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7 Interview Tips for Older Workers to Get Temp Jobs

This dance differs drastically from one for a permanent position

By Jane Davis Long

You've decided to apply for temporary work in your 50s or 60s. Maybe you're ready for a change, like the idea of trying something new every few months or just can't find the right permanent job. One thing you need to know: There are some drastic differences between "temp" and "perm" roles, and it all starts with the job interview. If you erroneously prepare yourself for a permanent job interview, you could lose out on a great temporary (or freelance/contract) opportunity.

Why Job Interviews for Temporary Jobs Are Unique

Many older people interviewing for contract work know that the job is temporary, but don't realize the importance of preparing differently for this type of interview.

Yes, you still need to sell your brand and present yourself in the best possible light. However, what a company is seeking from a temporary worker is different than a permanent employee and they have separate criteria that you need to address in an interview. Generally, contract work is more transactional in nature, and the employer is looking for a person to fill a specific role or work on a project. So your ability to show that you can fill that role can be the difference between winning the job or continuing in your search for work.

7 Tips for Succeeding in Interviews for Temporary Jobs

Here are seven tips for older workers to succeed in job interviews for temporary placement opportunities:

1. Know What the Employer Wants

In a traditional permanent job interview, hiring managers ask questions to make sure the candidate is a good fit for the role AND the organization's culture. They're already thinking about retention and are curious about your five-year plan, career goals, professional passion, development needs and strengths and weaknesses. But since temporary jobs are short-term, there's no need to share your aspirations to become a CEO or entrepreneur.

Hiring managers for these positions are less concerned with the cultural fit and more focused on whether you can accomplish the tasks of the job and how quickly you can get up to speed.

So be sure to review the temporary job description before the interview so you know how and where you meet the requirements and also where you may be lacking in some skills or experience.

2. Focus on Your Skills, Not Your Passion

During the interview, zero in on the experience and skill set required for the job. Be sure to give specific examples of:

  • Similar work you've done in the past
  • The technologies you know
  • The processes you've implemented
  • The projects you've worked on
  • Your successes, and how you overcame obstacles

Give as much detail as possible about your assignments to paint a full picture of your abilities. Don't just say, "Yes, I've done that." Hiring managers want to know where, when, how and how many times.

3. Be Ready to Move Fast

The interview and hiring progression for a permanent job can take weeks or months to unfold. In contrast, the temporary job interview process can move at lightning speed. In some cases, you may interview one afternoon, get an offer and be in the job by the next morning.

With temporary work, the employer almost always has a pressing need for someone to do the work. So be ready to clear your calendar allowing yourself to take the offer if one comes.


4. Communication May Be Lacking

With some permanent posts, you're kept informed by the hiring manager about the process as it progresses. This isn't typical for contract positions. Here, you may interview and not hear any feedback at all. It's not personal. This just goes along with the fast-paced temporary placement environment. And, except for the interview itself, all your communication will most likely be with your agency/staffing firm recruiter, so it's imperative to have open communication with him or her.

5. Research What Matters

Job candidates generally are encouraged to research an organization before an interview, using Google, LinkedIn and their own network to glean as much information as possible about the prospective employer, its leadership team and the culture. Research is important for contract interviews, but it should be more focused.

Learn what you can about the specific challenges of the role you'll be performing, and how your skills and experience can help the organization meet the challenges. For most temporary assignments, there isn't time to get immersed in the culture.

6. Negotiate Before the Offer

Don't make the mistake of trying to negotiate your salary after a temporary job offer is made. For temporary work, all negotiation must happen before the interview, and with your recruiter at the agency. (You will be paid by the staffing firm, not by the company where you will work.)

Discuss your salary needs and expectations with your recruiter beforehand so you are comfortable with the hourly rate. After an offer is extended, there is no room to negotiate.

7. Prepare for All the Usual Questions

While questions about long-term goals aren’t commonly asked during interviews for short-term positions, you may still want to be prepared for them, especially as they relate to searching for permanent work, your career path and your strengths and weaknesses.

Count on being asked questions about your adaptability, flexibility and how quickly you can become proficient at the tasks and demands of the job. But if a hiring manager asks about your long-range goals, be careful when responding; this could be a trick. Some hiring managers may be asking to gauge your happiness and potential longevity taking a temporary role. If you share that you're looking for a permanent position, you may answer your way out of the contract job. Hiring managers want to ensure that you will stay for the length of the contract and that you are invested in the role. A safe answer is to say something like, "Right now I want to focus on honing my skills, and this position is the perfect opportunity for me to do that."

Some temporary work is temp-to-perm. However, for most of these jobs, the position is temporary.

Jane Davis Long is principal staffing manager, accounting, finance & administrative at WinterWyman Contract Staffing. Read More
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