What are Temp Agencies, and Why Should You Sign Up With One?

Many people don't use temp agencies because they either don't know what temp agencies are or think they should be able to find a job on their own. In my experience, temp agencies are a great resource for simplifying your job search. They are particularly useful for students, recent grads, people who have just gotten started in their careers, and people who want to change jobs--that is, they can benefit almost anyone.

A temp agency is a company that helps match people seeking work with open positions at companies. They keep a running list of available positions along with a running list of available workers, and they quite often know about openings that are not known to the general public. When the agency finds a match, you'll get a phone call telling you about the job and asking if you're interested. Temp agencies offer temporary jobs, temp-to-hire jobs (where you'll work for a company on a trial basis with the possibility of securing a permanent position later on), and direct hire jobs (where you'll immediately be hired as a full-time employee).

If you're new in town, you probably won't have much of a network to help you in your job search. Temp agencies can be the contact you don't have. They've reviewed your resume, met you, interviewed you, and tested your basic skills, so when they introduce a company to you, you'll have the same kind of credibility you would otherwise get from having a contact at that company.

If you're currently employed but want to change jobs, it can be difficult to find the time to look around when you're already working 40+ hours a week. Letting a temp agency do the legwork for you will save you lots of time and energy.

If you're a college or even high school student, temp agencies can help you find more useful and significantly better paying work than you'll find at the mall. There are plenty of office jobs out there that don't require college degrees, and it's easy to find jobs that will fit with your summer vacation schedule. If you're new to the work force, whether you're a student, recent grad, or stay-at-home mom turned empty-nester, temp agencies can help you land a good job despite your limited resume.

No matter what your situation, signing up with a temp agency can be a great way to get your foot in the door at a company you would otherwise not have access to. As a temp, I've worked for a variety of companies including a law firm, a graphic design startup, a prominent commercial real estate company, and a major financial services company. I would not have had the credentials to get jobs at any of these companies, nor would I have known that they had openings, without going through a temp agency.

Though I went into these companies as a temporary worker getting paid $12 an hour to do menial tasks like filing, each of these companies wanted to hire me full-time after they were able to observe my work ethic and intellect firsthand. Some companies offered me lowly starting positions that had plenty of room to grow; others offered me lowly starting positions that were dead ends; and others offered me surprisingly substantial positions that had nothing to do with filing or making copies. A temp agency will not necessarily be able to get you both an ideal job and an ideal company, but they can probably get you started with one or the other, which will make it a lot easier for you to make the other half of the picture fall into place later on.

If you are further along in your career or have significant financial obligations, a temp agency may not offer the kinds of positions or pay you're likely to be seeking. In this case, you'll be better off finding a recruiter (also known as a headhunter) if you're looking for a new full-time job. However, if you'd like to test the waters in a few different fields before committing to another full-time position and if you have some financial breathing room, it may make sense to sign up with a temp agency and take a lesser position for a while in order to work in different environments. Particularly if you are a woman, no one is likely to bat an eye at your doing secretarial work no matter what your age (sad, but true). If you're a man, cultural biases may complicate your situation a bit, but a good temp agency will be able to help.

Finding a temp agency is as simple as doing an online search or opening a phone book. Some of the big names in the industry include Kelly Services, AppleOne, Venturi Staffing Partners, Snelling Staffing Services, Randstad, and Robert Half (which owns lots of other specialized agencies that operate under different names). If you're a creative type, make sure to check out The Creative Group, which is specifically geared towards finding work for people with visual, writing, and other creative skills. Even if you've never heard of any of these companies and have no experience with temping, don't worry: it's pretty easy to differentiate a good temp agency from a bad one by their fees. The company that the temp agency is assisting ALWAYS pays the fees for finding you. A legitimate temp agency will NEVER ask you for money. If they do, they're trying to scam you, and you should run away from them no matter how desperate you are for a new job.

If the company you want to work for has to pay the temp agency a fee for finding you, won't that eat into your earnings? It's hard to say for sure, but in my experience, temp agencies often receive a percentage of your pay as their compensation, which means that it's in their best interest to get you as high of a salary as possible. That's right -- when you go through a temp agency, they, not you, will generally be in charge of negotiating your salary or hourly wage, which can make your job hunt a lot less stressful. If you consider yourself a master negotiator or don't trust your temp agency, you may be able to negotiate your own salary in a direct hire situation. Some agencies will receive a flat fee for finding you, which may mean you're own your own to negotiate a decent salary. In that case, your salary is more likely to suffer as a result of the temp agency's fee.

If you're an hourly employee (which you will be in temporary and temp-to-hire situations), the company you work for will pay the temp agency several dollars an hour above what the temp agency will pay you. This can be frustrating and seem unfair when the company is paying $18 an hour for you and you're only taking home $12 minus taxes, but the truth is that the wage you'll actually take home will probably be the same fair market wage that you'd get paid if you found the same job independent of the temp agency.

If you are a temporary or temp-to-hire employee, you will likely go straight to work for the new company without any interview or wage negotiation (but you'll know the pay before you accept the position). If you are a direct hire candidate, you'll interview with the company beforehand. The temp agency will always interview you before sending you off to any client -- they have a reputation to protect. It's also common for them to give you some simple tests to make sure you can do basic math, spell, alphabetize, and type.

If one temp agency tells you that they won't be able to get you the position or pay that you want, just move on to the next (if you start noticing a pattern, though, your expectations are probably unrealistic). Though you technically work for the temp agency, they really work for you -- if they can't find work for you, they don't get paid, so don't settle for less than you deserve.

There are a few downsides, of course. One obvious drawback of seeking employment through temp agencies is that many of the jobs offered are, as the name suggests, temporary. You may work steadily for several weeks, then mysteriously not be able to find any work for several weeks. If you tend to live from paycheck to paycheck or really need a steady income, temping may not be for you. You're also likely to end up doing a lot of dull, menial work, and you'll have to frequently adjust to new work environments. Temporary assignments can range in length from one day to several months, so you may or may not have the chance to get cozy somewhere.

To increase your odds of having steady work and getting assignments you enjoy, I recommend signing up with multiple temp agencies. Going for all those interviews and taking all those typing tests can be a pain, but it's worth the extra effort to have five people looking for your next job instead of just one. That being said, if you turn down too many offers with the same agency, they're likely to stop calling you. Be as selective as you can afford to be when choosing whether to accept a particular assignment or not, but be aware of the potential consequences.

Temp agencies are a very efficient means to getting a new or better job. In an age where time is money, temp agencies are able to save time you would normally spend searching job listings and sending out resumes, and they are likely to get you competitive wages to boot. If you’ve in the market for a job and have never used a temp agency, I can’t recommend it enough.

If you're found this article helpful, stay tuned for my upcoming posts on how temping can benefit you financially and how temping can be a rewarding lifestyle choice.

Photo by telwink

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