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Quitting My Job and Temping Gives Me An Edge

Change is exhilarating, empowering and enlightening — I learned that some companies are nice places to work

By Ann Votaw

I feel lighter after joining the Great Resignation a few months ago.

I'm also overwhelmed. Businesses are urgently hiring, according to LinkedIn, Idealist, Monster and Indeed. And I'm getting phone calls from companies that actually want to hire me.

A woman working at a temp job on her laptop. Next Avenue, job search
"Temping expands my network and allows me to "try before I buy," as company culture becomes paramount to me."

Ten years ago, when I started my position in a midsize nonprofit, I was so grateful to get a job that enabled me to serve vulnerable populations. I had recently earned a Master's degree in Health Education and Promotion, so my duties fell under my field of study.

I also felt the last nauseating tugs of the Great Recession. I would hold onto this role — even as I outgrew it — because I was afraid I couldn't get anything better.

Also, I'm from the Midwest. For my folks and me, giving up is as mutinous as leaving a guild, or — gasp! — a hometown. Hardwired to suck it up, I never envisioned myself writing a resignation letter without another gig lined up.

Why Workers Are Bailing Out

Yet on April Fool's Day 2022, I officially became one of the month's 4.4 million "quits," meaning my "separation" was voluntary or employee-generated, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So I'm trendy!

In November 2021, the nation's "quit rate" reached a 20-year-high.

I never envisioned myself writing a resignation letter without another gig lined up.

Workers who relinquished a job in 2021 said low pay (63%), no opportunity to advance (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) were most common reasons why they left, according to a recent Pew Reseach Center survey. Rather than plop on the couch and binge on Hulu, they got other jobs fairly quickly, many in different occupations.

Being middle aged and experienced, I decided I want flexibility, structure and growth — three nouns I normally don't associate with a career. It can be done. But I needed a guide, especially because voluntarily breaking up with a company means no income through a severance package from my ex-employer or unemployment insurance from the state.

Within three weeks of saying goodbye, I was temping, something I did years ago when I first moved to New York City to be a musical theater dancer. Back then, I needed day jobs, so that I could audition and nab out-of-town shows. All I had to do was call temp agencies and show up in person for recruiter interviews. Within days, I found myself in various offices filling admin roles.

Only Temp Work for Now

In my recent search though, I encountered silence when I sent resumes to various staffing groups. Yet when I followed temp agencies on LinkedIn, and then applied to their specific job listings, recruiters called me right away. I got a similar buzz when I applied for Indeed positions posted by staffing groups.

On the phone, some recruiters were clearly on commission, wanting me to interview for full-time jobs immediately. Others, who were not affiliated with sales, understood I had just left a "work marriage" and wanted to "date" rather than commit, at least at first.

"I was in the same job for a decade," I told my recruiter through our Zoom interview. "Surprise me. Send me anywhere at the last minute."

She did.

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When I am not in longer assignments, I am ready to answer an early morning call or text for same-day work. To make this unpredictability easier on my nervous system, I prepare a jump kit the night before. This includes packing my lunch and laying out my clothing.

Test Driving Potential Employers

Like manna falling from the heavens, work has been steady. I choose what to do.

Temping expands my network and allows me to "try before I buy," as company culture becomes paramount to me.

I still apply to job boards and positions recommended by friends. While job descriptions are helpful, I can't really know what a place is like until I'm there.

Temping expands my network and allows me to "try before I buy," as company culture becomes paramount to me.

My temp agent has found temp-to-perm interviews for me at places where I might want to stay. If the company and I are a good fit for each other, I can continue until I'm a full-fledged employee.

She even offered to review my correspondence to interviewers before I hit the send key. Until she coached me, I had no idea I should craft individual thank you messages to each interviewer. So much more polished than a group email.

Tips for Temps

Here are some of the other things I've learned from temping:

  • New clothes can elevate the old. Some jobs call for business casual; they will accept polo shirts but not jeans or sneakers. Others require blazers and closed-toe shoes. Finally, others are remote, allowing for a rainbow of choices. Rather than buying a whole new wardrobe, I picked up a few corporate pieces from a second-hand store.
  • Getting out is good. Working in unfamiliar neighborhoods challenges me to navigate subways, buses, and walking paths. I'm using parts of my brain that fell asleep when I worked from home.
  • Companies can respect employees. While many employers provide free snacks and recreation rooms, not all places feel good. Others percolate with easy friendliness. At one such company, I was impressed with the diverse staff that included people in their 20s through older. A worker in his 70s told me he was finishing an advanced degree in human resources, on the company's dime. "It's a great place to retire," he confided.
  • Work and happier feelings are not mutually exclusive. Resigning from my decade-long job forced me to reconfigure. I just didn't know how to quit. Now my mantra is this: I will never be disrespected at work for prolonged periods of time.
  • Art is everywhere. Some offices decorate reception and conference rooms with museum-quality paintings, Warhols and Basquiats even. Many of these works are current and rotated regularly. Dare to walk in this beauty.

As my old job fades, I envision meaning, better pay, and more collegial relationships. This — this — is wealth.

Ann Votaw is a freelance writer in New York City. Her work has appeared in Crain's, Marie Claire and the New York Observer. A former dancer, she specializes in fitness for older adults. Read More
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