Turning Temp into Permanent

A contract, temp position is often the best way to get employed

When companies need short-term workers, (or if they just want to “try before they buy,”) they’ll hire temporary employees—also known as “temps,” consultants, freelancers or contract workers. There’s no guarantee those positions will parlay into permanent ones, but it is possible if you play your cards right.

“If you are looking for work, a contract position is probably the best way to get employed,” says Melanie Holmes, a vice president at ManpowerGroup. “Working as a temporary employee gives you the opportunity to be on the inside and ultimately gives you an advantage over external candidates when applying for permanent jobs.”

Of course there are people who deliberately seek out temp work because of uncertainty in their own lives, because they need some extra cash, or because they simply want to try on a job for size, says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work. “[But] the vast majority of temp workers I know are desperately hoping to parlay that experience into something full-time, either with that company or by taking the experience they gain and moving on elsewhere.”

James Essey, the president and chief executive of The TemPositions Group of Companies, a large New York- based regional staffing firm, says he has noticed an increase in the size of TemPositions’ applicant pool over the last few years, as well as an improvement in “the quality of those applicants.”

Kerr says the trend everywhere points to a substantial increase in temporary workers, due largely to the volatility and uncertainty in the economy. “Temp jobs can offer more flexibility to employers, especially in times of great uncertainty, he says.

Holmes adds that because employers are more specific than ever about finding the exact right person for a job (i.e. someone who is a perfect match in both skills and cultural fit), many are taking the approach of hiring a potential employee on a temporary basis in order to evaluate the individual on the job. “This period serves as an extended job interview,” she says.

And the good news is, more and more of these opportunities are expected to pop up.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute jobs survey, 58% of employers expect to hire more part-time, temporary or contract workers over the next five years. “In a down economy, temporary workers are especially appealing to employers from a financial perspective, given the costs associated with hiring full-time employees,” says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women.

It turns out employers aren’t the only ones benefitting from temp jobs.

Working in a temporary job can be a great way to dip your toes in the water and find out what it would be like to work in that organization, what its culture is like, the type of work you’d be doing and the people you’d be working with, says David Shindler, an employability specialist and author of Learning to Leap. “It’s a two-way street, as employers can see how you perform and how you fit in. I know of people who have had jobs created for them as a result of the impact they have made while working in a temp job.”

In addition to Holmes, Kerr, Essey, Hockett and Shindler, the other career coaches and staffing firm execs who offered insights were Maggie Mistal, a career consultant, radio host and speaker, Joyce Russell, the president ofAdecco Staffing US, Debra Benton, an executive coach and author of The Virtual Executive: How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline, Rebecca Cenni, founder and chief executive of Atrium Staffing, and Marsha Egan, PCC, a professional certified coach and workplace productivity expert.

Joyce Russell says now is a great time to take on a temporary position. “At Adecco, we’re seeing more temporary jobs turn into permanent positions at a rate higher than we’ve seen in years. Employers are ready and willing to hire, and we’re seeing a majority of them opt to hire this way to make sure they’re making the best choice possible.”

Essey is noticing the same. He says that his firm has found that roughly 70% of people in temporary positions ultimately get a permanent job at that company, proving that “it is indeed an effective backdoor way to get hired.”

So, what can you do as a temp to improve your chances of becoming a permanent staffer?

Marsha Egan says the very best way to turn a temporary position into a full-time job is to simply “perform excellently and to fit in with the company and its culture.”

Here’s how to turn your temporary gig into a full-time job:

Be 100% reliable. “Fail here and nothing else matters!” Kerr says. Show up on time, deliver quality work and communicate with your colleagues.

Find out if permanent employment is even a possibility. Before taking a temporary position with the company, be aware of their policy towards hiring temporary employees, Egan says.

Have the right mindset and enthusiasm. “Treat the part-time job or your contract assignment as a full-time position,” Holmes says. “That means you should go the extra mile by coming in early or offering to stay late. Show commitment, enthusiasm and flexibility.”

Hockett agrees. “Avoid a mindset of thinking that you’re just a temporary worker,” she says. “You were brought on because your skills are needed, and you now have an opportunity to show the quality of the work you produce, and your enthusiasm towards full-time employment.” When you think and feel like you’re part of the company, it changes everything.

Take a genuine interest in the job. Too often temps treat a job as temporary and don’t take it seriously enough, says Maggie Mistal. If you want to get hired, you’ve got to do more than show up. You’ve got to consistently be of service to the people you are working for in order for them to feel they can’t live without you. That means not only doing what you’re told but anticipating your boss’s needs and proactively offering help and/or ideas.

Network. “Networking is a tip that everyone shares because if it’s done right, it’s absolutely the best way to find a job,” Russell says. Be sure to keep in touch with your contacts at all times, not just when you’re looking for a new opportunity.

Show incremental value. No matter what profession your job is in, there’s always a way to prove your value whether that’s through established metrics like sales goals or forging strong relationships with key decision makers. “When the time comes for your review, you’ll have lots of hard evidence that you’re a valuable asset to the team,” Russell says.

Another way to add value: Help others around you achieve their mission, says Debra Benton. “That is as important as achieving your own.”

Get to know the company. Research the organization you are working for and try to understand its history, its earnings reports, its culture and stated goals, Mistal says.

Leverage your fresh perspective. “Because you are new to the job and have probably done similar work elsewhere, you might easily see ways to make processes or systems more efficient and effective,” Mistal says. Make a list of ideas and share them with your boss. It will show not only initiative but that there’s a lot of useful and important work to be done and that could justify hiring you full-time.

Shindler adds. “Identify a gap in the company that you could fill.” He says to be proactive by suggesting ideas for improvement, getting involved in implementing the changes, and volunteering for opportunities that arise.

Build relationships. Reinforce the value you provide and try to get to know the leaders on the inside who make the hiring decisions, Holmes suggests.

Make a point to shake hands and introduce yourself to others, while learning about them and the company, Hockett adds. “Be visible.”

Rebecca Cenni of Atrium Staffing suggests creating relationships with your coworkers so they really get to know you, even if you are only supposed to be there a short time. “Your colleagues have the greatest potential to spread the word about the ‘great temp’ down the hall, and help you get the job you crave. They’re also great sources of information about who is hiring and where the opportunities lie within the company.” Make friends and show those around you how valuable you’d be as a permanent employee.

Set goals. “Make your own timetable for when you’d like to turn the job into a full-time position,” Benton says. “Don’t wait to see what they give you; take control of your own goals.” Still, you should always remain flexible.

Kerr says you should never keep your career goals to yourself. “Don’t assume people know you want to stay on beyond the limits of the job.”

Maintain good communication. Keep the lines of communication open with all parties involved in your job; making sure to report status, answer questions, and ask questions as needed, Hockett says.

“Ask questions as necessary to ensure you understand what is expected of you and then perform your duties to the best of your ability,” Essey adds.

Exceed expectations. “Move beyond providing good service,” Kerr says. “Everyone expects good service, so all you do by providing good service is stay out of the doghouse.” To get noticed, you need to look for simple ways to exceed everyone’s expectations of good service.

“This doesn’t have to be a song and dance routine, simple things make a difference and will get you noticed,” he says.

Adapt to the culture. “Observe your surroundings and what’s acceptable and not acceptable in the environment, before acting,” Hockett says. “Don’t make assumptions when you’re uncertain, ask questions instead.”

You should also pay attention to how you dress, look, and act. Blending into the work environment, and being a person that is friendly and approachable, provides great visibility and opportunity to showcase your work and gain new projects.

Be unique. “You need to stand out from the herd to be heard,” Kerr says. “So offering a different perspective on issues, utilizing hidden talents in a different way, or delivering a service in a different way than what’s been done will get you noticed. It’s not good enough to be great anymore, you need to also be different so think about your own personal signature, your own brand.”

Reinforce your soft skills. This means you should be a good team player and get along with everyone, reinforce good interpersonal skills, enthusiasm and motivation, Holmes says. “Technical skills are in demand and are important, but increasingly employers need a combination of good technical skills and soft skills that show you can be a good communicator and leader.”

Ask for the job. Plant the seed early on with your employer that you would like to become a permanent employee, Holmes says. “Find out what it will take to get the offer. Make sure you will be considered when they are ready to fill permanent positions.”

Egan says you should specifically let people of influence know from the beginning that you could possibly be interested in working full-time for the company.

Be patient. While it’s smart to express interest in a permanent position early on, you don’t want to explicitly ask for the job right away. “Many times temporary workers get restless and this can strain the new working relationship,” Cenni says. “It’s like asking someone to marry you when you just started dating. Be patient.”

Don’t be too pushy. Don’t come across as overly aggressive in selling yourself. “There’s a fine line between being confident and direct, and seeming pushy and aggressive,” Kerr says.

From an original article by Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes Staff