Raising cash in a hurry #13: Give in to temping temptation

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Update May 2009: Conventional wisdom says that employment lags behind in a economic recovery, as companies wait to make sure the upswing has legs before hiring. Temp agencies may be called on to staff the early days of the recovery, so give them a try. A hard-working temp frequently turns into a perm.

After my wife was hired by a legal temp firm, she told her new bosses that she'd need two weeks to settle things up at her old job. When they asked her if she could suggest a temporary replacement for herself, she gave them my name. This is why, for two weeks in December, I became my wife. In the process, I discovered the wild and wonderful world of temping.

I only temped for a few months, but I enjoyed it immensely. Although I've held quite a few full-time jobs, my longest-term job was in teaching, and years of dealing with controversies and political correctness debates had left me almost permanently paranoid. By the time I left the teaching biz (voluntarily, I might add!), I was in an almost constant state of fear and self-justification.

Temping was the absolute opposite. At each of the jobs that I did, I was constantly aware that, should I wish, I could leave at a moment's notice. My employers needed me far more than I needed them and, although I never left a job early, I always chose the date of my departure.

Temping is good for the soul. As a temp, you quickly become aware of just how few intelligent, hard-working people there are out there. If you show up to work on time, take reasonably short lunch breaks, don't leave too early, and demonstrate even the slightest amount of energy and initiative, chances are that your employers will view you as the second coming of the messiah. In many cases, they will even offer you permanent employment; personally, I had this experience at two of my temp jobs. Also, temp jobs pay really well, although most temp companies don't provide benefits.

Another great thing is the glimpse that you get of the inner workings of companies. In my time as a temp, I saw how temp companies work, how transnational corporations work, how law firms work, how human resources departments work, and so on. I gained an understanding of business that was surprisingly comprehensive, if a little skewed. Best of all, I got a feeling for how it feels to be on the other side of the interview table.

At the end of the day, I decided not to become a permanent temp. Having read some of the writings and blogs of long-term temp workers, I could relate to the joys that they reveled in and irritations that they wrote about. On the other hand, I could easily see myself becoming like them: lonely, rootless, and slightly condescending. Also, as I began writing more and started getting paid for it, it became harder and harder to find temp jobs that paid enough to justify my time away from the computer.

I'm pretty sure that, at least for the time being, I'm not going to go back to the day-to-day grind of a full-time permanent job. The same can't be said for temping; if my temp coordinator, Dawn, ever comes back to me with a decently-paying temp job, I might just take it. After all, I could always use a vacation in someone else's office...

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. As a temp, he learned to rank companies based on the most important and vital question: is the coffee free?

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