State of the Unemployed Union

The End of a Brief Era – Adventures in Temping

April 22, 2010
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Well, I had avoided this blog for many weeks while I was working a temporary assignment so that I would not say too much that might be taken the wrong way should the right people read it, i.e., the company I was temping with. But, since the assignment ended one week ago, I am free to write as I please.

This last assignment was a good re-introduction into the workplace. It lasted six months and I can confidently say that I did a good job. But there were issues, as there are with any company.

I learned much about the trucking industry while working as a temporary assistant at this local depot. Truckers may be a little rough around the edges, but they are very nice people. The guys were always polite whether on the phone or in person and always behaved respectably. I had been warned by the temp agency that there could be rough behavior at this job because I would be dealing with truckers. I am proud to say that the truckers were not the problem.

No, management was the problem. My direct supervisor, a lovely older lady who really liked me, tried hard to convince upper management to take me on as a permanent employee. The pay would have been lower than what I am accustomed to, but this office was literally five minutes from my house, so I would have sufficed with whatever I was offered. Supervisor needed the assistance as she had grown weary of having to take work home every night. She looked forward to having a permanent assistant. I had succeeded six other temps in the same position, Supervisor told me, and had taken on more responsibility than any of the others.She told me of her long-term personal plans and wanted to have someone ready to take her place. I had hoped that person would be myself.

But the company had greater issues with which to deal at this time. Gas prices were rising. Business was slowing. Their secondary branch out of state had been burglarized for the umpteenth time. They had raised the prices they were charging to customers and had lowered the prices they were paying to owner-operatoring truckers. This caused outrage amongst the driving ranks and several of them made their concerns vocal in loud meetings at the office. As this was a very small office with no private meeting quarters everyone could hear everything that happened within its walls. One trucker was fired and three others quit and I can only assume that the lowered pay was the reason.

There also was a struggle between Supervisor and the Vice President (VP). If any mistakes were made within a particular department, VP would deflect those mistakes onto Supervisor’s department, which included me. Now, I am a fallable human being and did make mistakes during this assignment, but the mistakes I am discussing right now actually had little or nothing to do with me, personally. They affected other members of Supervisor’s department. Supervisor, naturally, would defend her staff, but to no avail. They would take the blame for actions over which they had no control. This caused a great deal of stress on nearly a daily basis.

Supervisor had grown to confide in me. She admitted to me that while I had correctly guessed that VP did not like me, it was another employee that VP was after. This poor girl was under constant scrutiny and regularly berated by the Controller of the company. She kept on doing her job to the best of her ability. I honestly don’t know how she did it.

Anyway, due to hearing about these issues more and more as time went on, I contacted the temp agency and asked them to begin seeking a new assignment for me. I told them everything I had learned and that, if offered a permanent role, I would not accept under any circumstances. I would have to fight a losing battle daily. Why would I tie myself into a situation like that rather than free myself to seek a better situation? I promised to maintain my obligation to the temporary assignment until another job came along. The temp agency agreed.

Some weeks after that conversation with my representative at the temp agency, the assignment came to an abrupt end. I had finished my duties early in the day and was allowed to go home around noon. At 4:30 p.m. I received a call from the temp agency. The representative had just ended a call with Supervisor informing her that she had just left an emergency meeting that had been called that afternoon. The company was closing its secondary branch and making other changes to its business. I was relieved of my temporary assignment and no temp was going to be used at all. The representative asked me how I felt. Relieved. I had seen it coming for a few months, piecing together the conversations that I’d heard within the office. I told her that I had closed a company before and all the rhetoric was the same with this company. It was inevitable.

Now, one week later, I have had one interview with another agency, but for a permanent position. I have updated my resume to include this temporary assignment and Supervisor has agreed to be a reference for me. The job market is still tight but I am optimistic.


On Hold

January 10, 2010
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Before Thanksgiving I interviewed with a company for the Perfect Position. This position encompassed the best parts of my last two jobs plus the opportunity for advancement. And the money is exactly at the level that I need to be earning. Perfect! The interviewer had said that they were looking to fill the position within three weeks and that I should follow up with her two weeks after this meeting. I left feeling invigorated. This interview had gone incredibly well.

So, I made the requested follow up call exactly two weeks after the interview only to find out that the Perfect Position had been placed on hold. The company had decided to hire a Chief Operating Officer first and then the Perfect Position second. I was surprised because this company had originally wanted to fill this position very quickly but their priorities changed. It was not a “no”. It was a “not now”. I was told to follow up at the end of the month of January, when the company anticipates filling the COO position.

While I did not enjoy this development it did not send me into a depressive spiral. I had begun a temporary assignment and at least have occupation during the waiting period. At the end of this month I will place another follow up call with an optimistic attitude. I know that I am the right candidate to fill this Perfect Position. I have the skill necessary to not only meet the expectations of the position but to exceed them. My personality and level of professionalism are the right fit for the company. I know these things with absolute conviction.

But I have to wonder how often position delays are happening under the current job market conditions. Is my experience unique? Or are thousands of other job applicants hearing the same thing – “not now”? Certainly employers have to watch the bottom line and many are streamlining their processes in order to strengthen their ability to weather this economy. But getting people back to work could only help the economy, so aren’t these employers who advertise open positions and then place those positions on hold only maintaining this awful status quo?

I know that there are many factors involved when a company considers hiring and any reason could cause a company to freeze hiring. It is just frustrating to have been interviewed, given a brief timeframe for the filling of the position, and then being placed on hold. How long should a candidate wait for a company to make a decision, especially when they are working a temporary job that could end any day and no one else is calling?


Adventures in Temping

December 21, 2009
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Upon my latest adventure in unemployment I set about seeking temporary work. I signed up with six local staffing agencies, and even a few national agencies with no local offices, in order to secure a temporary assignment.

Nearly one month after losing my job I eagerly took the opportunity to work for one week. You read that right. The assignment was only one week long and was, in the words of the person I served at the client company, a s#!t job. This assignment entailed filing for an Accountant at a construction company. My first task was to file about six month’s worth of documents for the current year. Next, I cleared out those files and prepared them for storage. I then prepared files for the new year. It doesn’t sound like much but these files were for hundreds of vendors, clients, and employees. My fingers chapped and bled from digging through files, papers, and putting together storage boxes. File cuts are the worst. I don’t know how many band-aids I went through that week.

While I am sure this assignment sounds unsavory it actually was kind of nice. Allison, the Accountant I was assisting, was grateful for my help. She asked me about my resume and told me that she would try to convince the owner of the company to bring me on permanently as a Project Assistant. The Project Assistant position would assist the four Project Managers as well as the Accountant. The company had suffered a lay-off six months prior but Allison was sure she could persuade the owner to see the utility of hiring a new assistant. I was excited at the prospect and left the assignment at the end of that week confident that I did a great job and, if The Powers That Be would agree, I might just get a new permanent full-time job.

The Powers That Be disagreed and I never heard from that company again. The staffing agency was pleased with the recommendation that they gave me, though.

Five months later another staffing agency secured for me yet another one week assignment. This assignment was as a Receptionist for an office-space rental company – the kind that rents office space to self-employed business persons and small businesses that cannot afford a typical office space arrangement. Also, there was the possibility that the assignment could extend to three months while another Receptionist was on a short-term medical leave.

Again, the people I served were very pleasant and the days were busy. I hadn’t been a Receptionist for seven years so it was challenging trying to keep up with the phones and greet guests at the same time. My supervisor at this assignment helped me reformat my resume to make it more effective and even advised me which clients to leave it with. We exchanged email addresses and became Facebook friends. Bad luck struck again, though. The company announced cuts and my assignment was not extended. I still keep in touch with the supervisor from time to time.

Six months after that assignment, another agency offered me a position that would last at least one month. This was a database clean-up assignment, a task I thoroughly enjoy. I was really glad for this assignment as it would be a job that I considered fun and it was for a longer term. The first week was wonderful. I came down with what turned out to be the swine flu and was dismissed from the assignment. People at the client company were afraid that I might have infected the entire office and requested that I be replaced, even though I had recovered and they were impressed with my job performance. In truth, swine flu was the only strain of the flu going around at that time and everyone everywhere was at risk. You were at risk going to the grocery store. But this company had deemed me Swine Mary and I lost out once again. The staffing agency, however, agreed that the client company had overreacted but there was nothing they could do.

Two weeks ago this same staffing agency called me with another temporary opportunity. This assignment entailed assisting a trucking company just five minutes from my house. The money is less than the other assignments I’d completed but it is close to home and the term is indefinite. This company is aware that I am waiting to hear about a permanent opportunity for which I had interviewed prior to accepting this assignment but the permanent opportunity is not guaranteed.

This temporary assignment is by far the best temp opportunity I have had in the past year. The staff are wonderful people, always telling me what a good job I am doing. Heck, they downright spoil me, giving me Christmas presents when they were not obligated to do so. They have already expressed an interest in taking me on permanently but I really want to see what comes of that other opportunity. I do believe that, if the other job opportunity falls through, I may already be in the best situation. In comparison to the classified ads I have recently viewed, I definitely am in the best place for me.

One common denominator shared by all of these temporary jobs is that I am working below my skill level. There is no challenge. Under normal circumstances that would be discouraging, but our current economic conditions are not normal circumstances. Corporate executives and people with advanced degrees are having to accept temporary or even permanent positions that are technically beneath their experience. But there are families to support and bills to be paid. Employers who are actively hiring are asking more from candidates and giving less in return. Just today I read an ad for an Executive Assistant position that matched my resume to the letter with one caveat – BACHELOR DEGREE IN ENGLISH REQUIRED! I decided not to apply for that position.

The moral of my story, kids, is that temporary work may be difficult to come by these days but no opportunity should be overlooked. My personal formula for accepting a temporary assignment is this: more $ than unemployment + short commute = accept the job. That is what I am doing now. I take pride in my work whatever it is and wherever it happens to be and every company I have served has been satisfied with my performance.

And, you never know, a temporary assignment that does not quite match your skill level just may lead to a permanent opportunity you normally would have overlooked. One can hope!