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4 Reasons to Consider a Temp Job or Contract Job

The key advantages in a job search, plus how to find openings


Temporary, contract or “interim” positions are more plentiful than ever, so as a career consultant, I am surprised when job candidates are unwilling to consider contract or “contract-to-permanent” roles as a route in their search. These roles are a great way for unemployed workers to get back to employment and are strong vehicles for people who are not natural networkers or interviewees to demonstrate their skills. What’s more, taking a temp or contract job just might lead to a full-time position.

According to the American Staffing Association:

  • More than three million temporary and contract employees work for America’s staffing companies during an average week.
  • America’s staffing companies hire nearly 15 million temporary and contract employees a year.
  • One-third of temp and contract workers were offered a permanent job where they worked on an assignment and two-thirds of them accepted the offers

Contract positions not only provide an income, but also affirm your energy and commitment and prove that an employer is pleased with you. Getting one is a strong answer to the question you’ll likely get from an interviewer when you apply for a full-time position: “What have you been doing since you left your last job?”

Although there’s no guarantee that the contract position will convert to a permanent role, the rewards are definitely worth considering and offer four key advantages in the job search:

  • Entry to great companies
  • Easier networking
  • Opening doors to recruiters
  • It could be your next career

Here’s more about each of those:

1. Entry to Great Companies

Companies use temporary or contract-to-permanent roles for a few main reasons:

Given the cost of making a hiring mistake, they’re using “try before we buy” to vet potential workers’ skills and to test their fit with the corporate culture. For people who might be outside the usual company profile — such as a later-stage career person in a millennial-run startup, someone who is more senior than the role or is coming from a slightly different industry — success in a contract job can prove that you might be a great fit when the organization might not ordinarily consider you.

If a company believes it needs more staff but can’t justify the headcount, it might use temporary positions to demonstrate the payback to the business. Funds for contract roles often come from a different budget line. Contract or contract-to-permanent positions are sometimes created when a company meets a talented person with key technical or business skills that satisfy an impending need and the firm requires time to define a formal role. In either case, if you are successful or a good fit, you may be hired permanently.

Especially for executives or higher-level positions in education or nonprofits, an interim contract position often holds a place while the organization does a national search, which can take six to nine months. While the interim person is not guaranteed the job, the candidate will have a valuable resumé building experience while showcasing his or her ability.

2. Easier Networking

When you are open to contract or project assignments, conversations with network connections can be more focused on the work that motivates you and how you might be able to help the organization, rather than “Do you have a job?”

To hire permanently, companies need to go through an established recruiting process. But for a contract role, hiring managers themselves often have the budget and decision power. If you spot a company with a project assignment calling calls for your skills, pursuing it can be fruitful.

3. Opening Doors to Recruiters

Recruiters who handle contract or temporary-to-permanent roles often need qualified candidates more than those who recruit just for permanent positions, so they may be more willing to talk with you. Recruiters tend to present only exact-match candidates for permanent positions, but because of the need to fill a temp role rapidly, they can be more flexible presenting you for a contract role based on your skills.

Success in that role might lead to an introduction to the company’s permanent- position recruiters.

4. Contract Work Can Become Your Next Career

Permanent employment is a top priority for most employees, but, according to a 2018 American Staffing article, one in five cite scheduling flexibility as a reason they choose ongoing contracting work. Some people discover they enjoy the variety of working for an agency at multiple companies. Many temp firms offer some form of benefits — such as paid sick time and health insurance — for those who have worked for an extended period.

Getting Started

Here’s some guidance for finding temp or contract jobs:

  • Look for them through agencies (search online for ones that focus on your skills/industry/position) or through networking.
  • When speaking to a staffing firm, signal whether you would accept roles that don’t indicate a likelihood to go permanent vs. temp-to-perm only.
  • Plan to discuss your salary expectations in hourly, rather than annual, terms.
  • You can apply if the staffing firm has positions posted or you could ask for an introduction from people you know who’ve  hired through that firm.
Pennell Locey
By Pennell (Penny) Locey
Pennell (Penny) Locey is a vice president at Keystone Associates and has over 25 years of experience in career management, human resources and leadership development.

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