What are Temp Agencies & How do They Work (Expert Tips)

by Belinda Elliott


Finding jobs through a temp agency has been growing in popularity in the U.S. since the pandemic.

These short-term positions fill a need for an employer and can be a good way to gain experience. 

Are temp agencies worth it for you? It depends on your long-term goals and the type of position you would like.

What are temp agencies?

Temp agencies are companies that employers use to fill positions that last for a predetermined amount of time. 

Typically, these positions last a few months, but they can last longer and may even become permanent in some cases. 

There are many reasons a company may need temp workers. Perhaps they are working on a project that needs more staff than they can dedicate to it. 

Sometimes companies hire temp agencies to fill positions during their busy season, or to fill in when employees are out on medical leave.

The process for getting hired through a temp agency is very similar to applying to any other job. 

Most temp agencies have a website or job marketplace where you will begin the process by either filling out an application or uploading your résumé.

This will be followed by an interview with the agency, and they will let you know of any jobs that match your skills. 

Once you are placed in a position, you will work at an assigned work site, but your paycheck will come from the temp agency, meaning you can negotiate your salary with them.

What types of jobs can I get as a temporary worker?

There is a perception that only manual labor jobs use temporary workers, but this is a myth. It is important to understand how temp agencies work. 

Some temp agencies handle a variety of career fields, while others specialize in only one or two, but there are many industries that use temp workers. 

Recent research from the American Staffing Association shows that temporary workers are employed most commonly in the following sectors: 

  • 37% Industrial – These positions include jobs in transportation, construction, food handling, assembly, maintenance and more. 
  • 28% Office, Clerical and Administrative – Temps in this field work as receptionists, data entry operators, cashiers, customer service reps and other administrative positions. 
  • 13% Professional, Managerial – This includes a wide range of workers from accountants and attorneys to more creative roles in marketing and advertising like graphic designers, web developers and copywriters. This could be a good first job for MBA graduates.
  • 13% Engineering, Information Technology, and Scientific – These roles include highly skilled positions such as computer programmers, mathematicians, lab technicians, architects and engineers. These are often longer assignments that can lead to a permanent job. 
  • 9% Health Care – Temp positions in this industry include physicians, nurses, nurse aids, medical technicians, medical assistants, dental hygienists, dentists, and side gigs for paramedics.

Tactic For Success

Prepare for finding temp work just as you would any other job. You want to create a strong résumé, spend some time thinking about your strengths and skills, and be prepared to communicate your work experience during an interview.


Is going through a temp agency a good idea?

While on a summer break during college, I worked for a temp agency that placed me in an assembly-line job at a cosmetics company. 

We packaged bottles of perfume, gift bags of cosmetics, and other beauty products. Though it was a good experience, I learned that working on an assembly line wasn’t the perfect fit for me. 

Have you seen the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy works on a packaging line at a chocolate factory? I lived that scene! Fortunately, my coworkers were very understanding. 

I was returning to college, so once the summer was over my time at the temp agency was finished. (This makes it a good side income stream for teachers, too!)

However, if I had been staying in town, I could have asked for a different work assignment. 

I’m sure they would have worked with me because I had the reputation of always showing up on time and working hard–even if the assignment wasn’t an ideal fit. 

This is one advantage of temp work, multiple positions are available. 

Temp Agencies Offer Work In An Unstable Economy

Another perk of forming a good working relationship with your temp agency is that when one assignment ends, they are happy to work with you to find another position. 

My husband has spent much of his career working for a temp agency. In the last couple of years, the company where he is placed has gone through several rounds of downsizing. 

Should his current position end, we know that the temp agency has relationships with other companies where they could find him a new position. This has provided him with a great peace of mind.

Temp Agencies Can Add Experience To Your Résumé

One of the biggest hurdles I hear from my career coaching clients is that they lack experience for the job they want. 

Whether you are a student, a new grad, someone changing career fields, or currently between jobs, temporary work can help round out your résumé. 

It also increases your professional network and introduces you to people who can recommend you for future work.

Trend on the Rise

In a 2019 survey of temp agencies, 56% of respondents said an increase in remote jobs was the most consequential impact of COVID-19 on the industry. This is great news for those of us wanting to work from home. If you are interested in remote work, ask about these opportunities when choosing an agency.

How do temp agencies make money?

Since companies hire temp agencies to fill positions for them, the company typically pays a percentage of the employee’s hourly rate as a fee for this service. 

Different agencies have different pricing models, but their services are free to job seekers. You should not have to pay any type of placement fee or other charges to use the services of a temp agency. 

However, some agencies do require that you work solely with them during your job search, so be sure you clearly understand their terms before signing with them. 

Tactic for Success

Treat temp jobs as you would a long-term, permanent position. You want to really wow your employer. Whether the job turns into something more permanent or not, your employer can provide a great recommendation for you – which you should ask for before you leave, of course! Think of every position as a bridge to your next one.

How do I choose a temp agency?

One good way to research temp agencies is to begin with an online search. Explore the agencies in your area and look at what jobs they are looking to fill. 

Keep in mind that some agencies specialize in certain industries, and this can be to your advantage if you desire work in that field. 


Here are a few questions to ask when considering signing up with a temp agency:

  • What types of positions do you fill? – Some agencies fill a variety of roles, while others work within specific fields. You want to make sure your interests align. 
  • What services do you offer? – Some temp agencies merely conduct interviews, screenings and placements, while others provide assistance or feedback on résumés and cover letters. Others offer even more resources like workshops.
  • Do you offer benefits and at what cost? – Though many temp jobs do not come with benefits, some agencies are starting to offer health or dental insurance and even vacation days.
  • How long does it usually take before getting an assignment? – You want to know a realistic timeline for jobs in your industry. Some jobs, like those in hospitality, retail or industrial work, can be filled quickly, while others take longer.
  • Am I allowed to turn down assignments? – You should emphasize that you don’t foresee this happening often, but in the event that you are unable to take the assignment you need to know your options.
  • What do you do if an assignment turns out to be a poor fit? – You want to know that an agency will work with you to be sure the role meets your needs. Inquire about how to present any concerns you may have.

Check Out These Temp Agency Examples

The temp agency I worked through in college is Manpower

Other popular agencies include Randstad, Kelly, Adecco, Aquent (handles creative and marketing positions), TEKsystems (handles tech and IT positions), and AMN Healthcare (handles healthcare positions).

Wrapping Up

Working through a temp agency was a great experience for me during college, and many people enjoy the variety that temp jobs offer. 

Don’t be too quick to rule out temp agencies as an option–they could provide the career boost you need!

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Belinda has been a professional writer for more than 20 years and serves as a career coach in her community helping job seekers with all aspects of their job search. Her educational credentials include a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and a master’s in journalism.

About the Author

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Belinda has been a professional writer for more than 20 years and serves as a career coach in her community helping job seekers with all aspects of their job search. Her educational credentials include a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and a master’s in journalism.