What to expect when you sign up with a temp agency

Temp jobs offer more than a paycheck—you can also learn new skills, test drive a new role, and get your foot in the door at bustling companies.

What to expect when you sign up with a temp agency

Temp jobs exist in plenty of industries and roles.

As more and more corporations struggle to fill roles, they are turning to temp agencies to find qualified candidates. Sometimes it’s to alleviate some of the strain of an overworked staff; other times it might be to cover a worker who is on leave. Regardless, temp jobs could be a great opportunity for you to test the waters of a job or career without committing to a full-time position. That said, if you happen to have a positive experience temping for a company, it may wind up turning into something more permanent when the circumstances allow.

Another upside: Temp jobs exist in plenty of industries and roles. “Staffing companies have a wide-ranging list of clients and can be your foot in the door for an interview at a company you haven’t had luck with on your own,” says Elaine M. Damm, CEO of ACCU Staffing Services, which specializes in temporary and temp-to-perm placements.

If you’re thinking of pursuing temporary work, it’s important to understand how the process works and how to maximize temp jobs. Start with this guide.

What temp work is (and isn’t)

You’ve probably heard the term “gig economy” for a while now, but temp work is something totally different. Gig work refers to freelancing, for which you’re an independent contractor. When you get work through a temp agency, however, you’re technically an employee who gets a W-2 form.

“When you’re working with an agency, you don’t have to go out and find next positions, and you don’t have to invoice or worry about taxes,” says Zach Woodruff, director of interim services for The Roman Healthcare Group, a Sanford Rose company.

How it works: Companies hire a temp agency to find them people who can fill roles for a short, set period of time. In the meantime, the temp agency interviews job candidates and tries to match them with the appropriate clients.

The interview is designed to determine your top skills and work preferences so that the agency places you accordingly. At that point, you’ll usually get a work assignment agreement or contract to get started. “It will state the pay rate, the per diem rate, travel expenses, and anything along those lines,” says Woodruff.

You do want to watch the fine print, however. “A lot of firms and contract agencies require the candidate to sign a contract that states they’ll only work with that agency,” says Woodruff. And some agencies may try to charge you a placement fee, which is generally a red flag. Do some research to find out what is typical for your field, and to make sure that you’re working with a reputable temp agency. (The American Staffing Association is a great resource.) 

The other thing to keep in mind with temp work is that the length of your work assignment will vary. For Woodruff, the majority of his temp workers fill 13-week roles.

Advantages of temp agency work

“Temporary work assignments can be a great way to gain experience in different industries and work environments,” says Damm. For recent graduates especially, it can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses as you evaluate your next career move, she adds.

Here are some other benefits of temp work:

  • It can be a resume builder. Temp work might give you the opportunity to build skills you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to if you were just taking on a permanent position, says Woodruff.
  • It allows you some flexibility. For certain types of temp work, especially in fields like health care, you can choose to work for a certain period of time and then take a break before starting another assignment.
  • You might discover a new passion. “I had a candidate take a summer position in Cape Cod who said she definitely didn’t want to be there in the winter,” says Woodruff. But she ended up loving it so much that she not only accepted an extension, but it turned into a permanent position.
  • You won’t have to deal with the politics of a full-time role. Sometimes in permanent positions, there are a lot of internal factors at play that prevent you from advancing, says Woodruff. With contract work, you’re just there to do a job and get it done as best as possible, drama free.

How to be a successful temp

For starters, be open to the positions that are available. “The more flexible a candidate is to work, the more available assignments there are,” Woodruff says. Even if you’re at a higher level, sometimes candidates enjoy getting back to the basics of doing the work they haven’t done in years, he adds.

And once you start a temp job, there’s no time to be shy. “You are only there for a limited amount of time so you need to make the most of it,” Woodruff says. In order to make an immediate impact, you need to be able to communicate and relate to all types of people.

How to go from temp to permanent

Many temp agency positions can become permanent, says Damm. In fact, some companies purposely use temp agencies so they can do a trial run with candidates before offering them full-time work. “Temporary associates should always be mindful of this and show the company they are an asset that should be considered for permanent employment,” she adds.

It’s also important to communicate regularly with your agency so they understand your short- and long-term goals. That way, if your aim is to come away with a permanent job, they can place you in jobs that have the most permanent potential.

Keep in mind that should a company become interested in hiring you full-time, they will have to do it through the agency. Typically, they must pay the agency a fee to release you so you can start working directly for the company.

One important thing worth noting, however, is that when you go from temp to perm, you might actually take a pay cut, says Woodruff. “Contractors should be getting paid more on contract positions than they would get paid for permanent. That’s the case across all niches,” he says.

However, the other benefits and opportunities that only full timers get (like longer-term job security, more comprehensive health insurance, a pension plan, and paid time off) can make up the difference.

Job search next steps

If your traditional job search is lagging, or if you’re ready to try something now, pursuing temp agency work could be a good move. Not only can it help fill your income gap, but you can get a chance to test out different types of work with fewer strings attached. Want some help getting started? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of temp jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. So roll up your sleeves and get let Monster help you get started on the temp trail today!