Temp Jobs Can Be Your Ticket to a Full-Time Gig

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Marni Tamayo left a permanent job to take a contract gig in hopes of eventually landing the position she really wanted.

She aimed to get back to a corporate marketing and advertising role, and the position through Aquent, a temp firm for marketing and creative services, looked enticing. Tamayo thought Booz Allen had an "excellent reputation" as an employer and had been interested in working there. This time, she interviewed and in July started a one-year contract post in the brand creative services department.

"I just put my best foot forward. I treated it as if I were a permanent employee," said Tamayo, who lives in the District and took this, her first temp job, after 10 years in staff marketing communications positions.

Temping has long been considered a back door to prestigious employers' payrolls, a way to prove your talents and land a full-time job, as Tamayo did in December. In these times, temp jobs have other uses -- earning cash or credentials, filling in gaps in expertise or filling time between full-time jobs.

Many temp jobs have evaporated in recent months, with a 27 percent reduction, or 644,000 jobs nationwide lost from March 2008 to March 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Beltway is "somewhat insulated," and staffing firms that place in government agencies and key contractors may see some increased demand from federal bailout programs, said Robin Mee, past president of the Capital Area Staffing Association and president of Mee Derby & Co., which recruits people to work in staffing companies.

"It's a wonderful way to get working fast," Mee said. "Taking a temporary job is a great transition point" after a layoff.

Begin by finding a few temp firms that match your career goals, profession and interests.

"Go to a temp agency that is aligned with what you do," said Pauline Tomko, Aquent's area manager in Reston. They have connections to organizations for which you want to work.

"Résumés are sitting in piles and piles of candidates," Tomko said. A good temp recruiter can sell you directly to hiring managers.

Develop a professional presence. "You need to have a great résumé. The résumé is your door-opener," Mee said.

Do your homework before you head to the agency -- know their job openings and the training they offer. You may even want to research the person you're seeing, just as you would before any other interview.

Make your hopes and needs clear. Think through what you want -- not only the job desired, but the geographic area, the pay range, the training, Mee said. "Come up with the paragraph on who you are -- and what you want."

If you want to land a permanent job, say so. If you are more interested in developing your Web design or project management skills, ask for those kinds of assignments.

Be prepared for some dull assignments -- and some that require a rush to finish projects.

Caleb King places lawyers at large and small legal firms as president of LegalSource. Mostly it's document reviews for large commercial litigation.

"The high-end substantive work is not the norm," he said. But the work provides "an excellent source of cash flow" for new graduates, job hunters or people who want to spend time on outside projects.

Build credentials or a network. Tomko at Aquent said recruiters want to be a resource and help people shine as they "try before they buy." Assignments can last a couple of weeks or as long as two years. Many of Aquent's creative assignments on Web sites and graphic design end when the project is over -- usually two months or less.

"It is an opportunity of growth and experience," she said, allowing time to build your portfolio and meet people. At Booz Allen, about 250 temps or contractors work in finance, accounting and administrative support or as consultants with deep expertise in government or other areas.

When Tamayo arrived in July, her bosses already knew she wanted to move into a permanent job. She set out to make her talents known by taking on extra projects and providing extra help. She suggests temps offer their services for volunteer activities and opportunities as a way to be visible in other departments. "You want to be seen as indispensable and really valuable to the company," she said.

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