Temping Your Way to a Career Change: Using Temp Jobs to Break into New Career Field

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by Maureen Crawford Hentz

Temping is often regarded as a stop-gap income-producing strategy until a “real job” can be found. For those considering a career change, however, temping can be an extremely effective way to break into a field. It’s important, however, to understand that the best way to use temp experiences is intentionally. Sure, you can file and photocopy in some back office all alone — but you can also structure your experience to serve your career change well. Here are some suggestions:

The Temp Firm

Choose the Right One: I highly recommend that you work with a temp agency that offers specialty placements. Want to break into accounting but have only a few accounting classes? Try affiliating with a temp firm that serves clients with financial accounting needs. All of their placements will be financially-related, which is a great way to get some experience in various aspects of the financial field. Similarly, HR and IT specialty firms can be your ticket into the field. There is nothing wrong with working as a filing photocopying phone-answering temp, but it may be significantly more difficult to transition to another role in the company.

Understand How Temp Firms Make Money: Temp firms make some money on your placement, but the real money comes in their reputation, word of mouth referrals, and placement fees for conversion to permanent. Your temp placement officer doesn’t work for you. He or she works for the company that needs help. He or she wants to place the best possible candidate with the client. His or her goal is to make the client happy – so happy that clients refer others to the service. In temp-to-perm firms, the agency receives a conversion bonus if the client decides to hire you full-time.

Talk to Your Placement Officer: Let your placement officer know that you are looking to change careers and would like to gain exposure to certain fields. Building rapport with your placement officer goes far. The more he or she knows about you, the better fit hr or she can find — for the client company. But, good fit for the client can also be a good fit for you. Emphasize your transferable skills and your flexibility. Remember, the placement officer is working for the client and wants to make the client very happy. Just out of college or seasoned employee, let her know what kinds of fields are interesting to you.

The Placement

Do The Job Required: I once inherited a temp who had aspirations of moving beyond her current placement. She was a receptionist in a busy office. She was quite clear that she wanted to leave the receptionist tasks quickly and move up to better things. The only problem was that we really needed a receptionist — that’s why we hired her. She had taken it upon herself to correct student resumes and hand them back. As an English major she was confident she was qualified to perform this function. As a staff, we were equally confident she was not. She didn’t last too much longer.

Treat Your Position as One Long Informational Interview: In addition to doing the job assigned, consider yourself to be on one long informational interview. Ask questions, talk to your supervisor, observe business processes. As a temp, you have an invaluable opportunity to research the inner workings of corporate/non-profit/healthcare/sports management/culinary arts operations. Make sure you transition from “the temp” to “Aurora the college graduate looking to break into advertising.” Again, you may be trading a fine line, but observation is the most valuable strategy at your disposal. There is less pressure on the employer if he or she knows that you are interested in the field as a whole — not necessarily in the next opening in his division.

Attend Every Available Event and Training Opportunity: If the company offers brown-bag lunches or seminars, ask if you can use your lunch hour to attend. Generally, internal events such as these are, well, internal. Take advantage of your insider status to learn more about the field. Optional events? Go. Drinks after work with the office gang? Go. Take very opportunity to learn about the company and industry.

Searching for even more career-change advice? Check out all the tools, tips, and resources in our Job & Career Resources for Career Changers.

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.

Maureen Crawford Hentz Regular QuintZine contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz is manager of talent acquisition, development and compliance for OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc., a Siemens company. She is a nationally recognized expert on social networking and new media recruiting. With more than 15 years of experience in the recruiting, consulting and employment areas, her interests include college student recruiting, disabilities in the workplace, business etiquette, and GLBT issues. Crawford Hentz has been quoted by The New York Times, NewsDay, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio, among others. In addition to her work for QuintZine, she is a contributor to the Boston.com HR blog. She conducts workshops, keynotes and conference sessions nationally. Crawford Hentz holds a master of arts degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, and a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from The American University, Washington, DC. She lives outside Boston, MA.

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