11 Tips for Succeeding as a Temporary Employee
Advice for Temps: Dos and Don'ts
I’ve worked for many years as a temporary employee. I've actually done this on-and-off since 1999. So yes, you could call me a temp. For better or worse, I suppose you could also say I’m an expert at being a temp. I guess that’s something like saying I’m an expert at home data entry, but I’ll take whatever achievements I can get.
I’ve worked as a temp primarily in the clerical/bookkeeping field, so the tips I provide will pertain to that field, though, of course, much of what I write could be useful in any line of work.
If you're starting your first temporary job or if you’re trying to figure out why you’re having trouble with your present temporary position, please read on. It’s okay—you can learn from my pain. I don’t mind a bit.
1. Always Remember the Three Cs
The Three C’s are right out of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Right at the top of Carnegie’s list is the suggestion, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Whether you’re working as a temp or have a permanent job, you simply must follow this three-part rule.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with criticizing, condemning, or complaining, but you should never do any of the aforementioned at work. These Cs are downbeat, and you need to be positive at the workplace. People have enough trouble with their jobs—they don’t need your negativity! By the way, before I finish this article, I hope I don’t start sounding like the second coming of Dale Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin, or Confucius!
2. Don’t Make Yourself Look Bad
Whatever you do, don’t argue, lose your temper, or get defensive. Such emotional states overcome us from time to time, but don’t let it happen in the workplace. People will cut you some slack if you actually have a permanent job, but a temp should not raise their voice in anger or frustration at any time. People who act this way look terrible. If they could just see themselves in a video!
3. The Boss Is Always Right
It’s truly amazing how much clout even lower level bosses wield in the workplace. If you’ve ever run afoul of one and had to deal with the resultant retaliation, you know what I mean. This isn’t fair, of course, but there’s nothing democratic about the work environment. You’ll be at a great disadvantage when confronting a boss because they simply have more power, and if you take one on while working as a temp, you’ll be out the door quicker than a spit wad fired at close range.
For that reason, try to avoid “boss trouble” by helping them look as good as they can, even if that means ignoring their screw-ups. Watch your coworkers—they’ll be doing the same thing, so follow their lead. But avoid kissing tail. At first, the boss may like you for kissing up, but in the end you’ll downgrade yourself. Few people like brown noses.
4. Avoid Controversial Issues
Everybody knows that you should avoid talking about politics and religion in just about all social situations, and a temp should never discuss either while on the job. In fact, a temp should avoid discussing any controversial subject. Abortion would be an obvious example; others could be gay marriage, tax increases, drug testing in schools, and even sports. (You may not want to tell anybody at work you’re an Oakland Raiders fan, for instance.)
If you’re uncertain about the possible ramifications of talking about such issues, do yourself a big favor and keep your mouth shut. It’s hard to get in trouble if you don't say anything!
5. Don’t Be Too Ambitious
Since you don’t have an actual job where you work, you may want to show your desire to obtain one. There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Just make sure your ambition for obtaining a job isn’t so obvious that you go around telling people how much better you would be for a particular job than say, Bob or Jackie. In short, don’t ever give people a reason to feel threatened by you!
6. What Comes Around Goes Around
While working at your temporary assignment, you may have time to chat. If you’re somebody like me and have many years of experience working in offices, you may want to regale your coworkers with your trials and tribulations in this particular field.
This is all right, just make sure you don’t make specific references to real people and places. I live in Sacramento, California, a city of about a half-million people, and it's amazing how small this town can be. (It appears, the smaller the town, the more careful you’ll have to be!) So, be advised that if you speak badly of someone or a particular company, this candor can come back to haunt you.
7. Beware of Coincidences
Not long ago, I was assigned to work at a company located right across the street from the temporary agency for which I worked. Because of bad luck or bad karma perhaps, there were two people now working at this company with whom I had had some tense interactions about five years previous at another company across town.
They were now working right across the street from the temp agency!? What were the chances of this happening? This coincidence still baffles me!
Anyway, I kept my mouth shut about these past incidences. Nevertheless, on the morning of the second day, I was dismissed from this assignment. My supervisor at the company said something about them having computer trouble, so they no longer needed me. But I knew better.
I guess the lesson here is that no matter how hard you try, you’ll sometimes bump into a hornet’s net. That’s how the temp universe works!
8. You're All Alone
When there’s trouble in the office, don’t expect any of the regular employees to stick up for the temp. You’ll be left alone in such situations, so get used to it. Even if you think somebody else should admit they made a mistake, take the blame anyway. (As long as it’s not something really serious, of course.) This tactic will help you maintain a good business relationship, and the employer may bring you back someday.
9. Everybody's Beautiful
Don’t ever say anything negative about a coworker’s appearance. You probably should avoid compliments as well, because sometimes a compliment can be twisted around to sound like an insult.
10. Be the Complete Package
We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. Just try to be good at all aspects of your job. Show up every workday on time and ready to work. Be as accurate and hard-working as you possibly can and, perhaps above all else, behave yourself. If they think your Excel skills aren’t up to snuff, make sure they know how good you are with data entry, collections, correspondence, or whatever. As a temporary employee, you’ll want to present the complete package.
11. Don’t Let It Get You Down
At some point, you may get dismissed from a job for whatever any variety of reasons. Maybe they thought you weren’t “catching on quickly enough” and/or that you weren’t “technical” enough to suit their needs. At this point, look for reasons why this assignment wasn’t a very good one anyway. Maybe the pay was crappy—little more than minimum wage. Perhaps you had to drive more than 20 miles to work, or maybe your supervisor talked so fast you couldn’t understand them. Maybe the work was so boring and tedious you could hardly stay awake. These realizations will make you feel better because sometimes these people will be doing you a favor when they get rid of you!
You certainly don’t want to be known as incompetent, but if you don’t behave yourself on the job, you could be let go much quicker than if you were simply incompetent. Nothing will get you dismissed from a temp job quicker than bad behavior. Moreover, you'll have a much more pleasant work experience if they actually like you. I hope this advice is helpful. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I am a temp. My agency told me it was a temp to hire position. However, when I got there it wasn’t. They are having interviews for my position while I am there. How should I handle this?
Temp jobs often turn out to be something other than what the account manager may have told you, so do the interview anyway. Otherwise, if the employment development department finds out you refused an interview, they can refuse to pay your benefits for weeks. The temp agency will probably appreciate that you took the interview as well.
© 2011 Kelley Marks