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Advice / Job Search / Networking

5 Valid Reasons to Apply for a Temp Job During a Long (Frustrating) Job Search

Like many college grads, I finished school without a job lined up right away. I’d originally planned on going into international relations, but an internship at the United Nations showed me how wrong that path was for me. (Big egos and bureaucracy? No, thanks.) As my living expenses piled up post-graduation, though, I knew I had to act quickly—applying to jobs I wasn’t even sure I wanted had so far been fruitless. So, I put on my business-casual suit, printed off my resume, and walked into the doors of a temporary staffing agency.

Although it wasn’t my first choice at the time, temping ended up being the best decision I could’ve made for myself. After months of wandering, I gained motivation, experience, and a steady paycheck. And ultimately, that was instrumental in leading me to where I am today. If you find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless job search, consider the following.

1. It’s Easier to Find a Temp Job Than You Think

Securing a temp job’s often relatively quick and low-effort, especially if you go through an agency like I did. To get started, all you really have to do is prepare a resume and cover letter—ideally tailored to the type of position you’re looking for—then reach out to set up an appointment with a nearby agency. Once you meet with your designated recruiting agent, you can share some specifics about your workstyle, skill set, and what kind of position and organization you’re looking for.

After gathering that info, your recruiter will search for open opportunities that seem like a good fit and pitch your resume to those companies—usually at no cost to you. You’ll probably still have to spend some time drafting cover letters and interviewing before you get an offer (like any other job), but any way you slice it, you’re looking at serious savings in both time and effort.

As a bonus, there are usually many companies looking for part-time workers, leaving you with plenty of time to dedicate to job applications. Just clarify to your agency recruiter how many hours a week you’re willing to work from the get-go, and they’ll likely be able to find something that fits with your schedule.

2. Temping Pays the Bills (Without Making You Miserable)

When faced with the financial strain of unemployment, people usually go one of two routes: panic and accept a job that they know they won’t like, or stick it out in the hopes that something better will turn up before the next rent check is due. But you don’t have to choose between being broke and being miserable—temping is a perfect alternative for this scenario.

When you go through an agency to find a position, you have a significant amount of say in where you’ll be placed. So if you get matched up with an organization you think you’ll despise, you can pass without feeling guilty. The great thing about recruiters at these agencies is that they move fast—it’s in their best interest to fill open jobs ASAP, so they can often find you multiple opportunities within a span of two to three weeks. (Although your mileage may vary depending on the circumstances.) That way, you can find a good balance between the income you need and the experience you want.

3. Temping Gives You the Kick in the Butt You Need

To recycle a line from your high school physics textbook, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Translation: Even if you have plenty of time to apply to jobs when you’re unemployed, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to do so when your pace of life has slowed down so much.

On the other hand, if you get in the habit of sticking to a routine and spending your time meaningfully, you’ll naturally be in a more proactive state of mind—and you’ll probably feel a whole lot more self-worth.

It might seem counterintuitive, but this is a scenario in which less time spent searching results in greater productivity. Think about it: If you’re lounging in your pajamas at home all day, scouring job sites with trashy TV on in the background, there’s a decent chance you’ll spend more time goofing off than actually working on applications.

That, in turn, can lead to feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and hopelessness. If you come back feeling accomplished after a solid day at the office, though, there’s a much better chance that you can maintain the confidence and drive needed during a job search.

4. Temping Exposes You to Variety

The impermanent nature of temping means that you’ll be able to try out more jobs in a shorter time period than you would otherwise, making this the perfect choice for folks who don’t know what they want to next or are looking to broaden their core competencies. If you fall into either of those camps, make a short list of the types of positions and companies you want to try out, then tackle them in order of highest- to lowest-priority.

As you get more and more experience under your belt, you’ll naturally figure out what you like and don’t like in a job. Not to mention, working in a number of different spaces, positions, and even types of companies will help you pick up some new skills along the way—which can be invaluable in setting you apart from the crowd when you eventually start searching for something more long-term.

5. Temping Is the Ultimate Form of Networking

Industry-related meetups or company happy hours are one thing, but there’s no better way to get to know somebody than by working with them. If you end up at a few different companies as a temp, you’ll probably work closely with a variety of people who will get to know you on a deeper level. When somebody like that can personally attest to your work style, strengths, and biggest wins, they make a much more valuable reference than a random LinkedIn connection.

And who knows? Those folks may even be able to hook you up with a full-time opportunity, whether it’s at their current organization, a friend or family member’s company, or a different workplace further down the line. As long as you do a good job and use the time to network like a pro, you’ll be able to open up a whole new world of opportunities for yourself.

Becoming a temp might not be what you dreamed of doing as a kid, but it’s still a perfectly respectable option—and in many cases, a surprisingly strategic one. Plenty of people (myself included) have used these positions as a springboard to launch into successful, long-term careers.

And while it’s common to feel like settling for anything less than your dream job is a failure, the truth is that deviating from the standard path (even if it’s scary at the time) can sometimes lead to an even better outcome. Take it from me: The skills and experience I gained at my temp job helped me kick off my first full-time position, a lifelong career in HR, and eventually, a seat at the executive table.

Photo of co-workers courtesy of Tom Merton/Getty Images.