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Making the Most of a Temp Job

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Lakshmi Hutchinson

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We take temporary jobs for a number of reasons—a job loss, a move to a new town, the desire for a more flexible schedule in order to pursue a side gig, or just a much-needed paycheck. If you’re lucky, your temp position may be in a field in which you have some interest, but in many cases, it may not—and that's okay too!

So when you find yourself in a less-than-ideal temp job, here’s how to make the most out of your assignment.

Finding a position

In most cases, if you’re looking for temporary work, you’ll need to connect with an agency. A temp agency acts as a kind of middle man, ensuring that you and your potential short-term assignment (and short-term supervisor) are a good match. 

Ask around for agency recommendations, and register with more than one; this will help you to cast a wide net. Let the temp agency know if there are particular fields that interest you more than others. And remember, many nonprofits use temp agencies, so you may be surprised at the variety of temporary work that is available in the social-impact space.

Some staffing agencies work exclusively with nonprofits. Careers in Nonprofits and Professionals for Nonprofits are two such agencies with opportunities in multiple U.S. cities. In addition to temporary work, they offer temp-to-perm opportunities as well as permanent placements.

You can always approach an organization that you’re interested in working for to ask if they have any temporary positions, contract work, or even paid internships. Many academic institutions have their own temp pools that you can register with. You can check out the HR sites for a variety of universities to see if they offer opportunities.

Tips for starting out as a temp

If you’re about to begin your first temp assignment, you’ll want to make sure you go in prepared to make a great impression and get the most possible benefit out of the experience. Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • After an initial interview and any necessary skills testing, you may be contacted a week or two in advance of the project’s start date, but you may also be contacted the day before or even morning of an assignment; so be prepared to respond (and show up) on short notice! 
  • Making a good impression can pay dividends. If your temporary supervisor is pleased with your work, you’re likely to be requested by that same organization for future assignments. Treat it like any other job in terms of dressing professionally and being punctual. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest in the organization, and take initiative if you notice an area in which you may be able to help.
  • In any given week, you may find yourself working in multiple locations with many new faces. Learning people’s names and getting to know the office layout can take some effort. Take actual notes if that helps you remember the basics!

How can temp work benefit me?

Regardless of the field in which you’re temping, you can gain valuable work experience while building and expanding your professional network.

  • Temp work is a great way to learn or build transferable skills. For example, if you’re working as an executive assistant, you might choose to go the extra mile to become an expert in PowerPoint or familiarize yourself with meeting management tools that you didn’t even know existed. 
  • Working as a temp means that you’ll enjoy a certain level of flexibility. You’re not tied to a full-time job or a traditional schedule, which can make your job search (or whatever else you may be pursuing in your free time) a little easier. And because the work is short-term, you have the freedom to interview and accept positions right away.
  • Sometimes a temp position can lead to a permanent position. Proving your value to the organization is a great way to get you to the top of the short list if a permanent position opens up in the future. After all, if the employer knows you personally and has seen your work, they can already gauge if you’ll be a good fit.
  • No matter where you’re working, you can create and nurture useful professional connections. Even for-profit businesses can present an opportunity to network in the nonprofit sector. Many have corporate philanthropy teams and it could be worthwhile to introduce yourself. You may be able to meet or learn more about their nonprofit partners if you express an interest in their mission.  

Putting a positive spin on it

If you’re uncertain about whether you should include your temporary experience on your resume, particularly if it’s not in your field, you have a few options:. 

  • If your temp work is short term and you’re confident that it just isn’t particularly relevant to your career trajectory, you can choose to leave it off your resume completely. If you take this approach, be prepared to answer questions about a gap on your resume that may come up in a job interview.
  • To show that you’ve been working continuously, you can include the temp positions and emphasize your transferable skills. If you had one longer-term temp position, you can state the name of the organization and dates as you would for any other job on your resume. If you worked multiple short-term gigs, consider consolidating them in one section of your resume. Experiment with alternative resume formats to see what works best.
  • If you’re asked about your temp work in an interview, be sure to emphasize the positive aspects. You can (and should) be honest about why you temped (whether you were in between jobs, getting back into full-time work after a career break, or just looking to learn more about a particular field before diving into full-time work), and at the same time highlight what you learned and how you grew professionally. 

Try to make the most of your time temping and remember: even if your temp position is not related to an issue-area that you’re passionate about, there are still ways that you can make an impact outside of your 9-to-5.


Have you worked temp jobs in the past? How have you used them to your advantage? Share with us on Facebook.

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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