Temporary Insanity: Getting the most from Temp jobs

It’s a sad, sorry fact that in the current economy more and more people are turning to temporary work to keep body and soul together (and bailiffs away from the door). As anyone who has endured temp work will tell you, working in this capacity is – by and large – thankless, annoying, badly paid and soul destroying. That said, any situation can be turned to your advantage with a little thought, and practical application. Here follows a guide through the jungle of temporary work.

If temp work is bad, no work is worse. One distinct and clear advantage of temp work is its availability. If you want to make money and enjoy your stint in the wonderful world of temp labour, you’ll need to get your timing right. Never apply during student holidays (unless of course, you happen to be a student on academic break) as all temp agencies are deluged with applications from hungry under-graduates. Even those that aren’t will claim to be, especially if they don’t like the looks of you. If you must apply during a student break, always make sure that your CV is littered with handy skills that the agency can sell, and ensure that you state that you are prepared to commit to a long term assignment (even if your idea of long term is the few weeks it takes to gather enough money to pay the electricity bill!). Most temp agencies will lie to you, if you are to survive in their world, you’ll have to learn to lie back.

Personally, I get to sleep at night by salving my conscience by telling myself I am not lying, I’m merely telling people what they want to hear.

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Once you have navigated the initial hurdle of a chat with a temp recruitment agent you’ll probably have to sit a skills test for office work. There are no similar tests for industrial work, but industrial temp work pays lousy, has odd hours (4 am starts anyone?) and usually involves doing awful jobs, out in the cold. For those reasons alone you should consider office work, even if your knowledge of offices is limited to watching sitcoms with Ricky Gervais in them. Getting through the test for office/admin work is a breeze.

Most ‘skills tests’ at temp agencies follow a similar formula. You will be tested on MS Word and Excel, and also have your data entry skills measured. To prepare, type from books until you get a fast typing speed, and if you get really bored try entering telephone numbers from the Yellow Pages into a word processing package. This will help your data entry speed increase and should make the recruitment agent dealing with your look at you with newfound respect / pound signs in their eyes. Once you’ve completed your test be prepared to wait.

At various times of the year, temp agencies are overrun with positions, at others, there are protracted periods of drought. Mentally prepare yourself for the fact that it may be up to a month before you start work. As a matter of course, you should register with every temp agency that you can, and be prepared to harass them daily until they get you working. At some point, this will pay off and the agency will send you on your way to a shiny new temp position. This is when you need to employ all your wit, guile and cunning to cope with the job.

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All temp jobs are near without exception, rubbish. Although there may be some people out there who revel in the ability to carry out mundane repetitive tasks for minuscule salaries, the temp worker’s lot appals most sane people when they first encounter it. No matter how nice the organisation you find yourself in, temps are treated like morons. You will be expected either to do the job instantly, and know everything about the organisation you’re working for, or else have all facets of it painfully explained to you (including how to use a stapler).

Always remember that no matter how much of an imbecile they’re treating you, they’re doing this on their own time, and you are getting paid for it. Once the introductions (if any) are over, you will be left to do what you are being paid to do. At this point, it is worth remembering the temp worker’s motto “You can pay for my time, but my soul is mine”. I personally have an amendment to that, namely “You can pay for my time, but if you expect me to do a proper job, you’re sorely mistaken”. The level of gusto you inject into carrying out your temporary duties is a matter for your own conscience though. When the job starts to get to you (and it will, regardless of the Protestant – or any other – work ethic you may possess) learning defensive skills is vital.

Let’s say you have managed to secure a temp job in a call centre (this was becoming more and more common until the suits discovered labour is cheaper in third world countries) and your mind is slowly but surely turning to jelly. What can you do? Well, you can always play with the telephone. If you choose to work through lunch (and temps can) you’ll have access to the wonderful world of telephony. Never make telephone calls from your own phone (they will be logged) but what about the boss’s phone, the one sitting neglected in their office. Doesn’t it look lonely? You could always go and cheer it up.

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Another advantage to office temping is that all offices have stationery. Now I’m not counselling criminal activities here, but all I will say is that I have known people to produce their own magazines on company photocopiers, as well as keeping themselves in pens, paper and sellotape. Of course, I would never be so base, but the opportunity is always there.

Another fun thing to do, if maybe not execute, is industrial espionage. Let’s say your call centre is selling insurance and keeps a database of customers whose current premiums are due to expire. How much do you think competitors would pay for that? Probably more than a temp’s wage. Even if you never commit any criminal activity, planning them can be a great way to pass the time.

The best coping strategy for all with temp jobs is to leave. After all, you are only a temp worker, you don’t have any ‘proper’ worker’s rights, so why be loyal? It is this freedom of choice that makes temping such an attractive proposition, after all, if you have a bad boss or terrible work to do, you can always resign, and find another position better suited to your needs.

Freedom’s a marvellous thing, be sure to use it.

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