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Temping Can Create Path to a Long-term Job

By Marnette Federis

Roll Call Staff

Erol Yayboke’s search for a job in Washington, D.C., is a familiar story. The recent University of Texas graduate moved to the District last fall looking to work in politics.

“I started doing the job-hunt thing when I first got here and realized it was going to take much longer than originally planned,” Yayboke said.

In need of a regular paycheck, Yayboke signed up with the agency PoliTemps and found interim positions at lobbying, communications and political consulting firms. With the connections he made and the skills he learned from short-term jobs, Yayboke said his prospects of landing a permanent position are much better than when he first arrived in the District a few months ago.

This year, the shift in Washington’s political landscape is opening up new jobs from Capitol Hill to K Street and attracting thousands of people to the city, all vying for spots in the political field. As job seekers flock to the District, many are finding that one path to a good job may be through temporary work.

Temping was the avenue that Yayboke chose to pursue in his search for a job. The chance to spruce up his résumé and network were the biggest draws for him.

“It was an excellent opportunity for me. Being from out of town and not knowing anyone, I wouldn’t have had the chance to network,” Yayboke said.

He is now a temp with the political consulting firm Schrayer & Associates. Yayboke said working on one of the firm’s campaigns improves his chances of landing a more permanent position.

Chris Jones, founder of PoliTemps, which specializes in placing workers at political-specific companies, said that this year the political changes in Washington not only mean more job openings on Capitol Hill, but also more opportunities with lobbying shops, government relations firms, nonprofits and associations.

“There are rosters that need updating and extra work to go around for firms adjusting to the political shift,” Jones said.

There is another reason why temporary work should be plentiful during the winter months, Jones added. Firms still are waiting for their spring interns to come to town, leaving them in need of short-term employees.

“If you’re looking for a job and you’re not [an] intern, now is the time to do it, before interns [or] free labor start flooding the market in April or May,” Jones said. “Many companies wonder why they should pay [a] temporary worker when they can get someone for free.”

But many lobbying shops, nonprofits, associations and other political firms have cyclical or temporary work available year-round. Short-term positions tend to be open when the political organizations need to organize a yearly conference or when they are pushing for specific issues that are timely for only a few months.

Temporary work in Washington, D.C., can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months or even a few years. But the chance to mingle with those already in the political field, however fleeting, can prove to be invaluable for those who want to get a foot in the door.

These days, Jones said, a varied experience, even a short-term one, is seen as an asset for entry-level candidates in the political field. He said about 15 percent to 20 percent of job seekers who come through PoliTemps end up in a temp-to-permanent program or land permanent positions in the companies they work for.

Bernadette Gilson, executive director of the staffing agency TRAK Services, said 20 percent of the candidates placed through the company are considered for more permanent positions.

Hill Thomas, a manager in the Congressional affairs department with the National Mining Association, had his start as a temp worker when he first came to Washington, D.C., three years ago. He signed with TRAK Services and landed a variety of short-term jobs — at one place he remembers moving boxes, while another temp job led him to his current position.

“Being a temp, I [got] access to people, long-termed D.C. people, whose careers I wanted to emulate,” Thomas said.

Short-term positions also give job seekers room to be selective about the field they want to pursue. Yayboke said he was initially unsure about the type of organization he wanted to work for, but after temping at several firms, he found his calling in international affairs.

“I think we’re all looking for some sort of security — that’s definitely the goal — but I’m not willing to settle for anything I don’t want to do,” Yayboke said. “That’s one of the good things about temping, it allowed me to look for what it is that I want to do.”

But temporary work has plenty of drawbacks; salaries usually are lower than the market value and benefit packages are minimal. Jones said short-term workers get anywhere from $13 to $25 per hour for junior-level positions, while senior-level positions might receive salaries of up to $30 per hour depending on the job description.

Anne Foley, who also used TRAK Services before being placed in a temp-to-permanent program with the National Mining Association, remembers being unsettled by the instability of a short-term job.

“Personally, I hated the insecurity,” Foley said. “I need to sign the dotted line … it mostly wasn’t terrible, but it’s hard on anybody.”

And a short-term job may mean taking up grunt work. Yayboke said he took on administrative duties at one of his temp jobs even with his master’s degree.

“What you’re doing as a temp is maybe not what you’re passionate about,” Yayboke said. “But it allows you to position yourself to create a network of contacts while having some cash inflow.”

Turning a short-term job into an offer for a permanent position is a challenge many temp workers face. Liz Schrayer, president of Schrayer and Associates, said temporary workers have a limited window to prove themselves to their employers.

“You have to be able to show your strengths and skills in a much shorter period of time,” Schrayer said. “There are certain people who will shine, and those I will go out of my way to get a position in my firm or [a] position elsewhere.”

Kristen Eastlick, chief administrative officer at the public affairs firm Berman and Co., said temp workers at the company have been able to secure a longer-term employee position.

“It has a lot do with how individuals present themselves and what opportunities they take advantage of,” Eastlick said.

Former short-term employees warn against being passive in the workplace. Greg Bilodeau, director of Web and electronic communications at the NMA, said he got his start with the group as a temp. Bilodeau said that too often temps are afraid to step up and show what they can really do.

“Sometimes people who are on temporary status feel like they’re in the second tier and they don’t come up with initiatives that might be needed,” Bilodeau said. “But those that don’t second guess themselves end up doing well.”

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