Turning A Temp Job Into a Permanent Position

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by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

Temping can be a good opportunity in any economy. Job-seekers having difficulty finding permanent work in a recession can almost always turn to temping. And as many as 18 percent of temp jobs annually are converted to permanent jobs at the client firm, according to the American Staffing Association (ASA).

Although these temp-to-permanent leaps are said by the Economic Policy Institute to have been not as quick to materialize in the early 21st century because of the huge number of jobs created during the Clinton years, the staffing industry was characterized in the first part of 2004 as a “bright spot” in the employment market, reports the ASA Web site. Also noted on the site: “One analyst predicts that temporary help employment will increase by 9.3 percent this year. And longer term, the industry is expected to create more new jobs than any other.”

Employers that have been under hiring freezes in recessionary times frequently will not immediately look externally when vacancies finally open up — they will look at the temps who’ve already been working on the inside and whose work they already know.

Employment World calls temping “the single most productive strategy for finding a full-time job.” With the promise of temp-to-permanent opportunities in mind, we offer some tips to make you more marketable as a temp looking to convert your gig into a permanent position:

Pick your targets. First, find niche temp/staffing agencies that specialize in your field or industry (the ASA cites temping opportunities for virtually every occupation). The organization also reports that 90 percent of companies use temporary-help services, so temping can be a fantastic way to get your foot in the door at the company of your dreams. Writing on the CollegeRecruiter.com Web site, career expert Kevin Donlin describes the strategy of Chad Deckard, CEO of InfoGeneratorPRO.com, an Internet marketing consulting firm, when he first moved to Atlanta with no job prospects or contacts: “After I arrived in town, I pulled out the Yellow Pages and started calling temporary employment agencies. I asked them: ‘Who are your biggest clients?’ With that knowledge, I was able to pick the right agencies to get me into the companies I wanted to work for,” Donlin writes, quoting Deckard.

Make your wishes known. Let both your temp/staffing agency and the employer at which the agency has placed you know that you want to be considered for permanent employment. Let your employer know you like what you’re doing and would like to keep doing it. Once you’re established in your temping position and know you’re doing a good job, consider boldly coming right out and asking to be hired for a permanent job.

Realize that going permanent is a win-win-win for everyone. It’s a win for you, obviously. It’s a win for the employer because the organization is able to hire a known commodity, someone they know and trust and have seen in action. And your temp or staffing agency may also be a winner because it may gain a bonus from the employer if you are hired permanently.

Don’t think of yourself as a lowly temp. Being a temp is no reason to think of yourself as a second-class citizen and is certainly no reason to slack off and not do your best work. In fact, just the opposite is true. Here is your chance to shine and really show what you can do. In fact, the more you think of yourself as a permanent employee, the more your employer will as well. As Todd Anten writes on the Yahoo!Hotjobs site, “No one should be able to guess from the quality of your work that you’re a temporary worker.”

Realize that no task is beneath you. While you don’t want to be seen as the lowly temp, neither do you want to be like the newly minted MBA in the FedEx commercial who thinks he’s too good to help out with an emergency shipping project because of his lofty educational credentials. Be willing to do anything. Approach every project with a positive outlook and prove that you can be a valuable addition.

Think of your temping stint as an audition. Your temping gig is an opportunity for the employer to try you on for size. It’s hard to be “on” all the time, but for the most part, you’ll want to think of your temping time as one long, lollapalooza of a job interview. Be a superstar — keep smiling and projecting energy, enthusiasm, and amiability. And remember, the audition works both ways. You’re also trying out the employer. If you decide the organization isn’t what you thought it was, it’s best to cut your losses and be glad you didn’t get stuck with a long-term job there.

Go above and beyond. If you’ve finished your assigned tasks for the day, ask what else you can do to help. Arrive on time for work, if not early. Put in that extra effort. Exceed expectations. Don’t be overly eager to rush out the door at quitting time. Demonstrate that you have the outstanding work ethic and energy that employers drool over. Ask your supervisor how he or she likes having things done. Show how dependable you can be. They say no one is indispensable, but don’t let that stop you from trying to be the team member no one can imagine functioning without.

Look the part. Feeling like you’re not quite part of the workplace may tempt you to dress down, but don’t give in to that temptation. The saying is you should dress not for the job you want but for the job above the one you want. Thus, dress at or above the level at which you’re working. You’ll impress your employer with your professionalism.

Use your interpersonal skills to fit in. Half the battle in job-seeking is establishing rapport and having the right chemistry with the people you work with. Those considering hiring you for a permanent position will be looking at how well you fit in on the team and how well you interact with others. And watch what you say while temping. If you start trashing former employers and supervisors, you will make yourself quite unappealing as a permanent hire.

Be sure all your skills are known. Since temps are often assigned very specific tasks, your employer may not know what other talents you have to offer unless you reveal them. Look for opportunities to showcase your skills. Say a co-worker is trying to build a Web page, and you have Web-design skills. Ask if he or she could use your help.

Suggest ideas, but don’t get carried away. The employer you’re temping for will love it if you take the initiative to make suggestions — especially those that will boost the bottom line, such as ideas to increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Look for ways to cut costs, reduce waste, and save time. Show how you can add value. But be sure you and the employer are on the same page. Don’t take it upon yourself to implement your ideas without getting your supervisor’s OK.

Network, network, network. Temping is a terrific networking opportunity because you’re rubbing elbows with all kinds of people who have the opportunity to see what a valuable employee you are. Be prepared to dazzle — or at least meet — as many key people in the client company as possible — department heads, supervisors, executives, human-resources people, and others with influence.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Observe as much as you can about the organization in which you’re temping. Use this opportunity to thoroughly research the employer. Listen for talk about possible vacancies you might fill. Identify the organization’s needs and consider how you can fill them. Ask questions. You won’t annoy people by asking but rather will show your interest and enthusiasm. Take pains to understand the workings of the organization. Knowledge is power; the more you know about the employer, the better positioned you’ll be to leverage your temporary job into a permanent slot.

Don’t stay too long. Some experts suggest you shouldn’t stay in in temp job for more than a year. Certainly if you’ve been there a year and have asked for a permanent position without success, it’s probably time to move on — unless, of course, you truly enjoy the work.

If you’re not offered a permanent job when your temp assignment ends… Don’t despair; you’ll have other opportunities. In the meantime, ask for a reference and for referrals to job leads in your career field. Stay on good terms with the employer you temped for. You might even write a note when you leave thanking your boss for the opportunity. Then, keep in touch. Your supervisor is now a part of your network.

Final Thoughts on Temping As a Foot in the Door to Permanent Job

You can also try a job-hunting twist on the temp-to-perm idea with a technique suggested by Brian Krueger of CollegeGrad.com. Let’s say you’re cold-calling employers, and you’re told there are no openings. Krueger suggests asking if the employer has any projects that need doing. “Offer to work as a temp on these projects,” Krueger writes. If you can convince the employer to bring you on board to work on a project, you have thus created a temp spot without even going through a temp/staffing agency. The technique is especially effective during times of high unemployment Krueger notes, because “managers often have work that needs doing but lack the ability to hire.”

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen, PhD, QuintCareers.com Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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