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Temporary Agencies

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Summary: The exact role temporary agencies play and the benefits to joining one.

What is a temporary agency and should I join one?

There are temporary employment agencies for almost anything: office administrators, accountants, travel agents, social media project managers, assembly workers, engineers, electronics technicians, legal-system employees, graphic artists, health-care workers, computer programmers, and the list goes on.

Temporary agencies exist as go-betweens to match the skills of temporary workers to an employer's requirements. They are subject to government regulation concerning licensing, record-keeping, and reporting. In the United States, agencies are considered the legal employers of their temporary workers. They are governed by laws regulating the employer-employee relationship, including tax withholding or reporting, Social Security or retirement, antidiscrimination, and Workers' Compensation.

Agencies in the same field are competitive in wages. They make their money by charging the client 20-30 percent over what the temporary employee earns, although the temp never pays a fee.

Temps can expect benefits ranging from paid holidays and vacation time, to stock-option plans and childcare.

Choosing which agency, and how many, to sign up with is arbitrary, unless you're in a specialty field. Many temps find success in playing "agency roulette"—applying at several, and seeing who calls first. Others favor one at a time. One advantage to applying to one agency at a time is that the people get to know you personally, which keeps your name more specifically in their minds. In addition, if you stay with one agency over a period of time, you may accrue enough hours to be eligible for extra incentives.

What's The Procedure To Apply For An Agency?

1. Call for an appointment. Temporary service offices are busy places, so it's best to have an appointment. Otherwise, you may have to wait. Plan on an hour or so to fill out an application, interview, and review your resume or portfolio. If applicable, you may be asked to take a few short tests (typing, computer expertise, math, spelling).

2. Take two forms of identification and references. You will be asked to fill out a W-4 form for tax purposes and to show two forms of identification (driver's license. Social Security card, birth certificate) as proof of U.S. citizenship. If you are a citizen of another country, you must show a work visa. Agencies also request that you provide names and telephone numbers of three past employers as references.

3. Keep in touch with the agency. Call daily to keep your name on the availability list.

4. Keep apprised of the payment schedule. Paychecks can be mailed or direct-deposited into your account, through the agency.

5. Take responsibility for yourself. Agencies may provide work assignments, but it's equally important for temps to be responsible for themselves. Make certain that job sites and duties are satisfactory, and that paychecks are correct. Communicate with the agency when a job is ending, and when you're ready for a new assignment.

Agencies have their own personalities. Discover the one that works best for your personal needs. A service that is effective for one temp may not pan out for another, mostly because of individual skills and the compatibility of personalities with the people in the agency. Different agencies attract different kinds of clients (e.g., high tech, publishing, government contractors, small versus large business). Because of this, switching services from time to time can keep temporary experiences fresh

On the other hand, some temps wish to cut out the go-between and work directly with a company. This can be beneficial to both parties—since the temp can make more money and the client can save money—but it's crucial to first check the rules. Contracts between agencies and client companies often limit such practices by requiring a grace period of three months to a year before a temp can work directly with the company. Ignoring these contracts can result in a legal tangle, or in burning a bridge with the agency.

What about bad experiences? Are temporary services sometimes difficult to deal with? Of course not every agency and assignment will go over 100% smoothly. Most of this is due to either a personality conflict or miscommunication amongst individual(s) at the agency. First try and see if you can work through the conflict yourself. If after attempting, the conflict seems unresolvable, do your best to amicably part ways and sign up with another agency.

You might even return to the same agency a year later and find that it has radically changed.

Agencies are invaluable contacts. There is a true balancing act that they must perform to make client-temp relationships a success. A certain amount of teamwork is required. It involves pitching in and doing the work. You can find work from other sources, but agencies are always there when you need them. Treat them well, and they will do the same for you.
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