Deciding to apply to a temp employment agency means considering how much you need a new job, and how fast. Here is what you need to know before you go.
A temp agency is exactly what it's name says it is: An agency or small human resource job bank that helps to place qualified employees with companies that need manpower. Accepting short-term job assignments is also called "temping" because the work is most often temporary. The typical temp agency job offerings can last anywhere from one to three months, a slightly longer span like six months, or even up to a year if they are filling a position left empty from their permanent employee taking a leave of absence. Temp agencies not only offer a wide job bank, but they offer employee screening services as well. "Screening" is how a human resource department of a large company will describe skills testing, credit, and background checks. Since this can be a time-intensive process, and since management professionals cannot always spend a few hours with each job candidate assessing their character and testing their skills, temp agencies frequently pick up the slack.
A temp agency is a practical place to look for short-term employment if you already know that you will not be able to work permanently for a company.
Where Do You Find Them?
Temp agencies are usually under the yellow pages of any phone directory under "Employment", or even "Temp agencies." You can also check the free business listings in the white pages if you know the names of the agencies. Some temp agencies have Web pages on the Internet, but you may still have to apply for their listings at their offices. Unlike job boards that allow you to post a resume online, temp agencies prefer to meet and screen the live candidate. Would you hire someone based on their seemingly fabulous resume when you had never met them face-to-face?
How Do You Apply?
Temp agencies will make candidates fill out a general application that involves filling in the blanks and checking the boxes as they apply to you. It is no different from a generic application that you would get at a fast food restaurant or a retail store. Just check the boxes that apply to you.
In addition to this application, you may have to bring a resume with your job history, personal information, relevant software knowledge ("relevant," meaning a word processing, database management, scheduling, or spreadsheet program, not your solitaire game in your Accessories), and education legibly typed on sturdy paper stock. A neatly typed resume makes a snappier impression than the application alone (especially one hastily filled out in nervous scribble while waiting for an interview). Since the application informs the agency that you are willing to consider all of the jobs they offer, you do not need a cover letter addressed to an individual personnel manager. At a temp agency, there is no such thing as "To whom it may concern."
When you first call the temp agency to set an appointment, they will expect you to set aside at least two hours for the application, interview, and skills tests.
What Skills Tests?
The following are a few tests that you have to complete, starting with the two most common:
Typing test: Typically, a temp agency will want you to type at a speed of at least 45 WPM (words per minute). Their newspaper ad may mention that typing speed as a prerequisite minimum for those candidates applying for those clerical jobs.
10-key test: This is measured in key strokes per minute. A variation on this test is the alphanumeric data entry test, combining 10-key with manual typing.
Accounting test: This is often a high school graduate-level exam that you will have twenty minutes to a half hour to complete. Things like wholesale price, net profit, averages, percentages, decimals, and word problems will show up on this test.
Spelling and grammar test: Knowing simple things like writing out street names, punctuation, commonly misspelled words, and reading comprehension is important if you want a temp agency to place you in a position that involves high volumes of correspondence.
Customer service: This test involves watching a video and picking the best response to a customer's problem based on the given conditions. The answers are most often in this type of format:
a) Most likely to react this way
b) Somewhat likely to handle it this way
c) Never handle it this way
Skills tests are most often multiple choice. The agency will provide scratch paper, bubble sheets, and number two pencils.
How Else Can I Prepare Myself?
Wear nonconstricting clothing with a comfortable waistband, since you will be seated for a long time. You may also be waiting in the lobby for a long time with other applicants, since temp agency classified ads bring in many prospective candidates. Comfortable shoes are also essential. Keep your wardrobe conservative, since most of the companies that hire the temp agencies to screen their employees hope that the agency will send over someone well-kept and professional-looking.
Bring along your day planner or address book with the phone numbers of your references in it. Also, remember to have your driver's license handy, in case they need to make a photocopy of it. The day planner will help you to decide which hours and days that you want to work. You will fill out your preferences on the application. Be honest about how frequently and how many hours you want to work. There is no sense in telling them that you will accept a full-time, 40-hour-a-week assignment if you really wanted part-time. If you continually decline temp assignments and employer interviews, the agency will consider you unreliable and stop calling you.
Your first appointment at the temp agency may not be your last. Most agencies make you reapply after three to six months, which helps you because you have gained more job skills through your temp assignments by then. The more experience, the better.
What Kinds of Jobs Do Temp Agencies Help You Find?
Temp agencies specialize in filling gaps in the manpower of large companies. Many of the job descriptions only require the candidate to have a high school, vocational, or junior college education.
At a temp agency, you may find job offerings such as these on the section of the application asking what type of work you want them to find for you:
Light industrial: This often entails production work and moderate lifting. Duties that fall within this description are parts assembly, forklift driving, shipping and receiving, welding, check sorting, opening and filing mail, and other duties that require you to move around frequently. These are not desk jobs.
Maintenance and janitorial: These jobs involve duties such as landscaping, simple to complex repairs, cleaning and sanitizing building interiors, painting, and occasionally washing outside windows.
Food service: Some temp agencies hire wait staff and people to bus the tables for more elite restaurants that do not like to rely on posting an open classified ad in a newspaper. Hosts and cashiers are other positions that restaurants try to fill through a temp agency.
Shipping and receiving: Filling and tracking orders and making entries into a database will be required for this job. Good organizational skills and a head for numbers are essential.
Clerical: Spreadsheet management, transcription, address databases, mailing lists, correspondence, filing, copying, and preparing mail are all clerical functions that large companies always need someone to perform. When a large company falls behind in its clerical workload, they are more likely to need a temp on demand, even on the same day that you receive the interview and assignment.
Home health and hospice: Some staffing agencies specialize in temporary employment for skilled nursing facilities or rehabilitation clinics. There is a high demand for licensed vocational nurses and certified nursing assistants (LVNs and CNAs) at these agencies.
Reasons Not to Apply at a Temp Agency
If you rely on childcare at an expensive day care facility, temp assignments might not pay you much more than the cost of child care. As a parent of small children, you may not always be able to get childcare on short notice if you receive a call for a temp assignment that requires you to work that morning.
Temp agencies also get a small percentage of your earnings garnished directly from your paycheck. The company that you work for pays the temp agency, and the agency then pays you. Temp agencies usually pay their employees weekly, even if the company that employs the temps runs on a monthly or biweekly pay cycle.
Another thing to consider: At a temp agency, you will not be eligible for the large company's benefit plan until they decide to hire you permanently. You will also not be eligible to receive vacation days, paid sick leave, 401K plans, or any corporate gifts that would contradict your status as a temporary employee. The bottom line is that large companies do not want to give you the wrong impression that they are offering you permanent work by treating you like permanent staff. Expect to be excluded from confidential meetings, workplace fundraisers, bake sales, and potlucks until you are offered permanent employment.
Finding a job on your own by perusing the classified ads or the Internet and sending out cover letters may yield more promising job opportunities. You may receive a benefit package and more generous, ungarnished salary by applying independently for a job. The tradeoff, however, is that you will have to pound that pavement yourself. The main benefit of the temp agency is that may find a job (albeit a temporary one) considerably sooner than you would by yourself.
Once you have finished the trial period of that job assignment, and the company notifies the agency that they wish to hire you on, you will have to clear a few more short hurdles before you can start displaying framed photos and keeping your own coffee mug at your desk:
Background check: A DMV printout is required, as well as filling out a certification that you have not committed any felonies or misdemeanors. You may also have to give the company fingerprints, which the temp agency can also provide.
Drug testing: The company may tell you to go to the lab of their choice, where they will take urine samples and 50 strands of your hair. Bring a hairbrush.
Credit check: The company will also want to take a look at all of your accounts and credit history for the past five to ten years.
Last but not least: A job application and cover letter detailing your interest in the position that the company is offering you. This is to certify that you wish to work for them directly and to be removed from the temp agency's payroll. It also formally tells the company that you won't run right out to the agency and begin looking for work elsewhere once they have begun to rely on you.