So, you need a little extra money, and not much time to get it in. Or…you need a job right now and don’t want to spend weeks trawling through the classifieds. Or…you don’t really care what kind of job you get, you just want the cold hard cash.

Then temping may be for you! Not only can a good temp agency get you a job within hours, but offices that employ short-term temps rarely expect hard work from them, let alone quality.

I’ve worked at over 2 dozen temp jobs over the past 5 years, ranging from one-day assignments to four-month assignments. These are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

How to pass the test at the temp agency

International research has proven to me that every temp agency in the world* uses the same program to test your computer skills. Quizzing you on basic, intermediate, and advanced functions, it can test your proficiency at all of the Microsoft Office applications and several others (like Quark and Photoshop), as well as your typing speed.

* Figure may be exaggerated.

  1. If you know how to run a search and replace, make a table, make a macro, and merge documents, you will boost your score for multiple applications.
  2. Take tests for all the applications you know, including ones you may have only used once, or passed by in the computer store. If you have at least half a brain, you should be able to figure out the basic questions if nothing higher, and the agency will think you’re flexible and a quick learner.
  3. For the typing test, practice typing “customer”, “service”, “punctuality”, “courtesy”, etc., since these kinds of words are in every document they’ll use to test your typing. It’s their way of subliminally brainwashing you while heartlessly converting your unique personality and abilities into an anonymous number.

Congratulations, you got a job!

Things to bring to the office

  1. The directions to and address of the office where you’re supposed to work, even if you think you know where it is! Memory is unreliable.
  2. A business card from your temp agency, with your agent’s name and number on it, in case the office manager needs to contact that person.
  3. A sweater or light jacket. You can never know whether the office will be comfortable, chilly, or butt-freezing cold.
  4. A book. It’s entirely likely they’ll run out of things for you to do during the day, especially if you’re on a short-term assignment and/or doing admin work. If you don’t get a computer with internet access, a book is vital to keeping you from losing your mind during what could be a very long 8 hours.
  5. Tea/coffee supplies. Most offices have coffee makers, but if you want tea and you’re in the US, you’ll have to bring your own. If you’re particular about the way you take your coffee or tea, it’s also safer to bring a few sugar packets/non-dairy creamers on the first day, since some offices like to mysteriously hide these staples at the back of the fridge, behind the industrial cleaner under the sink, or in a corner of some inaccessible shelf.
  6. Lunch, since you probably won’t know whether there’ll be a restaurant in the building or nearby.
When you get to the office
  1. If given a choice of cubicles, try to pick one in an isolated spot or in a location where your every action will not be monitored by the entire office. Corners are ideal, especially if you sit facing the office, with your computer facing the corner.
  2. Try to get a computer with internet access. It will make the day fly by.
  3. Don’t even attempt the hopeless task of getting a copy machine card, voicemail access, or an office email account. Requests for these usually take forever to process, and regardless of the length of your assignment, you’ll likely be gone by the time it’s cleared.
  4. Find the bathrooms.
  5. Find the vending machines.
  6. Find the office supply closet.
Filling out your timesheet
  1. Round off your hours to the nearest 15 minutes. This makes it easier on you, and easier on the accounting staff who will be processing your timesheet.
  2. Fill them out in pencil and keep them that way until you get them signed. If they screw you over during the week, you can get your revenge by claiming overtime.
  3. When finding a supervisor to sign your timesheet--and this is absolutely VITAL--pick one who
    • never sees when you enter or leave the office
    • is not actually in charge of your assignment
    • doesn’t even know your name.
    If you can accomplish this, you can get away with murder.
  4. Don’t forget to get it signed and send/fax it in to your temp agency. This sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at all the times 4:59 on a Friday afternoon can roll around with an unsigned timesheet in your hand and all the supervisors gone home for the weekend
Freebies you can get as a temp
  1. Office supplies (depending on how nice they treat you, acceptable things to nick can range from a nice pen to anything you can fit in your pocket).
  2. Postage, including FedEx express and next-day delivery if you manage to wrangle a government job.
  3. Xeroxing for your resume.
  4. Internet access.
  5. Coffee mugs.
  6. Potted plants.

And so on. Now that you have this insider knowledge, the fascinating world of ephemeral, nearly anonymous employment is wide open.

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