How to Make the Most of a Temporary Job

Make yourself indispensable in a short amount of time.

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Miriam Salpeter
Miriam Salpeter
Remember when "temps" were administrative professionals and retail workers at the holidays? It's time to adjust your thinking; the "temporary" job has taken on a whole new meaning. In a post for Marketplace Money, Sara Horowitz, the CEO of the Freelancers Union, suggests that freelancing has become a factor in every part of the labor market. Companies reluctant to ramp up their full-time workforce are realizing they can accomplish their targets with temporary workers. This may be a trend that continues whether or not the economy improves.

Bill Inman is the president of Emergent (www.emergent.com), a California-based contingent workforce employer that works with companies across a variety of industries, including finance, legal, marketing, technology, and engineering. He explains: "We are seeing a shift in values where independent and highly specialized workers are looking for greater flexibility and more control over their schedules and lives. At the same time, companies are changing how they approach their workforce needs and looking for more flexible staffing arrangements."

If you're looking for work, or searching for a position in a new field, this may be the opportune time to take a temporary or contract assignment. Inman has seen job seekers benefit from taking on temporary and contract assignments. He explains: "It allows them to choose what assignments or projects they want, giving them greater flexibility and a work style that fits better into their schedule."

Do you think you may want to consider pursuing a contingent or temporary job? These are Inman's suggestions for successfully navigating the field and taking advantage of the growing use of contract and temporary workers in this new job market:

Keep your options open. When you take temporary or project-based assignments, you can earn money during a period of unemployment and get a better understanding of what you may want to do next, especially if your previous field no longer offers an abundance of opportunities for stable work. No matter what type of job you may want to investigate, it's likely you can find a short-term gig. "Staffing companies hire for all types of skills, from the fast food industry and warehousing to IT specialists and corporate executives. The latter often offer high salaries," Inman confirms.

Build your skills. Whether you take on a temporary contract or begin freelancing, use the opportunity to learn new skills. "Become involved in as many projects as you can and talk to as many experienced members of the team as possible to gain valuable insights," Inman suggests. "Take online courses to gain certifications and make yourself more marketable. Many courses are low cost and sometimes free."

Let your network know you're open to temporary work. Even though you may be seeking a full-time job, Inman suggests you let your personal and social networks know you're open to short-term or project-focused jobs. On the flip side, he says: "If you're already in a temporary or contract position, make sure your supervisor and other decision makers in the organization are aware that you're open to a longer-term position." Be sure to ask if you can use them as references in the future when you're applying at other companies, and request they recommend you via social networking profiles.

Tweak your resume. Temporary and project-based assignments help broaden your experience, whether you're fresh out of college or a senior-level executive. The experiences you gain help build your resume, give you current work experience to share, and show that you're involved in your profession actively and that you're keeping up with relevant skills.

Inman suggests you highlight your work experiences during interviews and illustrate your work ethic, creative problem solving abilities, and capacity to fill critical needs for your target companies. Further, now that more companies are looking to use more temporary and project-based workers, Inman says: "They are becoming less and less interested in the length of your tenure at previous positions. Contract work is often goal oriented and time-specific." Create a strong resume by focusing on your skills, detailing the projects you oversee, and highlighting major career successes, including those you accomplished during temporary assignments.

Give your temporary position your all. Take advantage of everything a temporary job offers. Inman says: "It's a networking opportunity, a chance to learn new skills in a new business sector, and a way to get your foot in the door to prospective full-time employment."

He also explains: "Some employers use a policy called 'temp to hire,' where they first engage someone on a temporary basis for a specific amount of time (usually up to six months) before offering an internal full-time position." This trial run gives the organization a chance to test out the prospective hire, and it also provides a chance for the employee to evaluate if the organization is a good fit.

Don't think of your assignments as "just a temp job." Consider every opportunity a chance to make yourself indispensable, and you just may land a longer-term position with a target company—if that's what you want.

While you may initially consider temporary work a stopgap until you can find a full-time, traditional position, you may decide you enjoy being a part of what Inman calls "the emerging workforce of people who are enjoying more flexible, mobile work styles."

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.