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What I learnt from temping

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Not everyone knows what they want to do when they leave school or university. I know I certainly didn’t. I needed cash to pay for University after leaving college (I was always poor as a student) and to be honest, I didn’t really care about of the type of organisational culture in which I’d thrive or the management style I wanted to work under. I just wanted a job that would pay the most for my limited abilities!

So, like many before me and many since, I started ‘temping’. I directly went door knocking at local businesses, as small town NZ (I’m from a place called Whakatane) had no recruitment agencies at the time. I used word of mouth to try and uncover opportunities and managed to find six temporary assignments over a period of four years, ranging from check-out operator to craft-beer capper, labourer to furniture removal. I worked across industries including FMCG, construction and retail. It would have been a great deal easier had there been a recruitment agency to help provide these opportunities at the time.

I’ve come a long way since, but I’ll never forget the unexpected lessons those early temporary assignments taught me. They’re lessons that, even today, help me succeed.

Insights for successful career decisions

Every temporary assignment you fill exposes you to a new workplace, where you get to experience first-hand different management styles, structures and organisational cultures. You also gain experience working in different sized organisations, with various levels of resources and may even work in numerous departments.

Crucially, as a temp I met a wide range of people in many different jobs and at many different stages of their careers. I’d listen, ask questions and was able to learn from their own career journeys.

The variety of this experience gave me a solid foundation from which I could determine the type of role and organisation in which I thrive, and the management style I respond to best.

How to adapt and be solutions-focused

Temporary employees are expected to hit the ground running. As a temp I learnt to adapt quickly to each assignment and workplace so that I was adding value from day one.

Of course I faced challenges. Most of the roles I filled provided no training, so I gained an ability to learn on-the-job. Being thrown in the deep-end is challenging at first, but it pushed me to become solutions-focused and a self-directed learner.

Another challenge was some of the tasks I undertook; the labouring roles involved, naturally, hard manual work and to this day I remember having to figure out how to lower a piano to the ground from the third storey of a house, with only one other person and one rope to help me, so being creative and showing initiative was also a skill that working under difficult conditions helped me develop.

Understand that others rely on you

As a temp, you are employed to complete a specific task over a set period, whether that’s a certain number of days, weeks or longer. If you are ill one day and unable to work, you are missed and you come to understand the value of your skills and what you bring to an organisation.

Time equals money

I also quickly learnt that the more hours I worked the more I got paid! I was a young man and the value of hard work is a lesson I’ve never forgotten in all my subsequent years.

If you are considering temping, I recommend it. While there are many benefits, for me the main value of my experience as a temp was learning to adapt quickly to change and coming to understand the type of environment and management style that brought out the best in me.

Have you undertaken temporary assignments? What did they teach you?