Successful Interviewing for Contract or Temporary Jobs

You’ve decided to apply for temporary work.

Maybe you’re ready just for a change or a new challenge.

Or, you like the idea of trying something new every few months.

Or, maybe you just can’t find the right permanent job right now.

Regardless of the reason for pursuing temporary work, there are some drastic differences between “temp” and “perm” roles, and it all starts with the interview.

If you erroneously prepare yourself for a permanent job interview, you could lose out on a great temporary (or freelance/contract) opportunity.

Why Job Interviews for Temporary Jobs Are Unique

Many people interviewing for contract work know that the job is temporary, but don’t realize the importance of preparing differently for this type of interview.

Yes, you still need to sell your brand, and present yourself in the best possible light.

However, what a company is seeking from a temporary worker is different than a permanent employee.

They have separate criteria that you need to address in your interview.

Generally, contract work is more transactional in nature, and the employer is looking for a person to fill a specific role or work on a project.

Your ability to show that you can fill that role can be the difference between winning the job or continuing in your search for work.

8 Tips for Succeeding in Interviews for Temporary Jobs or Contract Positions

Here are some tips for succeeding in job interviews for temporary placement opportunities:

1. Know What the Employer Wants

In a traditional permanent job interview, hiring managers ask interview questions to make sure the candidate is a good fit for the role AND the organization’s culture.

They’re already thinking about retention and are curious about your 5-year plan, career goals, professional passion, development needs and strengths and weaknesses.

Temporary jobs are short-term, so there’s no need to share your aspirations to become a CEO or entrepreneur.

Hiring managers for these positions are less concerned with your cultural fit and more focused on whether you can accomplish the tasks of the job and how quickly you can get up to speed.

Be sure to review the description before the interview so you know how and where you meet the requirements and also where you may be lacking in some skills or experience.

2. Focus on Your Skills, Not Your Passion

During the interview, zero in on the experience and skill set required for the job. Be sure to give specific examples of:

  • Similar work you’ve done in the past.
  • The technologies you know.
  • The processes you’ve implemented.
  • The projects you’ve worked on.

Share your successes, and how you overcame obstacles.

Give as much detail as possible about your assignments so that you paint a full picture of your abilities.

For example, if you’re interviewing for an accounting position and you’re asked about reconciliation, don’t just say, “Yes, I’ve done that.” Hiring managers want to know the where, when, how, and how many times.

3. Be Ready to Move Fast

The interview and hiring progression for a permanent job can take weeks or months to unfold. In contrast, the temporary job interview process can move at lightning speed.

In some cases, you may interview one afternoon, get an offer, and be in the job by the next morning.

With temporary work, the employer almost always has a pressing need for someone to do the work. Be ready to clear your calendar so you’re better prepared to take the offer if it comes.

4. Communication May Be Lacking

With some permanent posts, you’re kept informed by the hiring manager about the process as it progresses. This isn’t typical for contract positions.

You may interview and not hear any feedback at all. It’s not personal. This just goes along with the fast-paced temporary placement environment.

Except for the interview itself, all your communication will most likely be with your agency/staffing firm recruiter, so it’s imperative to have open communication with him or her.

5. Research What Matters

Candidates are often encouraged to research an organization before an interview, using Google, LinkedIn, and their own network to glean as much information as possible about the company, its leadership team, and the culture.

Research is still important for contract interviews, but it should be more focused. Learn what you can about the specific challenges of the role you’ll be performing, and how your skills and experience can help the organization meet the challenges.

For most temporary assignments, there isn’t time to get immersed in the culture.

6. Negotiate BEFORE the Offer

Don’t make the mistake of trying to negotiate your salary after an offer is made.

For temporary work, all negotiation must happen before the interview, and with your recruiter at the agency. Remember, you will be paid by the staffing firm, not by the company where you will work.

Discuss your salary needs and expectations with your recruiter beforehand so that you are comfortable with the hourly rate. After an offer is extended, there is no room to negotiate.

7. Prepare for All the Usual Interview Questions

While not commonly asked during interviews for short-term positions, you may still want to be prepared for questions about your long-term goals especially as they relate to searching for permanent work, your career path, and your strengths and weaknesses.

Some questions you can count on include those about your adaptability, flexibility, ability to change gears with ease, and how quickly you can become proficient at the tasks and demands of the job. (see more on common interview questions and answers)

Beware the “Trick” Long-Range Goals Question

If a hiring manager asks about your long-range goals, be careful when responding.

Some may be asking to gauge your happiness and longevity in a temporary role. If you share that you’re looking for a permanent position, you may answer your way out of the contract job. Hiring managers want to ensure that you will stay for the length of the contract and that you are invested in the role.

A safe answer is to say something like,

“Right now, I want to focus on honing my skills, and this position is the perfect opportunity for me to do that.”

Some temporary work truly is temp-to-perm. However, for most of these jobs, the position is temporary. So, keep that in mind if you are asked this question.

8. Be Engaged

Maybe you are looking for a permanent position, or maybe you enjoy the variety and skill honing temporary work affords you. Regardless of your longer-term goals, put forth your best effort, and engage in your work.

You most likely will only be at this job for a finite period of time, so try to prove yourself quickly, if you are interested in making a good impression that can pay off for you later.

It is possible that there will be a permanent post within the company or that your manager could help you network at another organization. So, treat the job as a short-term opportunity, but be fully engaged.

More About Job Interviews

More About Temporary Jobs

About the author…

Jane Davis Long is a Principal Staffing Manager in the Accounting, Finance & Administrative division of WinterWyman, one of the largest staffing firms in the Northeast. Jane’s focus is on placing high-quality candidates at all levels (Clerk through CFO) in Accounting & Finance roles for Boston area companies, from start-ups to Fortune 500 powerhouses. Contact her at [email protected]. To keep abreast of happenings in the contract staffing world, follow WinterWyman’s LinkedIn page, and check out @WinterWyman on Twitter.

Don't forget to share this article with friends!