When I first graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Having been passionate about combating climate change ever since I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in high school, I had studied Political Science and Conservation and Resource Studies, expecting to go into the public sector. But after a couple internships in government during college, I decided the work environment wasn’t really for me.
From there, I floated around to a few different internships, from social media to PR to video production and beyond. Finally, I landed an internship where I got to work in HR. And for the first time, I found myself in a position where I felt that I would enjoy working my way to the top of a department, and where I could leverage the skills I learned in college (nothing like a PoliSci degree to help you sort through office politics).
But I had one major problem: All the entry-level, full-time jobs I was looking at required one to two years of HR experience, and I had only a few months from one internship. Quickly, I realized I was going to have to get creative if I was going to succeed in my dream job.
A 'Temporary' Solution
After receiving a suggestion from someone I met at a networking event, I signed up for an interview with an account rep at a local staffing agency. She asked me about the types of positions I was looking for, the types of companies I was interested in (size, culture, industry), and my availability in terms of hours (part-time or full-time). It was like having my own Hollywood agent — she wouldn’t make commission until she could get me work, so she set off pitching me to her clients: organizations that were desperate for help.
As I would learn, companies usually call a temp agency in one of two scenarios: 1) an employee just left the company and they need a temp to do that person’s job immediately, or 2) an employee has so much important, often seasonal overflow work that they need extra help immediately. Either way, you’re doing the work of a full-time employee, as opposed to some internships where you’re doing grunt work or extra projects. Since the company needs a temp ASAP, they are more open to hiring someone who hasn’t checked all of the boxes on the job description, as long as that person is eager to learn.
Accumulating Skills & Experience
Through a series of four temp assignments, I built the one to two years of HR experience needed for a full-time role. I started at a nonprofit and did mostly HR record keeping with some recruiting coordination, then leveled up to a faster-paced tech startup where I gained experience in high-volume recruiting and LinkedIn outreach. At the end of that temp role, I asked the tech startup’s HR Manager for advice. She said that if I wanted to work toward becoming an HR Manager, my next role shouldn’t be recruiting-only. I gave that feedback to my agency, and they placed me at a law firm that gave me experience in onboarding, offer letters, compliance, wellness, and leaves of absence. Finally, to round out my resume with some more HR experience, I took a role at a civil engineering firm where I trained under a 20-year HR veteran in benefits administration, HRIS, immigration, new hire orientations, and performance review tracking.
Whatever field you’re in, you can make your resume particularly strong by assembling a list of some of the most common requirements found in full-time job listings and choosing your temp positions based on which ones will help you fulfill those criteria. Don’t worry that listing too many different temp jobs will make you look like a job hopper — you can always mark each assignment as [contract via XYZ Staffing Agency] on your resume. And finally, don’t be afraid to leave your ideal industry while you gain experience. Ultimately, what matters are the skills that you learn, and you can always go back to the field you were originally interested in once you begin applying to full-time roles.
Ready & Alert
By the end of my second temp assignment, I had enough experience in the field to know that the full-time roles I was looking for were titled “HR Coordinator” and “People Operations Coordinator.” I signed up to have job board alerts emailed to me every day, and I checked them during lunchtime. Having relevant positions delivered to my inbox took a lot of the tedium out of the job hunt process.
Eventually, I found a job posting that looked like it was tailor-made for me at this point in my career. It was a full-time HR Coordinator position at Integral Group, a global MEP engineering consulting firm with a focus on sustainable design. This is a company that designs mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems for high-performance, cutting-edge buildings which save so much energy and water that they pursue higher levels of green building standards (LEED Gold/Platinum, Net Zero Energy, WELL, and Living Building Challenge).
Telling My Story
I spent a lot of time crafting a thoughtful cover letter that described my journey — how I had originally been interested in a field related to the environment, but didn’t quite know what I wanted to do until I tried my hand at HR. Then, after developing a passion for HR, I spent the next year and a half ensuring that I gained the skills and experience needed for a full-time role. My ultimate goal in this was to demonstrate both the passion I had for the field and the degree to which I was qualified. Ultimately, I interviewed with the team, and landed the job!
Now, in my full-time role at Integral Group, I recruit for our 8 U.S. offices, check in with new employees during the onboarding process, and help the Director of People with a variety of tasks related to employee experience. It’s challenging, but rewarding, and I’m on a growth path toward eventually becoming an HR Manager.
It turns out that temping to gain experience is more common than I realized: I discovered that the other two members of the People Team here at Integral Group had also previously worked as temps. And recently, my temp experience came full circle — when we needed extra seasonal help with recruiting and LinkedIn outreach, I had the opportunity to hire my own temp through an agency, and I found someone who, like me at one point, was eager to learn in order to round out his resume. Toward the end of his assignment, he landed his own full-time job.
I know how frustrating it is to be turned down for entry-level roles just because you don’t have the experience required. After all, doesn’t that kind of contradict the whole notion of “entry-level?” But if this happens to you, don’t despair. With a little hard work, determination, and a great staffing agency, your own personal dream job is just a few gigs away.
Alan J. Miller works as a People Coordinator at Integral Group, a global network of mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, energy analysts, commissioning authorities and sustainability consultants collaborating under a single deep green umbrella. Their mission is to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building design moving from green and net zero buildings towards regenerative buildings that mitigate global environmental impacts and reduce ecological degradation.