Temping Tips For Graduates

  | James Innes

After you have emerged from the long hard slog of final exams, the next item on the agenda for most graduates is likely to be launching your career. Temporary work can be a great way to bridge the gap - both in terms of finance and experience - between full-time study and your desired position in the work place.

Be Specific About Your Needs

Temping is by nature very flexible and so it can be worth using this to your advantage. Make sure you are clear in your own mind about the hours, location and type of work etc. that you would like, and of your ultimate goal. Are you looking for a stopgap purely to raise funds or are you looking for experience in a specific field? Temping contracts can also vary enormously, from a few hours, or days, a week to several weeks or months. This flexibility means that you could request to work for a few days each week, so that you can use the rest of the week for intensive job hunting or for further studying for example. You may also have a specific timescale in mind, for example a planned trip around the world, or a contract, which you are committed to later in the year, giving you with the opportunity to take up temporary positions in the meantime.

Which agency? - There are many temping agencies to choose from, particularly dealing with secretarial and administrative positions, but there are also many that deal with specific sectors, for example, IT, media, charities and the arts, finance, legal, bilingual, catering, etc. There are even agencies which deal specifically with part time positions. Consult the Yellow Pages for lists of local temping agencies and the employment pages of local and national newspapers which usually contain advertisements from agencies detailing positions they have on offer. Try using these to select the type of agency you are looking for, and then check the agencies' websites for further information. It is usually possible to join more than one agency, giving you the widest possible opportunity for obtaining work. However this can also cause difficulties if several agencies are constantly calling with opportunities for work. If you find you have too many agencies to deal with, it might be a good idea to decide on a couple which you have found provide the work you need, and inform the remainder that you are unavailable for work for a while.

Location - Consider where you want to work. Are you thinking of moving off to the bright lights of the big city or are you looking for something closer to home? Either way temping agencies are likely to want to know that you have the means to travel to the positions they can offer you. And don't forget that agencies also usually deal with positions local to their branch or office base. If you are relocating consider finding out if you can stay with friends or relatives for a few days in your new location so that you can search for your own accommodation, register with temping agencies and begin to work for them.

Can you take the pace? - Some people thrive on the experience of working on many different environments in quick succession, while others may prefer longer-term contracts, with the greater stability which this provides in terms of income and working relationships.

Temp to Perm - You will find that some contracts are purely temporary while others have the prospect of a permanent position in the future. These 'temp to perm' positions can work well for both the employer and the employee, giving both parties the opportunity to see whether the position is right for you in the long term. This could also be a good option if you are attempting to break into a highly competitive field, especially in the arts, where you could find that a temporary position in a relevant organisation could help you to reach the job you are ultimately looking for in the future.

Initial Contact - Consult the websites of relevant agencies or call their reception desk to find out their application process. It is likely that, initially, they will want you to send a copy of your CV, after which they may call you in for an interview and give you a series of tests to assess your skills.

Selling Yourself - Make sure your CV is up-to-date and presents your qualifications, skills and experience as effectively as possible. It is particularly important that the agencies can contact you quickly and easily by phone or email. Also, consider the experience you have carefully. As a recent graduate you may not have a great deal of experience in the workplace. However, you are likely to have a wealth of experience which you have gathered in other ways - Remember the organisational feat of co-ordinating 20 minibuses full of freshers at freshers' week? Or the administration of the fundraising campaign for your degree show or field trip and the time management skills acquired through juggling bar work, study, travel, etc. These may not all be things you would include in your CV but they might be useful examples of experience which you could cite in your interview with the agency. If you are having trouble deciding exactly what to leave in and what to leave out of your CV it is worth consulting The CV Centre®. We can make sure your CV hits the right note and presents your skills and experience in the best possible light, so that you have the best possible chance of reaching the interview stage.

The Interview - Use this as an opportunity to impress upon the agency not only your skills and experience as described above, but also your general attitude - they are likely to want hard-working reliable and flexible candidates. Make sure you present yourself appropriately - it is usually a good idea to wear a suit. If you are applying for a temp to perm position, regard your interview with the temping agency as the first round of an interview with a potential employer, as it is at this stage that the agency will begin to decide who to put forward as potential candidates for the temp to perm position. It is also often useful to be clear about your intentions, and to let the agency know whether you are prepared to undertake work in any field, so that you can maximise your short-term chances of finding employment. This is perhaps particularly useful if you have a limited amount of time before a new project begins (e.g. another contract or travel). If the agency knows your plans, they should be able to offer you work of the appropriate length, and you won't have to let them down by leaving half way through a contract.

Skills Tests - Many agencies employ tests which assess candidates' skills, often covering numeracy, grammar, and computer literacy. Don't panic when presented with these tests, they are again tools to make sure you are offered appropriate work. If you find you struggle with these tests, ask the agency if they offer any training in your weak areas. Secretarial agencies in particular will often provide training so that candidates can brush up on their skills. If they don't, see where you need help and address these areas before you take a similar test at the next agency you approach.

Payment - If you register with several agencies you will begin to get a feel for the going rate for the type of work your are undertaking. Bear this in mind, as well as the hourly rate at which it is financially viable for you to undertake the position, when an agency asks how much you expect to earn per hour. Once you have told an agency your hourly rate, they will usually offer you work close to this figure. You will need to decide in your own mind whether, sometimes, the experience a position gives you might compensate in the long term for a lower hourly rate in the short term. Don't forget to make sure you find out the rate of pay for each position before you accept the contract, the payment procedure, whether weekly or monthly, and, if you have a time sheet, who it should be signed by and the deadline for submission to the agency.

Temping Etiquette

Once you have been accepted onto the books of an agency you will usually find that they will begin to call you with offers of work and if you accept the work there a few things to remember to make sure things run smoothly.

Don't be late! - make sure you find out from the agency where you will be working, who to report to when you arrive, and, if necessary, the best way to travel there.
Dress Code - ensure you know the dress code - wearing a suit in the wrong environment can be as bad as turning up in jeans to work as a front line receptionist.
Time Out - find out whether you are expected to take a lunch break and for how long - don't assume you will automatically be paid for working through your lunch break. If you are a smoker check your temporary employer's protocol for when and where you can smoke.
Take notes - it can be useful to carry a notebook with you to note down the specific tasks and procedures of your current job. When you are working in a series of different places it is easy to confuse such details and taking your own notes will ensure you don't have to constantly pester your temporary employer for repeated instructions.
Workload - if you finish the work assigned to you ahead of schedule ask the person you report to if there is anything else you can help with.
Attitude - these positions are your chance to impress potential employers with not only your ability but also your whole working attitude. Be prepared to take on any task which is necessary, even if it does involve photocopying for hours on end. Dedication, determination, a willingness to take part and to work as part of a team, are highly sought after traits.
Feedback - don't be afraid to let your temping agency know how you found the position. This can help them to make sure they find work which is suitable for you in the future.
Reliability - one of the key qualities an agency looks for. If you agree to take on a contract make sure you fulfil your obligations. However if you do find you cannot carry out any work you have agreed to take on, (and sometimes this does happen due to sickness or other unforeseen circumstances) make sure you inform the temping agency as soon as possible so they can find a replacement.
Don't burn your bridges - Always try to maintain a good working relationship with your temping agencies. If you have struck up a rapport with a particular agency and you come back to temping in the future, you may well find that you can save a lot of time and effort by returning to an agency where you already have established a good track record.

Temping can be a rewarding way to earn money, gain experience, meet a wide range of people and work in a broad variety of different environments and could help you to determine how you would like your future career to progress. Of course, a professionally written CV is the first stage in securing the positions you want. So, if you would like to make sure that your CV doesn't let you down and leads you to the opportunities you are looking for then find out how The CV Centre UK, the UK's most popular CV consultancy, can make sure your CV gets you where you want to be.

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