Don Flora, a senior graphic designer at F5 Networks, wasn’t looking for a full-time job when he took a contract position at F5. “I was looking to supplement my freelance work,” Flora said. “It’s a challenge when you freelance, to some degree, to keep yourself booked. I love doing the work, but I don’t love finding the work or billing for the work. That’s where an agency can help.”

Don Flora 

Don Flora went from a contract position to a full-time job with F5 Networks.

In addition, with larger companies, Flora explained, it can be difficult for a freelancer to get their attention. “These companies use staffing agencies for a reason — they prescreen people so the HR departments don't have to go out and find them. What that means to a freelancer is that it's very hard to get your work in front of hiring managers at these companies. The agency is a great way for you to get your foot in the door.”

Staffing agencies contract with companies that need to fill temporary jobs. When you work through a staffing agency, you become an employee of the agency, but your work supports the client company. In Seattle, companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Amazon all use staffing agency employees, often called contract workers or temps, to fill temporary positions and as a key way to find full-time employees.

Since companies use staffing agencies to fill immediate needs, contracting offers a way to quickly get a paying job in your field. As a contractor, you gain on-the-job experience, professional connections and a competitive hourly wage. At the same time, you get the opportunity to try out a particular company to see if you want to pursue full-time work there.

A Foot in the Door

When Creative Circle told Flora about a six-month contract job at F5, he decided to interview for the position. “I met with the art director and the other designer, and I thought they were wonderful individuals — passionate, smart, talented and fun. And that, for me, is invaluable. So that is part of the reason I took the contract,” Flora said.

After the six months were over, F5 asked Flora to stay on a little longer, and soon he was offered a full-time job. “I had some reservations about the commitment,” Flora said. The experience of working at F5 as a contractor, however, had convinced him it was the right place for him to be long term.

“I saw an opportunity there,” Flora said, “and I saw great people. And that ultimately is why I took the full-time job.”

Temping as a Career

For some professionals, the benefits of temp work outweigh the lures of full-time employment. Jo Anne Richardson started work at Microsoft as a contractor, was hired as a full-time employee and now prefers working through Linda Werner & Associates as a vendor editor. As a vendor, Richardson is employed by LWA much like a contract worker, but she does not work onsite.

Jo Anne Richardson 

Jo Anne Richardson enjoys the flexibility of contracting as a career.

“Although there are many great advantages to being a full-time employee,” Richardson said, “working as a vendor gives me flexibility, not the least of which is the ability to work out of my home — without a lot of the politics and ladder climbing inherent in a full-time position.”

Richardson also enjoys the variety temp work can offer. “You really learn to jump in feet first. You have to adapt quickly to the needs and habits of different companies and teams. This experience has been very helpful to me both professionally and personally.”

For people considering temp work, Richardson offered this perspective: “There is a lot of opportunity out there if folks want to go this route. My best advice is that they understand that, while it may seem like there is less security than the full-time career track, if they stay focused and do a good job, they’ll keep getting work and can, in fact, grow their skills and learn more than if they were in one static position.”

A Manager’s Perspective

As a senior manager in payloads engineering at Boeing, Bill Jones hires temporary design, mechanical, civil and aerospace engineers to work on airplane interiors. “We hire contractors to meet short-term business needs or to fill special skills that our teams are short of,” Jones said.

When full-time positions open up, Jones explains, Boeing often looks to temp workers to fill them. “We hire the top performers into direct positions when our business needs support the move,” Jones said. “Contracting, both for engineering and non-engineering, is a great way to get your foot in the door. Especially if you are a top performer.”

Working With Agencies

“For someone who is looking for work, it’s nice to have an advocate,” said Marianne Gordon, agent at Aquent staffing agency. “Really, what I do is I'm a salesperson. I sell the job to the candidate and the candidate to the client. A lot of people have a hard time selling themselves, so I think that is one of the biggest benefits of working with an agency.”

With 14 years of experience placing job candidates, Gordon sees the relationships she’s built as a benefit for job seekers. “A lot of my hiring managers are people I've placed,” Gordon said, “so I know them. I know their personalities. If I don't know a manager, I go out and meet with them. I try to figure out the best match for them and match personalities to teams.”

Your Benefits

Many staffing agencies offer health benefits, a 401K and other perks to temp employees. Benefits can vary widely, and it’s smart to compare agency benefits before accepting a job. If there is a gap in between contracts, temp workers who received benefits through an agency are often eligible for COBRA.

Another option is to get an individual health insurance plan through providers such as Group Health or LifeWise. The Affordable Care Act will provide additional options in 2014. For retirement savings, a Roth IRA is one option for individuals. The often higher wages for contracting can help offset some of the costs associated with investing in your own benefits.

Resources

If you’d like to explore contract work or use a staffing company to find a full-time job, find an agency you want to work with and develop a relationship with a recruiter there. VocationVillage.com lists Seattle staffing agencies by industry, and NWJobs.com People’s Pick is a compilation of favorite employment agency winners.

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