Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Answering Reader Mail: How Long is it Fair to be a Temp for a Job?

“I love your blog and really appreciate your insights and advice.  I had a question for you and wondered what your opinion would be.

I am a dynamic, successful EA with 2 long term business relationships spanning 26 years.  I recently found myself out of work and started my search.  After only 2 weeks, I found a great company through a staffing agency and the position was full time working for a wonderful CEO.  I did very well on my interviews and it's down to me and one other EA who already has a full time job.  

The staffing agent asked if I was open to temp to perm, even though the position was for a full time EA, he feels the CEO may need time to see if it is a good fit.  It feels like a bait and switch and there are no guarantees.

What would you do?  I'm tempted to say yes because I want to be open and I can really show them what I can do, but part of me is slightly insulted, especially with my impeccable background.  I have no idea how long "temp" is considered before they would offer the permanent position. How long do you think is fair? One month?

Thanks again for all your informative blogs!!!



Dear MD,

Thank you being a reader and asking such a great question!  I hope my answer is of help to you and not too late!  

I am sorry to hear that you were recently out of work.  I’m really happy to hear that you found a great lead after only 2 weeks!  Congrats!  It’s great that you are one of the 2 final candidates.  I know that temp to perm was not an ideal situation for you and you may have been blindsided by it.  I think it’s good that you are willing to be open.  However, I understand how you can feel unappreciated and under-valued considering your background.  It’s normal to have the myriad of questions and feelings you may have.  I will answer your questions by addressing your entire email and I will answer from two perspectives - 1) I used to and still sometimes work in a recruiting capacity and 2) as a job applicant and EA.  All or some of my response may or may not apply to you, but I like to cover all bases for anyone new to my site.  

You wrote you were a successful EA with 2 long term business relationships spanning 26 years and that you recently found yourself out of work.

I have no idea how old you are, but I can only assume that we are not the same age and you most likely get paid pretty well compared to the average recent college grad/new EA.  While it seems extremely unfair and almost illegal, companies do take age into account when hiring or letting employees go.  I am not sure if this is in any way related to you recently being out of work.  It is known that age only plays a factor because the more years you have worked for a company the more expensive an employee is because of their salary, overtime, and other perks/benefits that are considered in the overall compensation package (401k matching, retirement, etc).  Although, I highly doubt what I will say next is relevant to you, for any new readers/EAs, I like to over explain than not.  I do know that the more experienced an EA is the PERCEPTION is they are less hungry, less flexible, less tech savvy, or less open to learning than new EAs who are trying to get their foot in the door, prove their worth, and are new to the EA role.  If you or any EA was let go of performance issues, that is also factored in when applying for new jobs.  Did one understand why they were terminated?  What did they learn?  How will they improve?  For any EAs where it was performance based, start doing freelance temp EA work immediately. This puts the focus back on the fact that you are working, employable, and have options. Your termination is more “in the past” than being the focal point of your resume because your first job description will be the temping stuff.

You wrote, “I did very well on my interviews and it's down to me and one other EA who already has a full time job.”

It’s interesting that they clued you in the fact that the other EA has full time job.  This can be taken in one of two ways.  1) The other person really does have a full time job and HR was being really honest and open with you about the interviewing process.  2) The other EA does/does not have a full time job and another issue is at stake here, but they don’t wish to disclose that.  Other issues at stake could be that the other EA costs more, will need to be lured with other incentives, can’t start immediately, or a whole slew of reasons why they didn’t offer the FT job to the other EA and/or the temp role instead.  We'll never know if you were their second choice and hence the temp offer after the first EA turned down the FT or temp role too.  Keep in mind, the role of a staffing agency/HR is to work for the company and to protect the CEO/client, their company, and their business, and their money.  

You also wrote, “The staffing agent asked if I was open to temp to perm, even though the position was for a full time EA, he feels the CEO may need time to see if it is a good fit.  It feels like a bait and switch and there are no guarantees.”

The job was pitched to you as a full time role and now they are asking if you would be open to being temp to perm.  We can accept this at face value or wonder if it was an intentional bait and switch tactic all along.  We may never know for sure, but I do know that the reason they give - to see if it is a good fit - is a very valid one.  It takes many months to truly see how 2 or more people will work together.  You only know what it’s like by actually working with someone.  At some point, the company and the applicant must stop the searching, interviewing, and hunting process and pick the best opportunity that is available.  At some point, a decision must be made as the work needs to get done and bills must be paid.  So, this brings me to my next point.  

You mention there are no guarantees.  Even if this was a FT job, there are no guarantees.  They could hire you and 3, 6, or 9 months in you could be fired or let go - and it doesn’t even have to do with your performance.  You could be out of a job because your personalities didn’t mesh though you were an awesome EA, they have a reduction in force, the CEO dies, the company goes bankrupt, or you decide you don’t like the job at all and want a new one so you leave first.  

You wrote: I'm tempted to say yes because I want to be open and I can really show them what I can do, but part of me is slightly insulted, especially with my impeccable background.

I totally understand the feelings of being insulted.  It’s a very normal and human reaction.  I’ve worked for so many high profile folks and companies that I can relate.  You love the job, it’s a perfect fit as far as you know, why don’t they just offer you the job already?! What are they waiting for, really?!  However, one day something happened to me that made a light bulb go off in my head.    

Many years ago, I was between jobs because I got laid off in a massive round at the company.  I was also temping at the time at said company and with other former employers.  A job opening came up and they wanted to offer me a job that would start the next day.  I had about an hour to decide if I wanted it though they really wanted answer right then.  As much as I wanted a job, I was always looking for the right job, not just any job.  So I told them I’d need to think about it and I’d call them back either way.  All this time I wanted to be recognized for my great resume and hard work and when I got offered a job on the spot, I retreated instead of saying yes right away.  Why?  Because I knew nothing about the job except my title (EA) and the dept (I think it was in marketing).  And I had a lot of temp work coming my way, I had a lot of interviews about to be booked, I had just started my job hunt, and I had so many unanswered questions.  Would I like my boss, my team, my role, my compensation package? Pretty much everything was unanswered and there was no way to get answers until it was too late.  And it dawned on me that this is why job offers should not be blindly given out or accepted.  There was no room for exploration, due diligence, and discovery.  I was going blindly into a situation and it was to NO ONE’S advantage.  The risk of me being unhappy was extremely high because I knew nothing except my title and my dept.  So this is when I learned not to be insulted because I WANTED that time to learn more, to interview them and to be interviewed myself.  Why would I want to get married to a guy I never went on a date with much less only 3-5 dates?  This is why people get ENGAGED, for two years or more, to learn if it’s worth a long term commitment.  

It's also hard for an applicant to have an objective view with regard to being the most qualified candidate or not and what their "worth" is as an individual, compared to other applicants, the company pay scale, and the current market.  HR and recruiting have done a lot of leg work to get a lot of candidates to apply.  I’m sure they have received a lot of resumes.  And they’ve carefully sorted thru those resumes to narrow down the pool of applicants.  So unless you’ve seen every resume they got, you won’t know how you compare.  And even if they showed you your competition, you’d have to know what exactly they were looking for and valued.  Sure you saw a job description, but many times it is old, inaccurate, or a very simple summary that it’s almost not helpful at all.  On top of that, their ideal candidate is based on many things - prior experience, years of experience, office culture fit, personality fit, pay scale, and a host of other things.  They also walk the fine line of wanting someone who knows the job, but not so well that they are bored and were ready for a promotion 3 years ago.  Or perhaps they want a smart self starter to learn all the basics now because in a few years this job will grow and they want to groom someone from the ground up.  

And it brings us to your final question…  “What would you do?  I have no idea how long "temp" is considered before they would offer the permanent position. How long do you think is fair? One month?”

What would I do?  To be cheeky, what I would do is irrelevant because I’m totally different from you.  I have no idea if you value searching and searching for the perfect job that’s also full time even if it takes you 3 months or a year or two.  I don’t know if you value taking a vacation first before finding another job.  I don’t know if you want to work right away with what seems to be a pretty good company because you get bored at home.  

But I will answer what I would do and why.

I would get engaged, but that’s just me.  And here’s a story I’ve never shared yet on this blog, for no other reason than because it hasn’t come up, until you asked this awesome question.  

I would ask how long the temp status was for, and negotiate a deal that makes sense for you to not have sick days, paid holidays, benefits, etc.  But to me the length of the temp status wouldn’t change my answer most likely, and here’s why.

I worked for many years in so many facets as an EA and in my specific field.  I have a broad understanding of my industry and some great insight for the finer details just because I’ve been extremely luck with my bosses and companies.  However, this is what I’ve learned.  Every company, boss, and dept is wildy different.  It’s not until I’ve been in a role for a year that I can decide how much I truly understand the role; I have to see all 4 seasons and how business changes and fluctuates for different months.  It’s not until at LEAST the SECOND year that I understand my boss well enough to be a mind reader of sorts and make fairly excellent decisions on their behalf.  Keep in mind, this includes working at the same company in different roles because of a promotion.  Once in a different role, the clock restarts and I gauge where I am at with the one year and 2 year mark.  To be clear, I am always a good EA because I love my job, the question becomes am I rock star and getting more and more tasks, a pay raise, recognition, and my boss feeling every single day WE CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT HER/SHE IS MY CLONE/MY MINI ME/HOW DID I EXIST WITHOUT HER!  That's what I aim for after the year/2 year mark.

The job I have currently, I got because my of a co-worker’s spouse.  I met the co-worker at my very first job.  I was a temp and within a month worked for the CEO.  This is extremely rare and practically unheard of.  (You can read that full blog post at the end.)  I also met the co-worker's significant other about a year later because we lived in the same city/neighborhood.  I’d see my co-worker and the spouse at the grocery store, at the local sushi restaurant, etc.  This lead to the spouse also asking to meet with me once or twice to network and for an informational interview as well.  Eventually, I switched roles and companies and kept in touch with them for YEARS updating them on my whereabouts and career.  Then, the job (I currently have) opened up and my co-worker’s spouse called me.

In hindsight, I am 99.9% certain that I was the only candidate to be interviewed for my current role.  It was also a promotion though I had been doing the job in a similar fashion as an EA for a couple CEOs.  It took an entire summer and FIFTEEN meetings for me to get offered the role - and the role was temp to FT.  I knew from the beginning the role would be temp to hire and the FT status would come at the 2 YEAR MARK.  It’s not unheard of for a production/creative/large company to do this.  To give everyone a compensation package and FT status up front is a huge risk no matter how talented and smart they are.  To then let someone go because the fit is not right takes time, money, and resources as well.  So even though I had this long resume of working for famous CEOs, Fortune 100 companies, working with that co-worker (but not the spouse), and tons of excellent recommendations on LinkedIn from over 50 people, 15 meetings with the head of the studio, all of senior management, and other senior leaders, steady promotions and growth throughout my career, NONE of that mattered.  Why?  You don’t know what it’s like to work with someone until you do - for at least 2 years.  Yes, it was great I had all the history and experience under my belt, it made me seem LESS of a risk, but until I’m a solid guarantee after working with everyone for 2 years, one is always a risk.    

Why was I even interested in the role that had a 2 year probation period?  I had worked for a different entity of this parent company before and loved it.  It was a huge, world-famous company that always brought a lot of prestige to my resume.  Keep in mind, I was 6 months into interviewing at a lot of places.  These companies were the Top 10-50 of Fortune ranked companies that really wanted me to work there.  One recruiter CRIED on the phone when I told her I’d accepted a job and would no longer proceed with interviewing. So why forego a full time job for a 2 year trial?  The spouse who hired me would mentor me heavily so I’d be successful; this was paramount.  No other company, HR rep, recruiting agent, or colleague would be more invested in me succeeding than this spouse.  Why? Because THEY recruited me, THEY vouched for me, THEY pitched me to the head of the studio and the entire senior team, THEY would be working with me closely for half or a third of the time.  THEY wanted me to come aboard because they had a very good understanding of how I worked and conducted myself based on the networking and informational interviews they requested of me to help them.  To make it worth my while, I wanted to negotiate a deal that would make sense to be a contractor for 2 years.  And through the interview process I felt my team, dept, and company would be a good match for me and what I wanted.  I also knew that if I didn’t hear any mention of being converted to FT status around the 1.5 year mark, I’d immediately look for a job to transition to once my contract ended.   I also faced the reality that I could fail miserably at this job or I'd hate it.  Yet, I knew I had way more to gain - a promotion, a new industry to work for, better work life balance, a short commute, and a whole slew of other things.  So I took the leap because the odds weren't going to get any better than what they were already.  And if it didn't work out, I knew a lot of other companies that did want to hire me!

MD, before you make any final decisions, read the below posts to get a better understanding of my answer and other things to think about.  Please do keep me posted on your journey and feel free to update me!  I am confident you will be fine and you will do what makes sense for you.  If you listen to your gut, and listen deep, the answer is there.  You just need to be brave to make that choice.  I hope my long answer helped you.  All my best!   Leave me an anonymous comment so I know you got this! :)  Thank you! 


Also read my blog entry called the $1000 job interview.  Perhaps it will help you weigh and come to a conclusion to understand how to think thru the pros and cons.  

Realities of Job Hunting

My First Job

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post?  You can just write “Thx!” or something!  :)  

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 5-6 days to answer.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. Thank you for your VERY thoughtful and helpful response. This gave me excellent food for thought and put many things into perspective.

    I thought about it long and hard and this seems like a great company and I have nothing to lose by temping for a while. My last employer that let me go did so because we were not a good fit after 11 months. We parted amicably and he even agreed to pay me for 3 months after my last day! This will buy me some time to try out the new place if all goes well. I'll keep you posted and thanks again for sharing your experiences and advice with me. This has been a HUGE help.


    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantDecember 18, 2013 at 5:59 PM

      Debbie - I am so glad you were able to gleam some insight from my post. I am sure other readers will benefit from your question and comment too. Have a great holiday season!

  2. Just a note to add to this post. I have been an Executive Assistant for many years. I began a job search because my CEO retired. He wrote me a beautiful reference letter. The same situation happended to me and I was asked if I would tempt. I said "No, I have other interviews, and options. If you want a full commitment from me, then you need to offer me the orginal position of full-time EA.
    They gave me to full-time position and been here going on one year.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstFebruary 4, 2014 at 12:02 PM

      That's great! Congrats! It's always best to negotiate if you are willing to walk away! In this case you did because you did have other interviews and options.