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Insider Advice on How to Succeed in a Temporary Job

By Elizabeth Webster and Kelly Ratliff

You’re hired! There are no two sweeter words in the job search lexicon.

For temporary workers, assignments can range from a few days to a year—and some may even convert to permanent positions.

Regardless of the length of the assignment or the type of work you’ll be doing, you want to position yourself as a hard worker and a valuable member of the team. Many temporary workers make the mistake of hanging back and waiting for projects and tasks to come to them, or they get too comfortable way too fast.

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Dos and Don'ts for Success as a Temporary Worker

Avoid these common pitfalls so you can use your next position as a positive step forward in your career. Here are some dos and don’ts for the first few days and weeks on a temporary job.

DO: Dress Professionally

Appropriate dress can mean different things in different offices. While a suit may be the norm in some companies, it can be as out of place as a bathing suit in others.

When starting a new assignment, make sure you and your recruiter discuss the dress code before your first day. Dressing up or down can draw unwanted attention and make you look like you just don’t belong.

If you’re still unsure of what to wear, err on the side of being overdressed.

DO: Be Patient

Typically the temporary interview and hiring process is fast -- so fast that the company might not have everything ready for you to begin work. It’s even possible that your desk or computer won’t be set up on day one and that you might not get the typical training and "onboarding" that permanent employees receive (let alone the welcome basket).

Try to be flexible, and work with what you have. Don’t be pushy and add to your manager's stress. Your graciousness will be appreciated.

DO: Come Prepared

Temporary workers are typically hired to work on specific projects or cover for staff shortages. As a temporary employee, you are expected to be able to come in and hit the ground running, often with no onboarding and little fanfare.

Show up early on the first day with a notebook and pen (remember that laptop may not be ready!). Ask any questions you may have, and take notes. Take initiative when appropriate, and be ready to jump into the assignments you are given.

DO NOT: Complain

If you have a rocky start, make sure to keep a positive attitude. Don’t complain to your co-workers. Your cranky moment may be relayed to your supervisor, or that co-worker could be your boss at a future job.

If you have an issue, bring it up to your recruiter. They can be a sounding board for your problem, and help you to resolve it in a professional manner.

DO NOT: Gossip

The office rumor mill can be a sticky snare. Once you participate, it’s hard to pull yourself out of it.

Stay away from office politics and drama. As a general rule, be friendly, but not overly social, to keep your reputation intact and better position yourself for a permanent opportunity should one become available.

DO: Ask Questions

Some temporary workers avoid asking too many questions for fear that they will bother their manager or appear unknowledgeable.

It’s great to be a self-starter, but if you are unsure, ask! Supervisors would rather you check in than make mistakes.

But NOT These Questions!

Questions about your day-to-day tasks are encouraged. However, try to avoid “Can I take a break?” “When can I leave?” “Do you mind if I’m late tomorrow?” “Are there any permanent positions opening up here?”

You don’t want to appear unmotivated or bothersome.

DO Engage

What you do want to do as a temporary employee is position yourself as an indispensable, integral part of the team.

  • Demonstrate your reliability by coming in on time and working hard.
  • Always check in with your manager before the end of the day to ask if they need anything else done.
  • See every project through. If you finish an assignment, check to see if there are additional ways you can help, even with tasks that are outside your “job description.”
  • Save checking your personal emails, voicemail, or Facebook for your lunch break.
  • Get a feel for the company culture and the goals of your team and the organization so you can help them reach those objectives, even if it’s just while you are on assignment.

Engage in your work as if your job depends on it (it does!).

DO Stay Positive

It isn’t always easy being a temporary employee. It can be difficult to find your place, and it’s sometimes confusing (can you use the employee gym or not?). Maybe you feel excluded, or like your supervisor is taking advantage of you. Try not to take any “he/she’s just a temp” slighting personally and keep your chin up.

Managing the Interview Trap

Should you interview for another position if you’ve already got a temporary job? It depends.

If you do interview, only schedule meetings for those jobs you’re most serious about. Missing work for a job you won’t take isn’t the best use of your time. When possible, schedule interviews for before or after work, or early or late in the day.

If your temporary assignment is temp-to-perm, be very judicious about scheduling interviews, and do so sparingly. Don’t completely pull yourself off the market because converting to a permanent position isn’t guaranteed, but pursue new opportunities with caution. Doing so can send the message to your employer that you’re not serious about your current position.

If you do end up taking another job, make sure to give one to two weeks' notice to the staffing firm.

If you’re unsure about what to do, ask your recruiter to help guide you through this tricky process.

Bottom Line

Contract assignments may be temporary, but you have the chance to make a lasting impression with your supervisor. Do your job well so you can leave the assignment with more experience, new contacts and a stellar recommendation for your next job.

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About the authors...

Elizabeth Webster and Kelly Ratliff are both Senior Staffing Managers in the Accounting, Finance & Administrative division of WinterWyman Contract Staffing. Liz works with all levels of Accounting & Finance (Clerk through CFO) contractors in the New England job market while Kelly concentrates on the greater NYC area. Contact Liz at ewebster@winterwyman.com and Kelly at kratliff@winterwyman.com. To keep abreast of happenings in the contract staffing world, follow WinterWyman's LinkedIn page, and check out @WWcontracts on Twitter.