Temping can be a great way to get your foot in the door, test out multiple companies to find a good fit, or pay bills while you're looking for a more permanent gig.
It can also make a mess of your resume.
If you temp for more than a few months, you can run into a little problem: how to account for all those little jobs.
On one hand, you don't want to leave them off. Though some employers might not consider those temporary positions "real" jobs, it's important to show that you were working, and not sitting on your duff. Beth Colley, a professional resume writer in Crownsville, Md., said it's almost always better to have a string of temp jobs on your resume than a gap.
On the other hand, you probably won't have room to list each and every job. Trying to do so can quickly get out of hand. When I temped right out of college, there were some weeks when I had five different employers.
Resume experts say they run into this problem frequently now that temping has become such a common part of people's work lives. There are about 2.5 million temporary employees in the workforce, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the hiring of temps has accounted for nearly half of the private jobs created since the beginning of 2002.
For workers with extensive temp experience, there are several possible approaches to the resume problem.
J. Michael Worthington Jr. of ResumeDoctor.com said that rather than listing each assignment separately, you should treat the period that you were employed through the temporary agency as working for one company -- the temp agency. "This will minimize the risk of your reader seeing multiple jobs and assuming 'job hopping,' which can severely limit the chances of getting called for an interview," Worthington said.
He said workers with temp experience should use bullet points to illustrate the overall skills they used and gained while being contracted out to these various organizations. The resume should also specify the range of work completed during assignments to companies and how long those gigs lasted, he said.
"Doing so will emphasize your strong work ethic because the agency continued to place you in assignment after assignment," he said.
Worthington also cautioned workers to make sure their resume bullet points are accomplishment-oriented, not duty-oriented. For instance, instead of saying that you updated a company's mailing list, he said, write: "Successfully completed a six-week assignment for ABC Company to reorganize a 50K name mailing list, and the employer extended the assignment another month."
Temporary workers have to be especially careful not to get bogged down in describing each job. Worthington said workers should avoid including in bullet points information about an assignment that would be absurdly obvious.
"For instance, a network support technician with 10 years of experience would not have to tell the reader they 'plugged in printers.' We hope that after 10 years you can do this," he said.
Worthington said that workers should carefully weigh the value of each bullet point, asking themselves if the information is something that will get them hired. "Don't bore your reader to death with every little detail and duty," he said. "Concentrate on bigger picture issues in terms of what makes you a better candidate than someone else," he said.
Finally, he said, if you've got the space, consider including a brief section under the heading "Selected Assignments." Here you can quickly list a few key company names and assignments, including the assignment length and a blurb describing what you did there.
Colley, president of Chesapeake Resume Writing Service, also recommended listing the temp agency as your main employer.
Unlike Worthington, though, she doesn't think it's necessarily a bad idea to highlight duties and skills used on the temp jobs, especially if the temp jobs allowed the worker to learn and practice new skills for a desired career change. And don't be afraid to tout your stints at brand-name employers.
But, she said, you can drop the temp listing from your resume once you've had steady employment for a while. "It's not necessary to include your entire work history," she said.
Now that's temporary.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues facing young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com on Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.