Temporary work (or contract work) has been available in a variety of industries for years. Often known as contracting, it sometimes is perceived as your “Holidays in retail” roles — but it is much broader than that. Many misunderstand it as freelancing, but that doesn’t sum it up either. Temp work is an alternate work arrangement that allows you to work full time at a company for a set duration. Sometimes a couple of days, and other times a couple of months.
Contracts are common-place in the technology industry (which is where I work full time). Contractors are used to continue operations when an employee is on parental leave, sick leave, or a long vacation. Or they take on large projects that the permanent team can not handle by themselves.
Temp agencies (otherwise called recruitment firms) are often used to staff short-term positions. They have a network of effective and available candidates that can come to the rescue of a company with little to no notice.
Why Consider Temporary Work?
If you find yourself without a full-time job, temporary engagements are a great way to fill the gap.
You learn new skills, experience a new environment, and face new challenges — all while getting paid. New graduates can especially benefit from temp roles. Exposure to potential full-time employers is invaluable. If you have been laid off you gain cash flow while bringing your wisdom and experience to a new company. It mutually benefits both you and the employer.
If you are unsure of where to direct your career, temporary roles will help you explore your career choices. They expose you to a wide assortment of industries, help to hone your skills, and help you realize where you would like to focus on your future job search.
But temp work isn’t always the right solution! Let’s talk about the pros and cons.
Pros of Temp Work
1. Skill Development
Think of the first week of a new job. You learn new systems, new lingo, new processes, and new technology in short succession. The first few weeks on a job can be like being hit in the face with a fire hose. Now imagine staying at that organization for a few months, getting comfortable with the skills you have developed, and then moving to a new company and doing it again. It is an incredible opportunity to learn new skills. In 1 year of temp work, you develop skills that equal 10 years of experience at one company.
2. Networking Potential
With every new temp job, you have a new manager and new colleagues. Each new colleague can be a powerful asset in your network as you continue to build your career. Up to 70% of jobs are not posted on job boards. Instead, they are filled through referrals from people in your network. These referrals are most often from acquaintances rather than those in your close circle. It stands to reason that the more people you can add to your network, the better your job search prospects will be in the future.
Temporary roles provide you with more flexibility than permanent positions. You are not bound to employment terms and conditions like an employee is. This is beneficial if you are actively pursuing a side hustle or if you have priorities to tend to outside of work. It is important to check this and clearly outline any restrictions you have before you start your role. In some cases, an employer will need you for specific time periods that are non-negotiable. You don’t want to jeopardize the contract by not being clear up-front! But overall, you are not bound to the same restrictions that a full-time employee may be held to.
4. Higher Pay
Temporary positions are paid a higher hourly rate than the equivalent full-time permanent role is. This bump in pay compensates for the instability and lack of benefits. Although this is not a hard-and-fast rule, the more senior the responsibilities of the temp role, the more of a bump in hourly rate you can expect. For example, a Senior Accountant temp role is likely to be paid significantly more on an hourly basis than a salaried employee. Whereas an entry-level Accounts Payable role will only receive a dollar or two more per hour than can be expected on salary.
5. Many Challenges
Temp work is rarely boring! The varied environment, culture, technologies, and tasks introduce a wide array of challenges. The situation of the company needing your help also ranges. You could be covering for a surprise scenario which left the company unprepared and in disarray. If you are someone who doesn’t like too much of the same thing and enjoys challenges then temp work might be a good fit. But if you don’t want to be cleaning up work-place disaster zones… sticking to permanent positions might be best.
Cons of Temp Work
1. Less “Stability”
If you are like me, you heard, “grow up, go to school, get a good education, and get a stable job” more times than you can count. It’s reliable advice that has worked for generations before us, but is less true for the millennial job seeker. Education is still helpful, but a stable job is hard to find. If you have lived through 2020, you know just as well as I do that stability is a fallacy in the current job market.
That being said, temp work is “unstable” by design. Knowing that the role is unstable can help you prepare for the instability that occurs. When you start an assignment, you know your end date. You are prepared to line up another opportunity shortly thereafter.
Contractors are often the first to be “cut” when priorities shift within an organization. Temp work can be ended with no notice or repercussions. It happens!
The lack of stability is not for everyone, but “predictable instability” may be better than the surprise lay-off received in a permanent role.
2. Lack of Benefits
As a contract resource, you do not access the employee perks. This means no health and wellness plan, no RRSPs, no education spending accounts, no paid vacation time etc. If you want those things, you need to pay for them out of pocket.
That being said (and as stated in the pros), you often get a higher hourly pay rate to compensate for this. Stats say that you probably don’t completely understand your benefits package. This limits its use by many full-time employees who have access. So if you are one of the many who don’t use them, this may not be much of a con!
3. Requires Adaptability
Working in a contract role requires flexibility with your responsibilities. Since you are an extra set of hands there are tasks that will be assigned that fall outside of your typical job scope. You need to be flexible and adaptable to succeed in these scenarios. If you are flexible with your responsibilities and schedule you will likely do well. But if you like predictability, this is definitely a con.
Depending on the work culture, contract workers can be treated as “outsiders” who are there to get a short term job done. You may be excluded from some of the in-house culture-building events that are commonplace. For example, you may not be invited to the employee picnic or lunch-and-learn seminars that are held for the team. This is less common now than it was 10 years ago, but still happens! If you are highly independent it won’t bother you. But if you like to feel like part of a team, it might be best to stick to permanent roles.
5. Career Progression Limitations
Contracting with a company results in fewer opportunities for internal career progression. Most companies promote from within, so you may be passed over for promotions and leadership opportunities. However, if a permanent role opens up on your team you are an attractive candidate. Leveraging your knowledge of the company and systems gives you a leg-up on the competition. So while your career growth may be stifled, you may have permanent opportunities open up to you.
If this is you…
People who thrive in contracts often have similar traits. Are you:
- A quick-learner?
- Risk tolerant?
If you can answer yes to these, then contracts are a great fit for you!
If you are a new graduate: I encourage ALL of you to apply for contract roles and start to build your experience.
The exposure build you and builds your resume.
All Work is Imperfect
There is no “perfect” work arrangement.
Both contract and permanent jobs have their risks and rewards. I wouldn’t recommend jumping from a permanent role to a contract (unless it is a perfect next position and a company you have always wanted to work for). But temp work is a great way to fill resume gaps, gain new skills, and build your network. People are quick to turn down temp opportunities, but don’t let fear stop you from taking the leap and trying it out.
You’ll be glad you did.