State of the Unemployed Union

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!