Life After Temping: How to Portray Your Temping Experience When You Seek a Permanent Career

Printer-Friendly Version

by Katharine Hansen Ph.D.

If you’ve built up your resume by temping how do you portray your temping background during your job search for permanent employment? How do you handle your temping experience on your resume and in interviews?

It is possible to become pigeonholed as a temp and to be viewed as someone who can’t or won’t hold down a long-term job. That’s what happened to long-time temp Cecelia Hittle who says she has been frequently asked in interviews “why haven’t you landed permanent employment?” Explaining that she did temp work when her children were young she says “I did this style of work to give me experience and flexible scheduling.” After divorcing she found a permanent employer. “They were the first place that saw my diverse background as an asset. I was in heaven” Hittle recalls.

But Hittle was downsized from that company and now laments “I am once again caught in the temp world loop seeking regular full-time employment. As I have gotten older and the market has changed I find I am caught in a temp cycle.”

Career counselors say deft portrayal of temp work on your resume and in interviews is the way to avoid getting caught in the temp cycle. The approaches for a resume fall into several schools of thought listed in bold type below:

List your experience based on the client companies you worked for not the temp or staffing agency that hired you.

Many career counselors say you should acknowledge the role of the temp or staffing agency but list as your main employers the companies for whom you actually did the work.

QuintZine regular contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz favors a resume listing like this:

Assistant Total Renal Laboratories DeLand FL
Temporary placement via Kelly Temps March 2000 to present.

“The important thing is to ensure that lots of small-duration jobs that are temp jobs don’t give the wrong impression to sloppy resume reviewers” says Hentz who is associate director for the visitor experience and manager volunteer programs and internships for the New England Aquarium.

On the other hand some experts advise avoiding the word “temporary” altogether. “I would not highlight the word ‘temporary’ so much as I would argue that a ‘temp’ job is really not much more temporary than a lot of supposedly ‘permanent’ jobs these days” suggests Janet Scarborough of “I favor this format:”

Assistant Total Renal Laboratories (Kelly Services) DeLand FL March 2000 to present.

Adds Hentz: “For a temp-to-perm placement I am in favor of it looking something like this:”

Assistant Total Renal Laboratories DeLand FL
March 2000 to present. Temporary placement via Kelly Temps; hired full time by TRL June 2000.

Shorter-term temp assignments can be listed under the temp agency.

Length of time in a given temping assignment is an important determinant in how the assignment is portrayed on the resume.

“Since it is important to show consistency in a work history and if possible at least a year in residence at each employer I recommend listing the work for temp services based on a variety of factors” notes Lyn Hood of Cabrillo College. Hood’s advice:

“If the jobs have been very brief but employment through the temp service or services has been steady I might list [this way]:”

1999-2001 Manpower Temporary Services San Jose CA
Product Testing and Quality Assurance for a variety of high-tech companies including Variotech Micromechanical Veriwire and Marcoware. Received excellent performance reviews etc. etc…

Multiple short temp assignments can be grouped together if appropriate.

Advises Hentz: “I’ve occasionally recommended that people do a temp section on their resume like this:”

Kelly Temps Phoenix AZ. March 2000-present. Various temping assignments for companies in need of skills in word-processing PowerPoint databases and reception of visitors. Placements included:
–New England Aquarium
–Arizona State University Office of Residence Life
–Tempe Women’s Clinic
–Phoenix Digital Technology

Agrees Hood: “If the work history has been very sporadic then there are other issues to deal with but you may just wish to list as ‘related’ work history rather than as a comprehensive list.

You may not need to list all or any of your temp jobs.

“I don’t recommend listing all temp jobs on the resume unless they are directly related to the position for which the client is applying” notes Gale Montgomery career development coordinator at Simpson College and Graduate School.

You may also get to the point where you have enough experience to list on your resume that you no longer need to list your temp jobs. List them only if they help you sell yourself your skills and your accomplishments.

A functional or chrono-functional resume may be the best approach for frequent temps.

“A functional-chronological resume would allow the person to list the knowledge skills and abilities of the temp work without listing all of the temp assignments Montgomery says. “The cover letter can explain that the resume reflects only the relevant skills and abilities and/or some of the knowledge skills and abilities were acquired through a variety of temporary assignments.”

Professional resume writer Deb Dib agrees. “Here’s an idea if there are a lot of temp jobs. It prevents the ‘laundry list’ look that can happen when there are rows and rows of jobs and dates. Also makes the resume more readable and understandable. Use a format that combines jobs by function” says Dib who is president of Advantage Resumes of New York. Dib offers this example:

Systems Design:
Jobs through (list temp company or companies) including work as (list titles) with companies including (list companies). Fourteen months 2000 to Present

Y2K Remediation:
Jobs through (list temp company or companies) including work as (list titles) with companies including (list companies). Fifteen months 1998 to 2000

Project Management:
Jobs through (list temp company or companies) including work as (list titles) with companies including (list companies). Twenty months 1998 to Present

(You can read more about functional resumes in our article Should You Consider a Functional Resume?)

Make the most of your temp experience on your resume.

Describing how she set up her own resume long-time temp Karen Hartman who now works in career counseling says: “I would list the different experiences that I had that I felt were marketable. I would list any (1) accomplishments with positive results anything I did that was (2) above and beyond what was called for in my temp position and any (3) new skills that I had learned. I would focus on the depth and breadth of my experiences to give a well-rounded idea of my future capabilities.” Similarly Jane Grogan of Career Match Inc. advises her clients to compose “an accomplishment bullet for each company the person was assigned to.”

Experienced temp Devorah Shoal makes a point of listing nationally recognized firms she’s temped for.

Resumes of those who’ve deliberately made a professional career out of temping need special handling.

“Some full-time workers at the professional level — systems analysts and software testers come to mind — have numbers of short-term jobs that are not exactly temp who might better be served by a functional-style resume rather than job-by-job” observes Phil Hey professor of English and writing at Briar Cliff College. “In that event their role might be headlined and the short-term worksite would be subordinated.”

Agrees Hentz: “I think it’s important that if people are doing professional temping (i.e. Accountemps financial people lawyers CPAs etc…) that it is distinguished from the ‘regular’ connotation of temping (i.e. answering the phones filing etc…). That might look something like this:”

Accountant placed by Kelly Temps Phoenix AZ. March 2000-present. Various professional assignments for companies in need of short-term financial staff. Placements included:
–New England Aquarium
–Arizona State University Office of Residence Life
–Tempe Women’s Clinic
–Phoenix Digital Technology

Take advantage of your temping experience in interviews.

In interviews be completely upbeat and positive about your temping experience. Make your broad and diverse background a selling point. You might have occasion to explain the circumstances under which you temped but frame those circumstances in positive terms. Don’t say you were so desperate for a paycheck that you were forced to temp. Instead say you wanted to develop your skills and experience corporate culture before seeking permanent employment.

Be sure to read Temping Offers a Way to Build Your Resume — and Much More.

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 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) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

Temping Resources! Have you checked out all of our Temping Tools Advice Strategies and Resources for Job-Seekers Career-Changers Temp Workers?

Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index which enables site visitors to locate articles tutorials quizzes and worksheets in 35 career college job-search topic areas.