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Temporary Work: Myth vs. Reality

By Robert Half International

Although job creation remains sluggish, one bright spot is the temporary staffing industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported steady growth in this sector for months, suggesting that more employers are using temporary professionals to help them meet rising workload demands. Historical trends also show that an increase in temporary hiring typically precedes an economic recovery.

This pattern can be seen as good news for unemployed workers: Not only does there appear to be a transition from recession to recovery under way, but opportunities to work on a temporary basis are expanding. Some professionals fail to consider the option of interim work, however, largely because of persistent myths about what it does or does not entail. Here, we set the record straight about some of the most common misconceptions:

Myth: Temporary work is low-level work.
Reality: As the needs of businesses and workers have changed over the years, the temporary industry has evolved. Today, the fastest growth is occurring in professional and technical occupations, as both businesses and professionals from all backgrounds and skill levels have come to realize the benefits of having greater flexibility. This is assuredly the case in the accounting and finance fields. Professionals have embraced the consulting lifestyle because they can secure challenging, diverse assignments and receive competitive compensation while still maintaining some control over when, where and how much they work. For their part, companies have found they can readily gain access to highly skilled finance professionals who can supply specialized expertise – ranging from bookkeeping help to interim chief financial officer duties – for both immediate and long-term projects.

Myth: Working as an “interim” professional will hurt my prospects of getting hired on a permanent basis.
Reality: Quite the contrary. Many businesses view interim hiring as a way to evaluate individuals for full-time positions, and temp assignments often lead there. This may be especially true in the current economic environment. With organizations still reeling from the effects of the recession – including widespread layoffs – employers are understandably cautious about premature hiring. Yet, they realize they cannot participate in a recovery if they’re understaffed. To bridge gaps, they’re bringing in the most accomplished interim professionals they can find, and many firms are evaluating the skills and cultural fit of these individuals with an eye toward making them full-time employees if business conditions continue to improve. Professionals can increase their odds of turning a short-term project into a full-time job by letting the staffing firm they’re working with know they’re interested in potential temp-to-hire assignments.

Project consultants should carry out their responsibilities with the same care and concern as they would if employed full time. Firms want to hire professionals who show initiative and go beyond what’s asked of them. By taking ownership of projects and striving to add value with every task, interim professionals are more likely to land on an employer’s short list when it’s time to hire.

Myth: Temporary work is short term, sporadic and low paying.
Reality: Although project consulting frequently offers the option of working fewer hours than a full-time role might require, professionals with sought-after skills usually find that they can work as much as they want. In fact, according to the American Staffing Association (ASA), 79 percent of temporary and contract employees work full time – virtually the same percentage as the rest of the workforce. Also, temporary assignments can last from a few days to more than a year. The ASA estimates the average tenure for temporary and contract employees at three to four months. Moreover, extended assignments are even more likely in the current environment, as more employers wait for signs of a sustained recovery before adding full-time staff.

As to wages, many temporary positions pay on par with salaried ones, and individuals with the most sought-after skills can often command a premium. To attract the most highly skilled professionals, staffing firms offer competitive wages and benefits, which often include access to healthcare insurance, vacation and holiday pay and even retirement plans.

Myth: You can't include temporary work on a resume.
Reality: As the temporary industry has grown and expanded, interim assignments have come to be viewed more as high-level consulting projects than so-called “temp work.” Hiring managers understand that project work provides valuable experience that can enhance a candidate’s abilities. Moreover, according to a survey commissioned by our company, 78 percent of executives polled consider a long period of consistent temporary work comparable to full-time employment.

Myth: You can't develop new skills working for a temporary staffing company.
Reality:
Accounting and finance professionals who work on a temporary basis are often involved in projects that are as interesting and challenging as those they might encounter in full-time positions. In addition, a staffing firm specializing in accounting and finance positions will stay abreast of the latest industry developments and offer complimentary training opportunities to help project professionals continually upgrade their skills and even earn accreditations.

Myth: If I work on a temporary basis, I can't continue my job search.
Reality: Depending on how much you choose to work, you may need to make some adjustments as to how and when you conduct your job search, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. It may involve simply shifting your networking and research activities into the early morning or evening hours or possibly during your lunch break. As a temporary professional though, just remember never to conduct job search activities while at a client’s site. Not only is this unethical, but it could cost you future temporary assignments. If necessary, arrange for a shorter workweek to free up more time to dedicate to your job search. Also, keep in mind that your temporary assignment can also help you advance your job search. You never know when a position might open at the company where you’re working, or others you meet during the course of your assignment may be willing to recommend you for a position they’ve heard about through their network.

What’s Right for You?
As the economy enters what everyone hopes is a recovery mode, skilled accounting and finance professionals would be wise to go where the jobs are and, at the moment, many emerging opportunities are starting off as temporary assignments. By distinguishing between the myths and realities of interim work, you can make an informed decision on whether working as a project professional might be an option that makes sense for you in the current environment.


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