Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Learning to live the temp life

Ashley Milne-Tyte Nov 7, 2008
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Learning to live the temp life

Ashley Milne-Tyte Nov 7, 2008


Scott Jagow: 240,000 American jobs gone last month. The unemployment rate is now 6.5 percent. Some people might have to think about temporary work.

Yeah, I know it can be thankless and ego-crushing, but temping isn’t all about repetitive motion and filing anymore. You can temp in a lot of different fields and some people actually make a career out of it.

Ashley Milne-Tyte has more.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: Temps, as anyone who’s been one knows, don’t always get the respect they’d like. Sometimes new officemates can’t even seem to pin down your name.

Here’s a clip from online series “The Temp Life:”

[From “The Temp Life:”] And there will be those temp assignments where you’re referred to more as a noun than a person, like being called “the temp” or “that guy” or “she…”

Sophia Saraicescu lives in Southern California. She’s been temping for 20 years. She’s had her share of impersonal treatment, but she loves temping nonetheless, mainly for its variety. She — I mean Saraicescu — has worked everywhere from the offices of Fortune 500 companies to local stables. Since August she’s been taking time off to help her mother recover from a car accident and she’s not worried about picking up another job. She says employers may lay off full-time staff…

Sophia Saraicescu: …but they still need to get certain jobs done. They still have commitments out there and deadlines and without the full staff they used to rely on they are calling temp companies and asking them to send people.

Linda James can back that up. She runs Quality Personnel, an employment agency in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. She says more employers than usual are asking for temps right now.

Linda James: They’re more reticent in general than they were before the downturn in the economy to call me and place an order for a permanent person because they just are not sure how this economy is going to go.

According to the American Staffing Association, temp work usually declines during a bad economy. Steve Berchem is the association’s vice president. He says in the last recession temporary jobs dropped by a third. He says typically the number of jobs grows as the year goes on.

Steve Berchem: It’s usually at its lowest point in January and tends to peak in late November, early December.

2008, he says, is proving an exception.

Berchem: This year staffing employment held steady from January up until about the Fourth of July. You know, again, normally we would have seen growth in that period. We didn’t, but at the same time we weren’t losing jobs.

On the other hand, Linda James of Quality Personnel has 20 to 30 percent more temps on her books than she did six months ago. She says some have been laid off and more and more let their anxiety show.

James: It’s in their mindset, it’s in their mannerism, it’s in their eyes, and that’s part of what I counsel an applicant before they go on an interview to make sure they guard against that.

It turns out desperation for work is like desperation for love: it turns the other person off. James says many temp positions turn into permanent jobs so it’s important to take them seriously: to dress and act professionally and to express interest in the position.

Career temp Sophia Saraicescu has another tip for anyone turning to temping as an interim measure. She says no matter how important you were in your last job, it’s time to squash your ego.

Saraicescu: A temp just has to go in, fit in, do the job and get out and not make any waves. It seems really simple but most people can’t do that for some reason. They want to put their stamp on everything.

Mark Baenziger is one of the growing band of temporary workers who’s highly educated and highly paid. He works in IT security in Portland. He says despite the downturn his services are still in demand, but he feels his negotiating position has weakened.

Mark Baenziger: I personally feel like I have less leverage now than I did. You know, six months ago or even 12 months ago when someone would offer me less than what I felt comfortable with I could have said, “I’m sorry; I just can’t do that.” I think I’d have a harder time doing that right now.

Baenziger says he loves being a contractor. He works a set number of hours and no longer feels he has to pour his soul into a company. He’s spending more time with his wife and son. But as the economic horizon darkens, he’s keeping an eye out for a permanent job.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

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