Temp Agency: What Is It And How Can It Help You

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 16, 2020

Find a Job You Really Want In

At some point in your career, you may find yourself needing immediate income to pay off bills and debts. In such desperate situations, one doesn’t have the time to spend on the lengthy job-search process.

It can be tedious sending applications to multiple companies and never receiving an interview or even hearing back.

Temp agencies step in to solve this problem. They offset the burden of the job search and use their connections and expertise to provide you with an income source as quickly as possible.

In this article, we’ll cover what temporary work entails and how temp agencies function. You’ll also learn how you can benefit from temp agencies, as well as how to pick the right one for your situation.

What Is a Temporary Worker?

Legally, the United States Department of Law (DOL) defines a temporary worker as one who is hired for less than one year or up to a specified end date.

As a temporary worker, you’ll typically take on smaller tasks and responsibilities, allowing permanent workers to focus their time and energy on more important duties.

You’ll also receive fewer working hours and benefits than permanent workers, such as health insurance and 401k matching.

Temp workers employed for longer than a certain number of hours each week do gain access to many of these benefits. A company cannot employ the same worker for longer than a year without losing their “temporary” status.

For companies, temporary workers are a great tool to boost productivity in key areas quickly. For workers, temp work offers the ability to acquire a flexible income source quickly.

What Is a Temp Agency?

Temp agencies, also commonly referred to as “staffing agencies” or “temp services,” match job seekers with open positions offered by client companies.

Some temp agencies focus on filling positions within specialized industries, while others are broad entities that place all varieties of temporary workers.

The positions are usually regular temporary roles but can also be seasonal or temp-to-hire.

With the normal job-search process, you interview directly with your target company. Their human resources department handles all aspects of the employment process.

Finding work through a temp agency flips this process on its head. You legally work as a contractor for the temp agency, which handles all the employment aspects rather than the client company you work for.

This includes details such as:

  • Hiring

  • Interviewing

  • Onboarding

  • Firing

  • Work Scheduling

  • Providing compensation and benefits

  • Addressing worker problems

  • Providing tax status

Client companies pay the temporary worker’s hourly wages directly to the staffing agency, who then splits it with the worker.

For example, a client company may pay your temp agency $35 for each hour you work. The temp agency then pockets $10, leaving you with a $25 hourly wage.

What Kinds of Jobs are Available at Temp Agencies?

There are thousands of temp agencies that specialize in filling jobs across numerous fields and industries.

These jobs fall into two major categories:

  • Quick income source. Many individuals use temp agencies to find a quick source of income rather than to advance their careers.

    Your small local temp agency will likely connect you with whichever companies happen to be hiring within the general vicinity.

    This is a great way to quickly receive work in industries such as services and retail.

  • Career-focused. Larger, established temp agencies can place you in high-paying positions that’ll help you further your career.

    For example, TEKsystems is a technology-focused temp agency specializing in connecting highly-qualified tech professionals with Fortune 500 companies.

    Staffing firms such as Kelly Staffing and Randstad don’t specialize in one industry but can still find you jobs that pay much better than your local temp agency, given that you have the credentials.

Pros and Cons of Using a Temp Agency

It’s important to understand the tradeoffs involved before you seek temporary work through a temp agency.

Some key benefits offered by temp agencies are:

  • Speed and ease. Temp agencies take on most of the workload involved with looking for a job. You’ll often still have to pass a job interview, but you won’t need to apply to multiple companies and hope for a response.

    If a temp agency is willing to interview you, they almost certainly have a position to fill that matches your skill set.

  • Flexible work scheduling. When you apply to a specific company, they’ll likely only have a few time slots available to offer you.

    A temp agency is usually in contact with numerous companies. This larger pool of available positions means it’s more likely that there will be one that fits your schedule.

  • Potential for temp-to-hire. Especially for specialized positions, many companies will offer full-time employment to top-performing workers sourced from temp agencies.

    Temp agencies are a great way to get your foot in the door of companies that would otherwise be difficult to find a job at.

    Many professionals have used temp agencies to find work at top companies that previously turned them down, such as Disney or Apple.

    After demonstrating their abilities, they were then converted to permanent employees.

Some key disadvantages of using a temp agency are:

  • Lowered wages. In exchange for their services, temp agencies take a cut of the compensation you receive.

    This figure is usually around 30% of your hourly wage.

  • Sudden termination. When you work through a temp agency, you’re legally classified as a contractor rather than an employee. This makes it much easier to fire you for almost any reason at any time.

  • Can harm your career. Not all professionals who use temp agencies are able to turn their temporary positions into permanent ones. Many are instead forced into a cycle of temp-work.

    Many companies treat temporary contract work on a candidate’s resume as a stain.

    This is worsened by the fact that temp agencies may shift you around multiple positions. Very few companies want to hire workers that show a history of spending very little time at a job before leaving.

How to Find the Right Temp Agency

With thousands of temp agencies offering their services, it can be challenging to pick the right one.

However, there are several major factors to consider that’ll aid you in making a choice:

  • How quickly you need a job. Finding work through a temp agency is almost always faster than through the traditional application route. However, that doesn’t mean that some aren’t quicker than others.

    If you need an income source immediately, use an agency such as Adecco. The firm may not pay as well as other large temp agencies, but they specialize in finding many temporary workers a position within the same day.

    Your small local agency can also be a great choice, as they’ve likely built a relationship with the companies in your local area and understand exactly what type of workers they’re looking for.

    Large established temp agencies are usually the better choice in large cities such as Los Angeles and St. Louis.

  • How picky you are about compensation. Staffing agencies such as Randstad may take a longer time to find you work but also pocket a smaller percentage of your wages.

    This can be a smart tradeoff to make if you need work quickly, but not at the immediate moment.

  • Your specialization and qualifications. Some temp agencies focus on filling positions within only a few specialized industries.

    Examples include TEKsystems for technology-related positions and Aquent for marketing and creative fields.

    Their interview process and requirements are more stringent than most general temp agencies, but are still less so than if you were directly applying to companies.

    Consider using their services if you want to start a high-paying career in a specific industry, but aren’t quite experienced enough to get your foot in the door by yourself.

  • A temp agency’s temp-to-hire policy. If you’re hoping to use temp agencies to eventually earn a permanent position at a company, you want to double-check their temp-to-hire policy.

    Most temp agencies disallow their clients from permanently hiring their provided temp workers for a certain period of time. This may be the staffing firm’s general policy or one negotiated with a specific company.

    Some shady temp agencies will even lie to workers and claim that purely temporary jobs hold the opportunity for permanent hire. You should research any agency’s reputation before using their services.

    If they’re a small temp agency and you can’t find relevant reviews, then make sure to ask direct questions and document the answers.

  • What your dream companies and locations are. Most temp agencies do keep your preferences in mind if you tell them.

    If you find a promising temp agency, check who their frequent clients and where their top locations are. You can then ask the staffer to prioritize finding you high-paying jobs in, say, Houston or San Francisco.

  • The reputation of any temp agency. Once you’ve found a temp agency that seems like a great fit for your needs, it’s a good idea to do an internet search to gather testimonies.

    Not all temp agencies provide exactly what they claim, so you need to make sure that others have used them with success before taking on the wrong job.

    Not only will some temp agencies lie about the temp-to-hire status of certain jobs, but obscure what benefits temporary workers are eligible to access.

    Larger temp agencies that serve thousands of companies and have been around for decades are typically a safe bet.

Understand Your Personal Situation

Temp agencies aren’t the magic bullet that’ll answer every professional’s job-seeking woes.

While they’re quick and can offset the hassle of searching for a job, they also come with various tradeoffs that shouldn’t be ignored.

Temp agencies can be the perfect career-furthering tool or one that sets you back.

Make sure to closely consider the guidelines for picking a temp agency we’ve outlined, as well as consider your unique circumstances and vision for your career.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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