What Makes a Successful Temp?

What would this country's employers do without Britain's flexible work-force, namely the one million temps who are on temporary assignment at any one time?

By – DeskDemon.com

“It’s the ideal time to be temping as the job market has really picked up, along with the benefits of holiday pay, sickness and maternity benefits,” Julia Vassie, Director of Huntress Search Limited, explains.

So is temping for everyone?

So if you’re considering temporary work, what can you do to make sure you’re the one consultants think of first when a new assignment comes in? Can anyone temp?

“If you’re a confident, out-going person, then temping can be an excellent and fun career where you can meet lots of people and enjoy new experiences every day,” says Janine Parry, Marketing Manager of Reed Employment Plc. “Temporary employment can provide both an excellent opportunity to gain experience in a competitive industry and a rewarding long-term career.”

Alexis Partridge, London Commercial Manager of the Susan Hamilton Group, points out that many people want to temp permanently. “Those that do either don’t need a regular income, or have future plans perhaps to travel or study intermittently, or just enjoy the variety temping gives and being free from pressures such as office politics.”

“If you thrive on change, temping will suit you. It’s a great way to develop your skills and build contracts,” Julia Vassie of Huntress Search Ltd advises.

And Claire Howell, Regional Manager for Office Team, emphasises: “Being a good temp is all about flexibility. You have to be chameleon-like, adapting and changing to different environments all the time – and that’s not always easy.”

Sell yourself in a professional way to your agency

“Putting the building blocks in place at the start is the best bet to ensure you’re at the top of a consultant’s list to call,” Julia Vassie says. “When you first meet the consultant, it’s essential that you make a good impression from the way you look, to how well you prepared for your interview, and how much of a rapport you can create. Tell your consultant you’re flexible and available at short notice. This is a key element for successful consultants who fill their bookings at the beginning and end of the day. If you make an impact, they will remember you and have you at the forefront of their minds when new positions come in. Think about selling yourself as you would in a job interview: make a list of your previous jobs and highlight key accomplishments and skills you’ve gained. If you do all of this, your consultant will do their utmost in offering your skills to all her clients, which will in turn guarantee you get called for all the best jobs.”

Understand how recruitment agencies work

“Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the recruitment consultants who need to know their candidates,” Claire Howell explains. “The most successful candidates are those who also understand recruitment consultants and how best to work with them. Becoming a good temp is a mixture of flexibility and communication – but it’s worth it when the jobs come rolling-in.”

Claire explains that consultants receive lots of calls from both existing and new candidates and they also have to service and win business from their clients – so sometimes it's physically impossible for them to take your call straight away. When this happens, let one of their colleagues know you’ve called. Every time a call of this nature is made, most agencies will record it on a sophisticated database, which means you will be considered for new roles as and when they come in.

Be flexible in every way you can!

Flexibility is the key to being a successful temp. It’s not just about being flexible in terms of when you start on a new assignment, either. If you want the work to keep coming your way, you need to be flexible in terms of the rate you’re paid for short term assignments; and the role you have.

“You need to be flexible in terms of the hourly rate you have; the sector you work in; the type of work you do and the location you work in,” Alison Leach, Manager of Joslin Rowe's Temporary Secretarial Division, advises. “You do get times when a PA isn’t willing to be a team secretary for a week; or you get a team secretary who won’t move into a new sector; or someone who is only willing to work in the West End and not Canary Wharf, even though the journey to Canary Wharf may take them the same time from home as it does to the West End. But assignments aren’t forever, and if you’re going to temp, to ensure the money is constantly coming in, and you get assignments, you need to be flexible. A two or three week assignment could turn into to that much dreamt-about permanent job.”

Alexis Partridge agrees. “Someone who is flexible and adaptable makes a successful temp,” she says. “Reliability is key, as is loyalty.”

How hungry are you to get work?

What can you do if, on a Friday afternoon, you find yourself without an assignment or any work for the following Monday?

“The key for consultants is knowing that you’re available,” Claire Howell says. And one of the reasons for this is that the temp market moves fast. If your consultant knows you’re available and flexible, she can close a deal quickly.

“It’s really important to keep in touch with your consultant,” Alison Leach stresses. “Have your mobile switched on so that they can keep in touch with you. And if you haven’t got anything on a Monday morning, be ready and waiting to go out to work if you get the call. Better still, go into the agency and sit and wait – those are the candidates who are sent out to work first.”

Julia Vassie agrees. “We offer a sit-in service every morning in our web café, where you can have some breakfast and brush up on your IT skills while you wait for the work to come in,” she says. “Most recruitment companies use computer systems to search and will often search on skills, so the more you have, the better your chances.”

It seems clear that if you go the extra mile to get the work, by keeping in close contact with your consultant and turning up on a Monday morning at the agency, you’re more likely to be successful in ensuring the pounds keep coming in. Remember, persistence pays off.

Communication is essential

Temps need to be able to communicate fast. Key to success is keeping in touch with your agency. Tell them if you move house, give them your email address or any new contact numbers.

“Keep your agency updated with your availability,” Alexis Patridge advises. This includes giving your consultant plenty of warning about any holidays you have planned.

“Communication skills are paramount,” Julia Vassie says. “Being able to listen, interpret and ask the right questions is paramount. If you can’t communicate, you won’t get the work.”

If you’re acquiring new skills, make sure you tell your consultant, so that he or she can update your records. “It is important for you to keep your skills constantly updated whether through experience or training,” says Janine Parry, “to ensure you receive the best job opportunities and pay rates.”

Be professional

“It’s vital to be honest with your consultant,” Alison Leach emphases. “If you get an assignment for 2 or 3 weeks and have a long weekend booked in the middle of it, most employers won’t be happy with your taking the break. They see temps as professional workers, who do the hours and days as their staff.”

“If you take a 3 week assignment,” Alison continues, “and you leave after a week because you’re off on holiday but you didn’t tell the agency that you’d be doing that when they offered you the position, they’re less likely to offer you work again. An agency’s reputation depends on their candidates. That said, agencies do try to accommodate people’s needs.”

It’s crucial to be punctual, reliable and presentable, and to have a highly professional attitude.

“Support staff are required to look smart,” Julia Vassie stresses, “even though they may never see a client. Looking smart means investing in some smart suits and shows. Once you’ve settled into an assignment, you can adapt to the office dress code, but really you should always overcompensate to give you the edge. Even if somebody in your office is wearing trainers, it’s best that you stick to shoes.”

How many agencies should you sign up with?

“Like most things, it is quality, not quantity,” says Julia Vassie. “Check what added benefits are on offer before making your choice of agency and speak to consultants on the telephone to gauge the range of positions which are on offer. Most temporary workers register with a few, but inevitably a relationship is forged with only one.”

Alison Leach suggests signing up with no more than 3 agencies, probably more likely 2. “If you sign up with another agency, in a different sector,” she explains, “it buffers you against one sector suffering financially in the market. And it’s always worth getting a reference from any employers you’re worked with, even if it’s just to confirm that you temped for them and to give the dates you were there. In some agencies, the turnover of staff can be high, and you may find yourself dealing with new consultants fairly regularly, so it helps to have some confirmation of who you’ve worked for and when.”

Show initiative

Companies and organisations won’t bring a temp in unless they really need one. “Employers treat temp positions as if they were permanent positions,” Alexis Partridge says. “You always need to be willing to go that extra mile as a temp. Temps are an expensive resource, and so need to give 100%.”

Nonetheless, every temp finds days when they may not have so much to do, and then showing initiative can really raise their profile high and set them apart from other temporary workers in the office.

“If you want to do one thing to impress, then make sure you show initiative,” says Alison Leach. “If you’ve got nothing to do, make something to do, even if it’s just making everyone else an excellent cup of tea or going out to get them a coke or a sandwich.”

Alexis Partridge points out that “In the past, many temps were governed by visa restrictions, so they could only temp. Now many of them can apply for permanent positions.”

So what can you do to ensure you keep going back somewhere you really like? “Tell the client and the agency how much you’ve enjoyed the assignment,” Alexis says. “And go that extra mile!”

What should you do if you're just starting out and want temping for experience?

Temping is seen as a great way to get experience and a foot into the door, especially in highly competitive sectors such as the media and publishing. “You often find yourself caught in the old conundrum,” Janine Parry says, “you have the qualifications, but they want experience too and how can you get that experience without somebody giving you a break?” Temping can provide a useful starting point if you’re aiming to enter competitive job markets. It gives you an opportunity to boost your understanding of how the sector works, to make invaluable contacts, to prove your interest and to hook that much sought-after first position.

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