Why being a temp worker would be a great career move (and how to do it right)

Temporary work offers more than just a way to get by during your search for a full-time position. With the right approach, temporary employment can be a smart career move that gives you, the job seeker, a competitive edge in today’s market.

Taking an interim role prepares you for entering – or returning to – the workforce. As a temporary worker, you have the opportunity to size up various employers in different industries to see what best suits your work style and career goals. At the same time, you’ll be expanding your professional network, honing your skills and adding to your resume — all while receiving a competitive salary. You may even qualify for employee benefits from the staffing agency that places you.

In addition, it could put you in the running for a full-time job. Increasingly, managers looking to staff a full-time position are adopting a temp-to-hire strategy — essentially, a vetting process. It gives them more time to be sure someone has the necessary skills and will be a good fit with the workplace culture before committing to a formal job offer.

Who should pursue temporary assignments?

Temporary assignments are ideal for recent grads and those who are changing careers. Once you’re on the job, you can start building the work experience that will make you more attractive to future employers.

If you’ve off-ramped for a while to care for a young child or elderly parent, short-term assignments are also a good way to get your career back on track. Temporary work lets you catch up on the latest office technology and software, while you explore your options.

How can I get the most out of temporary work?

Here are four ways to maximize your experience:

1. Treat it like a full-time job from day one. Whether the assignment is for one week or an entire year, give it your all. Dress professionally, mind your cubicle etiquette and contribute during meetings. Your goal is to have the company view you as a valuable team member. If a supervisor is suitably impressed, then you’ve made a great
professional contact.

2. Step out of your comfort zone. Temporary work gives you a chance to try a variety of assignments and experience industries you may not have otherwise considered. By being exposed to different workplaces, you’ll broaden your knowledge and may discover a hidden passion. Talk to a specialized recruiter about being placed in a role where you can put your skills to best use and stretch yourself.

3. Take advantage of training. Both your staffing firm and temporary employer may offer courses, workshops and seminars. Don’t miss these free opportunities to upgrade your technical and interpersonal skills. You want to finish your temporary assignment better trained and with more professional experience in your field than when you started.

4. Add each assignment to your resume. Contrary to persistent myth, employers do recognize and appreciate the value of temporary positions. Just take care your resume doesn’t present you as a serial job hopper. Instead, list the staffing agency as your employer, including details about each assignment as bullet points, and dazzle employers with your temporary work experience.

A final tip: If you are offered a full-time role at the end of your assignment, make sure it’s a comfortable fit before you accept. You’ll know quick enough whether the salary, benefits and job responsibilities are acceptable. Organizational culture, the key to a worker’s on-the-job happiness, is more difficult to assess until you’ve spent time in a workplace. Interim work gives you that enviable opportunity to evaluate your interest in a job and the work environment before committing to full-time employment.

Michael Steinitz is the executive director of Accountemps and is based in Washington, D.C. Accountemps, a Robert Half company, has resources, including job search services and the company’s blog, can be found at roberthalf.com/accountemps.