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On Assignment Corporate Jobs

What It's Really Like to Get a Job Through a Staffing Agency

Five Misleading Myths About Getting a Job Through a Staffing Company

Recent college grads are often unsure exactly what they want to do for a living. However, most will say they "want to do something interesting," "they don’t want to be pigeonholed," and they certainly "don’t want to register with a staffing company." If you fall into this category, it's time to re-think your post-college employment strategy.

Staffing companies offer candidates, from administrative assistants to CEOs, the opportunity to gain access to companies in one or two ways: on a temporary or temporary-to-hire basis.

These assignments can last anywhere from one day to six months or longer. They can also be full-time positions. According to the American Staffing Association, more than 90 percent of companies in the U.S. use staffing firms, and 40 percent of employees looking for their first job (or those reentering the job market) have done so by working with a staffing company.

Five Misleading Myths About Getting A Job Through a Staffing Company

Myth #1: I only want a "real" job, not a temporary job.

Reality: The jobs available through staffing companies are “real” jobs at companies like Amazon, Continental Airlines, Freddie Mac, Hearst Publications, Microsoft, PG &E, RBC Dain Rauscher, Suntron, Sony, Starbucks, and Visa. These companies are budgeted to hire a set number of full-time employees on an annual basis. Included in these budgets are funds earmarked to hire temporary staff to handle the ebb and flow of business.

When the time comes for the company to post the temporary position as a full-time position, you'll be perfectly positioned to interview for the full-time job.

Myth #2: The jobs available through staffing companies are low-paying jobs.

Reality: This is simply not true. As a recent college grad, you will likely be offered an assignment commensurate with your experience, which is entry level.

It is up to you to decide how to leverage that opportunity to take your career to the next level. For example, you might be able to parlay your experience planning events in your senior year at college into an entry level job paying $18 an hour, plus benefits, in the special events department at a Fortune 100 company. And, after two or three years you can leave that company with the skills and training to become an Account Executive at a major branding firm.

Here are just some of the opportunities offered by staffing companies who have open positions:

  • Regional Sales Director for a Major Retailer: ­Full-time position with a six-figure salary
  • Employee Relations Coordinator for a Fortune 100 Company: Salary, $43,000
  • Merchant Analyst for Leading Internet Retailer: ­Long-term temporary assignment at $25/hr
  • Recruiting Coordinator: ­Three-month temporary assignment at $14/hr
  • Bi-Lingual (German/English) Customer Service Rep: Temporary-to-hire position at $14/hr
  • Marketing Specialist for a Fortune 100 Company: ­Long-term temporary assignment, rate of pay DOE depends on experience
  • Accountant for a local construction company: ­Full-time position at $55,000 - $60,000

Myth #3: Staffing companies only work with entry level, administrative candidates.

Reality: Twenty years ago, it may have been the case that temporary agencies only worked with entry-level candidates. Today, specialty agencies place professional, managerial, and technical staffing candidates with companies that offer opportunities for those looking to get their foot in the door. Even general staffing agencies often offer professional and technical positions.  

Myth #4: Assignments only last a few weeks.

Reality: Assignments can last anywhere from one day to a couple of weeks, to nine months. If you do a good job and the company is pleased with your efforts, you can be hired full-time. The beauty of working with a staffing company is that you get exposed to a variety of companies, positions, and opportunities. It’s also the easiest way to find out what you like about different companies in a very short period of time.

After three or four long-term assignments, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for in terms of company culture, the type of boss you get along with, and the type of work you enjoy doing.

Myth #5: The temporary jobs available through staffing companies don’t offer benefits.

Reality: This is not necessarily true. Depending on the staffing company, benefits available to temporary employees can include such things as direct deposit, holidays off, medical/dental, employee referral bonuses, and 401K benefits.

Not only have staffing companies evolved into a highly professionalized industry, they offer a career entry point. If you find yourself unemployed and unclear about your prospects after graduation, consider a staffing company the same way you considered your university placement center.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE — Dear Annie: I am an engineer by training, currently running a big chunk of North American manufacturing for a global Fortune 500 company. Recently, the head of my division has been sounding me out about moving either to Spain, to tackle some productivity issues at a couple of plants we have there, or else to one of several Latin American countries where we are starting up new ventures. (I assume that these particular options are on the table because I’m of Hispanic extraction and already speak fluent Spanish.)

I’m having trouble deciding whether to jump at either of these offers, and if so, which one. Moving overseas for a year or two would certainly be challenging and interesting. But friends of mine, who took similar assignments and later regretted doing so, warn me that I’d be “out of sight, out of mind” back at headquarters and that this would ultimately trip up my career. What do you think? — Not Packing Yet

Dear Not Packing: No question about it, this is a complicated decision, and one that more and more managers are facing. The number of employees sent abroad rose last year for the first time since 2006, says a study from Brookfield Global Relocation Services called the Global Relocation Trends 2011 Survey Report . According to the study,  a record-setting 61% of companies around the world expect to ship more managers to foreign shores in 2011.

Those globetrotting managers may have an edge over their stay-at-home peers. International experience is “more frequently becoming a prerequisite” for top-level executive jobs, notes Mansour Javidan, dean of research at international business school Thunderbird’s Global Mindset Institute.

Recent studies suggest he’s right. Executive development consultants Healthy Companies International, whose clients include Intel (INTC), Northrop Grumman (NOC), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and Boeing (BA), examined the career paths of C-level managers at Fortune 100 companies and found that more than 7 out of 10 have held management jobs in foreign climes. That’s up from fewer than 5 in 10 a decade ago.

“In many big companies now, you need at least one substantial international assignment if you want to climb the executive ladder,” says Bruce Raines, CEO of New York City executive search firm Raines International.

Before you start packing, however, consider a couple of important caveats. First, not everyone is cut out to thrive in an unfamiliar place. The Global Mindset Institute has identified three main traits that successful expats share (and a quiz that companies can use to determine whether overseas candidates have them).

The three predictors of effectiveness in a foreign assignment: Solid knowledge of the workings of international business and a capacity to quickly absorb information; openness to different cultures and a knack for adapting to new customs and mores; and “social capital,” defined as the ability to bring people together, create alliances, and influence others who are culturally or politically different.

Without all three of these skills, says Mansour Javidan, “people come home before their contracted time, or they don’t achieve their goals. Business is lost, and professional and personal relationships can be damaged.” So can a manager’s career.

Before you accept an overseas gig, make an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses in those three areas, and don’t hesitate to ask HR if training is available to help you prepare for your new role. At most big global companies these days, it is.

The fact that you already speak Spanish should give you a big leg up. “All managers who take an overseas assignment must learn the language and study the culture,” says Bruce Raines. “I can’t stress that enough, and Americans in general tend to be slower off the mark in this regard than managers from other countries.”

As for your fear that you’ll be “out of sight, out of mind” at headquarters, Raines says you needn’t worry too much: “Before the Internet, people sent overseas were isolated. Now, with Skype, videoconferencing, and all the other technology that’s available, you’re never really out of touch.”

That’s not to say that going abroad poses no risks to your career. You say that your division head has mentioned sending you abroad for “a year or two.” Raines says one hazard he has often seen arises when that year or two turns into five or six.

“This happens a lot,” he says. “By the time you do get back, after a long stint abroad, the organization has changed so that there’s no comparable job for you. So you either take a step down or leave the company.” Gulp.

To be on the safe side, Raines urges you not to take an overseas assignment “unless it is one that will help your career even if you end up leaving your current employer.”

Raines recommends that you try to gain direct responsibility for the company’s bottom line in as large a region as possible because you can transfer those skills to other companies.

Choosing whether to go to Spain or to Latin America, Raines adds, largely depends on your feelings about risk.

“If you’re very entrepreneurial, emerging markets — including Brazil, the rest of South America, Viet Nam, Moscow, China — are the frontier. You can build a huge reputation as a sharpshooter and move up quickly.”

If you’re more conservative and risk-averse, on the other hand, “you may do better in Europe or another established market, where there are already established procedures and a track record.”

One more thing: If you do decide to make the leap, check out Expat Info Desk, a site run by seasoned expatriate George Eves that offers a wealth of wisdom on everything from relocating your pets to hammering out a workable expat employment contract.

Vaya con Dios!

Talkback: If you’ve worked overseas, or have relocated employees to foreign countries, what advice would you give anyone considering an international assignment? Leave a comment below.

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