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Temp Joys Provide First Ray of New Jobs Hope

Nonpermanent Employees Find Perfect Solution to Land Their Political Dream Positions

Signs of life in the national economy could eventually translate to big gains for job seekers in the nation’s capital — but the first rays of hope in the employment picture may come from an unlikely source.

According to industry watchers, the temporary employment sector is often a leading economic indicator in any financial recovery — and aspiring D.C. political types and Congressional staff hopefuls may be well-poised to take advantage of a growing demand for savvy, politically experienced temporary employees. In addition, such temporary jobs can lead to opportunities for permanent employment down the line.

So says Chris Jones, founder of PoliTemps, a specialty D.C.-based temporary staffing and

employment placement service that caters to lobby groups, consulting firms, trade organizations and Members of Congress.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick as the political campaign industry starts hiring because their campaign season is one year off. They’re starting to gear up,— Jones says. “Leading economic indicators say that staffing companies are about to get busy. Companies are still a little wary of permanent hiring. The tip of the spear of economic recovery is usually staffing agencies.—

Steve Berchem, vice president of the American Staffing Association, concurs. His organization uses a metric to track the overall temporary staffing picture, the ASA Staffing Index. He says that the index has shown an unprecedented eight weeks of sustained growth during July and August, the longest protracted expansion since the index was launched in 2006.

Berchem continues, “It’s hard to say anything about the market these days because it’s in such an atypical pattern; however, we know historically that if you’re looking for permanent work, temporary employment is a good way to find it.—

For job hunters looking for public sector or public policy work, a politically focused staffing agency like PoliTemps might be just the right place to start a career. While internships have often been seen as the Holy Grail for getting a foot in the door of discerning D.C. institutions, temporary employment at political organizations around the city can also pay dividends. And, Jones adds, temping “provides a chance for [employees] to catch their breath financially— rather than fretting over rent during an unpaid internship.

Jonathan Wisbey, a graduate of Williams College and Georgetown University, found that PoliTemps was a good way to leverage a temporary position into a full-time career. After about six months of both long-term and short-term placements, he was offered a position at a D.C. lobbying firm where he had initially started as a temp.

“I knew that I wanted to stay in D.C. for permanent employment. But when I graduated in the summer of 2008, it was when the major job crunch began to kick in.— He adds, “I was in the same boat as everyone else — send out lots of applications and getting a lot of tepid responses.—

Temping, he says, offered him a chance to hone and demonstrate his skills to prospective employers and explore a wide variety of organizations in the city.

Still, he warns, “Living in the temp world is very much a day-to-day existence.— Finding permanent employment is “still very much a luck thing; [temping] offers a way to explore new opportunities, but it’s certainly not a cure-all.—

Both Jones and Berchem echo that client organizations often end up hiring temporary workers. Jones estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of PoliTemps associates are offered permanent employment by clients. Berchem puts the national figure even higher, citing an ASA study that showed 43 percent of temporary employees who had obtained permanent work were eventually hired by a client organization.

“If you have an assignment with a staffing firm, you have your foot in the door,— Berchem says.

In a difficult economy that’s just slowly coming back to life, a foot in the door may be just what D.C.’s staff assistant hopefuls and aspiring lobbyists need.

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