Merry Christmas, Circa 1995

On being a temp at the holidays…

Being a temp could be feast or famine. At one point I had a six week assignment that they pulled me out of at the end of week five in order to send me to a three month assignment. This of course made it impossible to use the aborted assignment as a reference, pissed off a bunch of people, and was contractually prohibited if not downright unethical.

At the holidays, they (the agencies) would fight over you and dangle a little extra incentive to convince you to take an assignment. Since so many people would go on vacation, inhabiting their work space and maintaining the appearance of business as usual was well, business as usual.

On this particular December day, after chopping a thick blanket of ice off of my windshield to get there, I found a 50-seat call center with two employees, counting me. My companion for the weeks before, during and after Christmas informed me that there really was nothing we could do but call 911 if a fire broke out.

“About all there is to do is play solitaire or minesweeper.” This was the turning point in life where I realized I had to get a “real” job. Jan 1 fell on a Monday that year and they employed me and my minesweeping partner to take down Christmas decorations. At least it was something to do that kept the blood from pooling up around our ankles. I called the agency, which now owed me a favor in my eyes for the unfinished assignment debacle, and informed them I was only interested in temp-to-perm assignments. These assignments offered an additional 35 cents an hour and often required a job interview. This kind of cancelled out one of the key features of temping, getting to work without having to interview.

I think of this assignment often during the winter holidays, because it was the end of temping for me. That next year I took a sales job where the only requirement was to pass a drug test and be outgoing. At around year four my father stopped asking me if I still worked there. I never told him that I went from department to department until I found my stride. My time there lasted just short of ten years.

There’s still lots more to tell, stick around till next year, and have a safe and happy Christmas.090.31101222_std

Two Temp Jobs That Nearly Killed Me

keep-calm-call-kelly-servicesSome of the jobs were more temporary than others, and to this day I still till believe temping is a great way to get a job if you have the stomach for it. If you are competent and live by the old “fake it til you make it” adage, you might make a great temp, and temp-to-perm is how I found quite a few of the 25 jobs. (To qualify for this list, a  job had to have a minimum duration of least two months and/or supply me with a laminated necklace name tag).

Temporary work provides exposure to a wide variety of people, hardware, software, & human resources that might other-wise take years to gain. If you get an intolerable assignment you can get out of it pain-free if you just stick out the week. The downside is that they might only give you 37.5 hours of work a week yet require you to work 40 to get any benefits-this may have changed but that’s how it was for me.

It’s hard to continually leave places that seem to have pleasant work environments, even though you know in your heart that if you work there you will be sucked into the drama that is easily avoided when you are temporary. Every day can feel like a job interview, both a pro and a con.

An eerie beginning…

The hardest assignment was going into a building that was a bank that changed ownership over the weekend. People were calling who had just learned of the takeover on the news. We (the temp crew) didn’t even understand this until the phones started ringing. We were given a script and had to repeatedly parrot insipid responses to reasonable questions people ask when they don’t know where their money is.

The place had been totally remodeled over the weekend, new paint, new carpet, new corporate identity: walk-ins were literally crying and figuratively giving anyone in sight the finger. The formaldehyde in the carpet and the newness of everything gave me a migraine; the opportunist in me said stick this out and see what becomes of it. After two weeks, they kept the best, and I was not one of them. My downfall was listed on my pink slip as “too much empathy with the caller”. OK, there was no pink slip and I made that whole last sentence up. But that’s what it felt like. See? I am empathetic!

I spent six weeks at Continental Insurance, where I was hired to help an executive get organized. His idea was to have me go through every file in a wall of cabinets and determine what was in the file, categorize and label everything. I said should we make a database so the list is more searchable? This is where I learned database management which would come in handy later.

This particular executive was also in the middle of a “what not to wear” style make over. His management hierarchy did not think he was professional enough and they were especially grieved at the luggage he toted to work each day. This guy, a tall, good-looking blonde in always fresh suits, had a briefcase and two giant wheeled suitcases of stuff he wrestled into the office each day. The contents of these bags? The imagination runs free. I would reflect on this years later, when I would have a company laptop full of social security numbers for one of the jobs.

The job that came with a map of the building…

When they asked me at the agency if I knew unix, I had no idea what that was but I figured I had a weekend to use this new thing, the internet, to find out what I might need to know. Word processing is word processing, I was able to muddle through. This was a tough assignment,. I was filling in for a high-level secretary who was on leave because her husband had had a heart attack.

I would come in the AM and settle in to the small room that accommodated three of us. The other two were taking this absence-of boss time to have a mini-vacation at work. They talked incessantly, and my ADD made it hard to focus on the LINK Dictaphone.

There was a giant paperclip on the desk, and it would have letters for me to enter into the system each day. Some days there would be a bunch, some days there wouldn’t be much and the boredom was palatable.

I was reminded of a John Berryman poem excerpted here:

From Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

(Find entire poem here.)

On the third day a guy whipped into the room, threw some papers into the brass clip, and sped out as quickly as he had flown in, sans greeting. I looked at the other two women, the one closest to me filing her nails and the other one doing night-school homework.

Me: Who was that?

Her: (Without looking up, and with a gum-chewing scowl): That was your boss.

I loved the giant, six-story building, offices all around the perimeter, live  trees dotting the interior creating little nooks and crannies where one could lunch and hang out. It was my first time working where security was taken seriously-think Person Of Interest without the German Shepherd. Lunch was often difficult because as a Kelly employee you only got a half hour, and you were working with people who got an hour. This made connecting with others a challenge, but a necessary evil if one hoped to become permanent.

There was no time to leave, nowhere to go. Sitting in a staff area felt presumptuous at best, even though I would often be told to go there. In climate weather I would go outside and wolf down a sandwich, winter and rainy times I would be forced to eat at my desk. There was a lovely and inexpensive cafeteria, but even that was too time consuming to navigate in my thirty minutes.

Smoking was still prevalent and workers here had measured breaks varying in length by if the boss smoked or not. I watched a million dollar deal go down by a hand-shake and a Salem 100.

One day I returned to my desk to find a note in the clip–interrupt the meeting if so-and-so calls. When the call came, I nervously knocked on the heavy conference room door. Boss was on the phone and waved me into the packed room. I felt so out-of-place it occurred to me I might faint. The next morning my paperclip message said “thanks for yesterday,” as if we had had some sort of office dalliance instead of a shared post-it note with a side-dish of panic.

The progress of the heart attack guy moved slowly. Each week meant another opportunity to impress someone, make a connection, a chance to stay; a foster puppy on probation in a new home with white carpeted floors. I might get to stay, but I could feel the odds against me. I wanted a real, benefit-laden full-time job, even though by five PM I wanted to take my own life in that windowless room. I stuck this one out mostly because if I didn’t, I had a feeling nobody would know I was missing.