March / April 2018

To Temp or Not to Temp?

David G. Smith

Organizations often augment their workforces to address temporary work requirements. These appointments can range from long-term consulting engagements for complex projects to short-term coverage for employee absences. Over the years, I have spoken with many leaders who began their careers as temporary employees. Many credit those opportunities as career kick-starts, which helped them develop relationships and experiences that were essential to landing full-time roles.

Before applying for a temporary assignment, do your homework. Talk to others about which agencies they used, then check out those websites to learn about benefit options, how they operate, and the kinds of organizations they support. I highly recommend working with agencies that have deep experience within your field. This ensures they will have multiple employment options as well as the knowledge to represent you well when speaking with hiring managers.

If you are targeting a specific company, it is important to note that they may use multiple staffing organizations. While this can be tricky to navigate, leverage your network to see if someone can help you identify a potential list.

Once you engage with an agency, you will want to be ready. You will likely receive questions regarding your pay, shift, commute, travel, and other requirements. (Review my column in the July-August 2017 issue for tips on phone interviewing.) Remember that recruiters work best with candidates who communicate their interests clearly.

Here are some questions I recommend you ask a recruiter before you commit to working with his or her agency:

  1. Do I have to pay a fee?
  2. Will you contact me about opportunities, or should I apply directly to those that interest me?
  3. If the latter, where can I find them?
  4. Will you contact me before sharing my résumé with another company or hiring manager?
  5. Can you explain the decision-making criteria for the role, who will be involved, and what the next steps are? (Note: This can vary considerably from role to role, even within the same agency.)
  6. How can I learn more about the benefits you offer? (Note: The answer can vary by client.)


Temporary positions can give you critical experience, help develop relationships, and better understand how an organization operates. For candidates that lack internship or other related experiences, temporary positions can be great bridge to full-time positions. If you can impress the company with your quality work, you will have an advantage over other candidates who lack your track record, connections, and personal knowledge of the company’s processes.

Temporary positions can also be good for candidates who not sure about which position would be the best long-term fi t; these jobs offer a chance to test the water without long-term commitment. Their short-term nature, however, means you’ll need to be agile and adaptable to succeed: Your learning curve will be steep and access to information may be limited. The assignment may require specific coverage hours and dates, and sometimes, a fulltime employee may have to approve your work.

There also are some real differences in how companies engage with temporary workers. While you’ll work on a company campus, your employer is the agency that recruited you. Understanding the rules of engagement and your responsibility for complying with them are the keys to your success. A process-specific question, for example, would likely go to the company supervisor, but a question about taking time o would go to the agency. These topics are usually covered through the offer process and/or orientation prior to the beginning of an assignment.


While positions billed as temp-to-hire may become a path to a full-time employment, it is never guaranteed. Before accepting such a position, here are some questions you should ask:

  • Is this position temp to hire—or just temporary?
  • What is this organization’s track record of hiring others who were in a similar position?
  • How long must I be a temporary employee before I can be evaluated for a full-time position?
  • What process must I follow to be considered for a full-time position?

The answers to these questions vary by organization. In most cases, companies require temporary employees to go through the same evaluation and application process as other applicants.

To maximize your chances of full-time hire, take note of the following tried-and-true guidelines:

  • Show up and do great work.
  • Relationships matter.
  • Learn quickly.
  • Communicate your desire to become an employee, but don’t be a pest.
  • Apply for positions that match your qualifications.

I hope this advice helps you evaluate your opportunity. The right temporary assignment could be a great way to gain valuable experience and launch your career.

Have other questions? Send me a note at and I will try to answer it in a future column.