Working for a Temp Agency - An Interview
By Steve Gillman
I spent a couple years working for a temp agency on and off,
back when I was in my twenties and early thirties. People typically
think of secretarial work when they think of a temporary employment
agency, but I never did any office work. In fact, the variety
of work that I did was surprising, as you will see in this short
Steve, what made you turn to a
temp agency for work?
There were a couple reasons. The first was that I needed a
job. Now, at that time (probably about 20 years ago) I could
have found a job pretty easily, but I really didn't want to work
full time, and I wanted a more flexible schedule. That brings
us to the second reason; the agency I worked for in northern
Michigan was very flexible. Once I signed up they would find
various jobs for me that often lasted only a few days, and I
could say yes or no when they called.
So they allowed you to pick and
choose from what they had?
That's right, and it was a big deal for me, because I was
bored with long-term and full-time employment. Now, it was true
that if I said no more than a few times in succession they would
call me less often, but I could always check in when I really
needed work, and they would tell me what they had.
Do you think that's changed?
Almost certainly. You better take what you can get in this
economy. On the other hand, part of why they were so flexible
was that I always got good reviews from their clients. My experience
has been that if you do a good job and don't argue too much you
can get away with a lot more than you might think with any employer.
It helps to be willing to lose any job (I always was), and to
subtly let your employer know this.
So what kinds of jobs did you
get through the temp agency?
I was assigned factory work once or twice, like assembling
muffler brackets. I hated that one, and quit it after a few days.
I hosted conventions at a local resort once or twice, and did
banquet set up work there as well. I handed out samples of food
in a Sam's Club, and helped install restaurant equipment in a
new Outback Steakhouse. I spent a week packaging and shipping
out infomercial products for a order fulfillment company.
How much were you paid?
The pay varied from job to job, but it was low. The most I
made was about $10 per hour, the least probably around $7 per
hour. I did once make $36 for 45 minutes of work unloading bales
of insulation at a Home Depot for a trucker. The temp agency
had a four-hour minimum charge, my wage was $9 per hour, and
it went quicker than the trucker expected.
Which were your favorite assignments?
I liked the outdoor work that I occasionally got. In particular
I enjoyed the construction cleanup jobs. Those clients occasionally
needed help with roofing and framing and other tasks, so I learned
Which ones did you hate?
As I mentioned, I hated factory work, and repeatedly turned
down those jobs. But one that I lasted only a day at was road
construction flagman. I did a couple hours of special training
to get certified, and I really though I would enjoy it, but my
assignment was not a relaxing job site on a country highway as
I had envisioned. It was at the busiest intersection in the county,
and the client didn't provide us with two-way radios as they
normally do. I never knew when the last car had come trough from
the other end of the construction project, so there were constant
traffic jams and honking horns.
What else can you tell us about
I liked the variety of work, but I know many people would
prefer more stable positions. In reality, many did use the temp
agency for that purpose. The factories in the area, for example,
hired through the agency but put people on payroll if they worked
out. I was able to get all the different assignments in part
because everyone else there wanted the steady long-term work.
One thing I didn't like was that the temp agency I worked
for did not always tell clients what the rules were. The gentleman
who had to pay for my unloading of insulation was quite upset
to see that he had to pay for four hours, for example. I was
supposed to be fired for going on a roof, but I hated to say
no to honest work that a client needed done.
Ala in all, it was great experience to be able to have taste
of different kinds of work. I quickly learned what I was suited
to and what I would only do if starving.