Disclaimer: This is not a stab at any of the places I have worked, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my jobs and got on well with all teams. This is purely a warning to young graduates entering into fixed term contracts with some personal experience thrown in.
Once upon a time shortly after graduating I thought interim work would be ideal, I thought it was just the way employment worked for graduates and that it was a good opportunity to experience a range of different work environments without “job hopping”. All the while thinking something along the lines of: If you want to win, you’ve got to play the game and unfortunately those of us at the bottom don’t make the rules – I’m young, bright and ready to earn my stripes. This all would have checked out fine if it weren’t for the fact that it IS just “job hopping” and sends the completely wrong message to recruiters for the future. I want those looking forward to a life of post graduate employment to learn from my mistakes and see that you don’t have to settle for the least a business can offer you just because you’re young and inexperienced.
I’ve spent the past year and a half moving in between businesses on a series of “fixed term contracts” or more commonly known as “temping”. I never actually signed up to “temp” as a lot of admin and secretarial workers often do, I work in marketing and generally marketeers need a level of permanence to understand their particular brand (or agency) on a deep enough level in order to speak your business’ lingo as effectively as possible – so I would tend to see temporary marketing roles as a little bit redundant to the business and yet here I am. Make no mistake, I have virtually nothing bad to say about the places I have worked, my managers have been lovely people and while the marketing industry is ruthless and fast paced I wouldn’t change it – what I would change is the fact that I would have been 100% happier staying on in just one of those organisations on a permanent basis rather than getting a tiny glimpse of what my life would have been like working at all of them.
Below are ways I’ve talked myself into accepting such a raw deal and I know some of you have too, call me a Negative Nancy but I have learned the hard way that we, young grads, need some sense talking into us. We’ve spent the past 4 or more years getting ready for our adult lives to begin when we leave education, it’s no wonder that we’re raring to go to the point of desperation. The problem is that desperation is often easy to sniff out and seldom seen as a strength.
1- “I’m just getting my foot in the door”
No, you’re getting your foot stuck in the door. If you think that doing what you have to for the sake of “getting your foot in the door” is enough to make you happy at work I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong because you WILL get yourself trapped in a “temping” box. It might be enough for a month or two but if you’re anything like me it will soon wear thin because you will always stay partially through that door, looking at everyone else being a fixture of working life in that office, but mostly you’re just out in the cold. A fixed term contract is you willingly dipping your toe into the talent shark pool that is any business (don’t hate the player though!) for them to nibble the meat off your bones – you’re giving away your talent, your ideas and most of all your heart and you’re not getting any of that back. The ultimate kicker is that after all of that they are sending you off at the end with no toe left.
2 – “I work hard, I see no reason why they wouldn’t keep me on”
Sure, they might keep you on…after all if you’re doing a great job why would they want to let you go? Because they might decide that you’re taking too long to learn, they might be a little tight on cash that quarter and you’re easily dispensable as you don’t have the same retention rights as permanent employees. You might take your entitled holiday and come back to find that they didn’t miss you all that much and so they’re letting you go. They can fire you whenever they want and for whatever reason they want, they don’t even have to give you longer than a couple weeks’ notice (depending on your contract). In truth, it’s nothing to do with you or how hard you work. If they have an influx of work and not enough staff – you’re there to ease the pressure. Once it cools off again you’re not needed and they can’t justify the money, it’s business and not only is it just not personal, it can’t be and never will be about your feelings. I don’t want you to keep bending over backwards and jumping through hoops if it won’t make a blind bit of difference – the ball is still in their court and they can bounce it right out the door if they so choose.
3 – “I’ll just have to apply for jobs while I’m there”
Do you even know how awkward it is to try and get work while you’re currently working? Very! You’re probably still half hoping that they won’t really let you go when your time is up so you’re likely still trying to impress them – taking time off for interviews while trying to show your commitment to them is stressful as hell. As I’m sure you’re all aware, landing yourself a role is a fulltime job in itself and you already have one of those. Is it just me or is it suddenly a lot harder than you thought to give this job your full undivided attention when you’re constantly stressing about how you’re going to live when your contract finishes?
4 – “Something might come up internally – I’m in a good position!”
If you think that you’re in better stead to get a permanent position because you’re applying internally, think again. Nothing is guaranteed! You still need to apply like everyone else, alongside everyone else who may be going for it(awkward!) and if you don’t get it you still have to come in the next day and face the people who turned you down with a smile. This has happened to me and let me tell you, it’s even more painful than it sounds! I would pick an external interview over an internal one any day of the week, at least you get to dust yourself off and walk away from it with your head held high and move on to the next thing.
5 – “It’s only for x months, it’s not like I’ll get the chance to get close to anyone”
This has been the most challenging one for me. Like it or not, you get close to people when you’re seeing them every day and working closely with them. It’s hard to keep leaving and starting again somewhere else (I feel a song coming on…) no matter which way you look at it. If you’re interested in doing a good job, you’re bound to care about what you’re doing and if you’re doing that much you are already emotionally invested – you will be sad when you leave so you better deal with it.
6 – “I guess that holiday/house/car/life can wait til I get something permanent”
You end up putting your life on hold waiting for the reassurance of a permanent contract to come tap you on the shoulder. I’ve only just moved into a house because I couldn’t be certain I would have the rent every month – how sad is that? Your social life suffers too, you hold off on seeing friends who live further afield because you want to be able to afford to eat in the event that your job falls through. Your mental health is shot because you’re always worrying about money, you inevitably start to feel bad about yourself and wonder what’s wrong with you and why they don’t want you. Fixed term contracts are like a deadbeat boyfriend who gives you bad self-esteem and yet you never seem to break up with because a kick in the guts is somehow better than nothing.
The biggest take away from this experience would be not to go fixed term in the first place because as soon as you have that first 6 month role on your CV, you’re screwed. If you’re buying into the “for the right person it could lead to a permanent role” spiel, you can forget it. Once you’ve shown them that you are happy to accept a few crumbs here and there, they will never give you your fair share of the pie because why would they? If you’re not respecting yourself enough to ask for what you deserve and are capable of, then why should they grant you that respect?
So impending graduates please, next time you get interviewed for a role and they tell you “see the thing is, we really like you but we don’t have it in the budget to take you on permanently – why don’t we just take you on for 6 months for now and see where it goes?” just say no! Say no thank you, I need to look after my mental, physical and financial wellbeing and I can’t give you my best as an employee without those things. Your persistence might even result in a better offer but if they aren’t going to hire you for sticking to your guns, at least you’ll have their respect. Respect may not pay the bills but a new found sense of badassery is the best crutch to carry you through to the next opportunity. Hang in there kids, it gets better.