When Karen Hoy, an accounting manager and controller, was downsized in 1997, she used temporary staffing agencies to find another job. She discovered she could work less than her old 50-plus hours and spend more time with her son. Not only that, she continued to work at interesting companies on challenging assignments with high-level people. For the past two years, Hoy has worked an average of 40 hours a week as a professional temp. She has no immediate plans to commit herself to one company.
“It’s really good to be able to go in, complete an assignment and walk away knowing that I really helped the company,” says Hoy. “I like the flexibility and the amount of money I’m making.”
Hoy, who works for Accountemps, a staffing service that places financial specialists, is one of a growing number of professionals opting for the temping life. Many work these assignments and sample companies while balancing busy personal lives, exploring other career paths or going back to school to update their skills.
Since 1991, the percentage of payroll paid to professional temps has more than doubled from 2.4% to 6.9%, according to the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services (NATSS). Professional temps include accountants, chief financial officers, attorneys, sales and marketing professionals, as well as middle and senior managers.
But what about temp work’s reputation for low pay and no benefits? What kind of pay can you expect? “It’s all about supply and demand,” says Saralee Terry Woods, a staffing industry consultant and author of Executive Temping: A Guide for Professionals. “If you have the skills in demand-particularly in accounting, finance and information technology-you can often write your own ticket,” she says.
As for benefits, the more progres-sive staffing services are offering healthcare, vacation days, sick days, training and even retirement packages, says Woods. Many services require you to work a certain number of hours before you can qualify. But depending on the demand for your skills, “you may be able to get benefits from day one,” she says.
Temping is not, however, for someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck, says Hoy, whose husband works full time. Sometimes assignments fall through and there are periods of downtime when you aren’t being paid, she says.
Woods gives additional tips for help in making it as a professional temp:
- Know your market value. Research the market to find out how much a full-time position would be and calculate your rate on an hourly basis. “Don’t forget to factor in benefits,” says Woods.
- Shop around. Many staffing agencies have Websites, so do your homework before choosing one. Talk to other temps to see what they like and dislike about their agencies.
- Ask questions before accepting an assignment. Learn as much as possible about a position before signing on. Always ask what it pays, whether there’s potential for the job to become permanent, what the hours are, why the position is open and how long it will last.
- Sharpen your computer skills. Be able to type a letter and use a spreadsheet, says Woods. “If you don’t