I preferred the healthcare industry, but was open to others as long as I could not dread going to work every day. Yes, I’d had those jobs, too. I’d worked in both finance and law and they hadn’t gone well, so other than those, I was willing to try anything.

After my first assignment, I was convinced I was a genius.

I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my typing speed, transcription accuracy, or software expertise that established me as an ‘in demand’ temp. These skills were necessary, of course, but landing and keeping even a temporary assignment requires more. I believe it was people skills, common sense, and courtesy that kept me afloat for several months with a job to go to every day.

When it comes to most situations, I found that the golden rule, “do unto others,” fit the equation perfectly.

Here are a few things that helped me land and keep top-notch, long-term temporary assignments, including a stint at Harvard University.

Apply to Multiple Agencies.

I had one agency in particular that was my bread and butter for months at a time. It’s the adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket and having a back-up, so I did. Keep it fresh and try something new. Different agencies also have different pay scales. Some weeks you might even have a choice of assignments.

Ask for the bottom line.

Temp. jobs pay a fraction of what a regular job does. This is in part due to the agency fee. Decide what your minimum is so that it’s worth your while. Calculate costs such as transportation and child care and determine the bottom line. Earning only a part of your normal salary is okay, but paying to go to work is not.

Be Dependable.

Arrive work on time. The work day can’t begin until you get there. You’re doing this on a trial basis and can move on, but this is someone’s livelihood. Don’t keep them waiting. If you can’t get there on time, call your agency and so they can let the client know.

Dress Professionally.

In most of today’s office environments, unless you have a client-facing position, professional/casual dress is acceptable. This mean no jeans, sneakers, or t-shirts. If you wear leggings wear a long, neat shirt or sweater over them. You’re not going out to a club or meeting your friends for a drink. This is serious, so dress seriously.

Say Yes to the Mess.

Oftentimes you’ll be walking into a situation where someone quit and left a load of unfinished work, aka, a mess. Clients would always ask first if I could help them clean it up. They were grateful that I always said yes and gave it a go. Saying yes indicates you are curious and willing. That’s a big plus.

Organize the mess and you can usually figure it out what to do next. Have a little faith in yourself. Even if it’s not exactly what they wanted, chances are you’ve saved someone a lot of work and time.

BUT, if you’re really stumped, let them know.

Be Personable.

Acknowledge your temporary fellow co-workers. Saying “good morning” and “good night” goes a long way. Greet people with a smile. You don’t have to become best friends, just a co-worker who they feel they can approach.

Phone Skills.

This was probably the biggie. The way you answer the phone and how you communicate with a caller is something employers take seriously.

You may be the first contact of a potential client or customer. Ask an employer how s/he wishes you to answer the phone and then do it professionally. If you need to take a message, read it back for accuracy. Deliver the message as soon as possible, either by hand or e-mail.

If you are delivering a handwritten message, make sure your writing is legible. Print as opposed to writing in script if you need to.

Learn how to transfer calls, then write the instructions on a post-it note for quick reference. Employers are sensitive about lost calls as the caller might not call back.

And here’s something that worked especially well for me: if it’s important, make every effort to find the person for the caller. I temped for a company where information was time-sensitive, so I often tracked people down. They thought I was a God!

Or should I say Goddess?

Can I help you?

If you find yourself with some down time, ask around to see if anyone else needs help. Again, you’re demonstrating team spirit.

Office Politics.

Don’t get involved. If the gossip starts, exit the scene. One of the things I loved about being a temp. was the fact that I didn’t have to deal with people’s personal problems or relationships. Keep it that way. If it becomes too much, the time might be right to move on to another assignment.

It took over a year to find a permanent, full-time position. I worked in healthcare, education, transportation, insurance, consulting, and even a dental school. No matter where I went, I was welcomed. I can’t recall one place where I was treated badly. Sure, there were personalities that didn’t jive with mine, but overall it reassured me of people’s innate goodness.

And I made some great contacts.

A temporary job is a good way to see if you really want to work for a company long-term.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could give all our jobs test runs? I don’t know about you, but there were several I wouldn’t have taken if I’d been given even a day to try them out. It includes the one I have now.

But that’s a story for another day.

Thanks for reading.

Written by

Marilyn is a writer, yogi, and spiritual medium. Her favorite people are animals, especially ones that meow. She loves the ocean and hates one-use plastic.

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