Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Wednesday March 6th 2019

Unemployment blues: Value of temporary work (SD editorials)


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.

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2 Responses to “Unemployment blues: Value of temporary work (SD editorials)”

  1. Anon says:

    “While the hourly wage may be similar, or even better, than a permanent employee would receive” — you gotta be kidding. Only in US, never in S’pore.

    The only reason for someone in S’pore to take on temping is purely for survival, as there is no welfare, no unemployment insurance, no free medical in S’pore. Hourly rates are $7-$8 per hour at most. You not happy they tell you to get lost. They have thousands of A-level students, poly students, retrenched PMEs, and temping foreigners(!) willing to take your place.

    Moreover, while a temp in US or Oz is covered for medical and other benefits like paid leave etc, in S’pore temp workers are like construction workers — hourly rated and daily rated. You don’t turn up for work for whatever reason e.g. like your mother just died etc, you don’t get paid. You don’t have any worker rights, except for being paid (provided you don’t get complained by the company). And usually you get your pay only after 1-2 weeks after the month is over or the assignment is over.

    As for hiring managers seeing you in a positive light if you’re taking on temping as opposed to being unemployed, it’s a 50:50 thing. I’ve been on both sides and often it’s a case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t.

    I.E. If you’re temping, hiring managers in S’pore tend to think that you cannot make it, unable to get permanent employment. Coz everyone knows that temping pays peanuts in S’pore. So something must be wrong with you. Usually the younger hiring managers in their 30s or 20s will have this thinking.

    OTOH, if you remain unemployed after 2-3 months, many hiring managers will say that you’re choosy or lazy, and mentally write you off. Never mind if the temp job cannot even pay your bills. Usually the older managers in their 40s and 50s will think like this.

    • So sad says:

      I agree with most of your points. However, I have done temp jobs that are monthly paid i.e. I got the same salary per month no matter how many working days there are in a month & got to enojy public holidays as well. I have covered someone on maternity leave for 4 months & got paid leave as pro-rated becos I was there for > 3 months & according to company’s policy, I was entitled to paid leave after 3 months.

      My first temp job paid only $4.50 per hour many years ago. I heard that the job agency made a cut from our pay for commission. Nowadays, the rate is about $6.50 per hour. You will get above $7 per hour if you are lucky or if you work on weekends.

      Sometimes I will harbour hopes of being converted to perm, but unfortunately, not every temp is so lucky. And thus, it is always back to square one again. Interviewers will always have the impression that temps like to job-hop, but we are just doing it for survival and most of the time, we don’t seem to gain any useful skills to enhance our resume. Although I was a temp, but the effort that I have put in is no less than a perm staff. I have noticed some perm staff who are a bit lazy, but still got to keep their jobs. Nobody seem to appreciate the help a temp gives, yet a temp is not entitled to many benefits.

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