For College Grads, Temp Work May Be the Key to a Successful Career

When I graduated college back in 2012, armed with an English degree and a redoubtable sense of self-worth, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a teacher.

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And I became one – briefly. After two difficult years in the education system, I bowed out of the teaching game entirely and became a writer instead.

I'm glad I finally found the right career, but getting here was a tumultuous process. The transition from lifelong student to burgeoning professional hit me like a ton of bricks. I was more stressed than I had ever been in my life as I scrambled to learn the ropes of my career, and I quickly realized that my dream job was actually a nightmare. When I decided to leave teaching, I was relieved to an extent – but I also felt like a total failure.

I could have avoided all of that if I hadn't jumped straight from college into a full-time, traditional employment arrangement. If I had taken some time to temp first – to try out a few different options – I would have been able to end up as a writer without crashing and burning in my first career.

Why College Grads Should Consider Temping

David Dourgarian, CEO of staffing software company TempWorks, is a big advocate for the temp path for new grads, in part because it's a great way for these young professionals to pick up some new skills that they may not have learned in school.

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"If you look at the types of skills graduates are exiting their four-year degree programs with, they are often not equipped yet for the white collar workforce," Dourgarian says. "Someone needs to show them the ropes."

Many college students graduate with little or no experience in the white collar work world. They may have held jobs in college, but the usual student gigs – retail, waiting tables, tutoring, etc. – don't exactly prepare one for life in an office setting. The closest most students get to professional life is an internship, but even that isn't quite the same as being an employee.

Recent grads need to learn proper professional conduct, how to handle interoffice conflict, and other soft skills that are critical for career success. Dourgarian believes working a few temp jobs can help students pick these things up quickly.

"They need to be in an environment where they are held accountable, and the transient nature of temporary positions forces people to learn these skills quickly if they want to get ahead," Dourgarian explains.

Dourgarian also believes that temp work is a great way for recent grads to try out potential careers before committing to them. They may even stumble upon the dream career they never knew they wanted.

"It can be a great opportunity to try things that you might not think are appealing," Dourgarian says. "You may have graduated with a degree in Russian lit., but you might find out that you actually love being an insurance underwriter."

The Three Types of Graduates – Which Are You?

To get even more specific about how temping can be beneficial to recent grads, Dourgarian divides these young professionals into three categories:

1. Professional-Track Graduates: These are graduates who want to pursue additional studies, including students who want to become doctors and lawyers. Temping in between college and graduate or professional school can be a great way for these students to get some work experience and bolster their resumes, making them more attractive to the programs they're applying for.

Temp work can also help these students make sure they actually want to enter their chosen fields. For example, a would-be law student might do temporary clerical work for a lawyer and realize they actually don't enjoy the legal profession all that much. That's a much better path than enrolling in law school and shelling out thousands of dollars just to learn that you hate being a lawyer.

2. Liberal Arts Graduates: It can be difficult figuring out how to translate the skills you learned as an anthropology major into skills that look good on a resume. Temping can teach these graduates how to turn their degree skills into useful workplace skills.

3. Graduates Who Need a Little Help: We don't all emerge from college with pristine GPAs. Some graduates might have difficulty finding full-time employment right out of college if their academic experience hasn't been of the summa cum laude variety. For these graduates, temping offers a great way to build a resume that really wows employers, regardless of how well they may or may not have done in school.

But I Graduated College. Aren't I Worthy of a Real Job?

Even though the number of temporary workers in the U.S. has hit an all-time high, many still look down on temporary work. To them, it's not "real work."

Some recent grads may feel the same way. Being told to temp after you've successfully completed college can feel like a slap in the face for some. If you have a degree, you're qualified for a real job, right?

Dourgarian thinks this is a misguided belief: "To say that temporary work isn't a real job is on the same level as saying, 'I'm going to pay you less because you're a woman.'"

In other words: If you look down on temporary work, you may have some unconscious, unfounded biases that you need to check.

As Dourgarian explains, a lot of temp jobs do lead to full-time work: "Many companies have temp positions open because the position might be entry level, and turnover might be high enough that it's dangerous for an employer to expose themselves to the types of legal problems that could come along with high-turnover positions."

For these employers, it makes more sense to bring a worker on board as a temp to see how they do before hiring them for a full-time role.

Other times, temporary work is related to the project-based nature of an industry. In fields like IT, where work occurs largely on a project-by-project basis, employers often bring workers on board for the duration of the project only.

And, finally, it's important to note that temporary work does have its advantages over full-time employment.

"Your skills can get very stale working at the same company for four years straight," Dourgarian says. "So a lot of people actually like being temps. They don't want to stay long. They want to keep learning new skills and growing."