Tips for Temps

Illustration by Corey Thompson

Tony Evans is a high-level “supertemp,” a consultant to troubled businesses. Here are his tips for thriving in a transient, job-to-job life.

Avoid corporate politics: “Be aware of it—don’t be naive—but you can’t play into it. Show empathy but not sympathy. Being empathetic shows understanding, but you still have to be quite clinical. If it means you’ve identified an individual with the best intentions in the world who’s actually part of the problem—and they can’t change in the time you have available—you have to make the decision [to fire them] early.”

Figure out who’s useful: “Most of the top exec temps are older and have plenty of battle scars. It’s about reading people, which is easier in some cultures than others. In the U.K., if I ask a straight question, I’d expect a straight answer. In the U.S., I’d expect a more flowery answer. In Eastern Europe, cultures recently in the Communist era, people will often answer trying to guess what it is you’d like to hear. Wherever you are, it’s important to find out early on who will help you.”

Find your inner swan: “You need to have pretty damn good emotional intelligence. Typically when you go into a new environment, there’s chaos. If the company is in trouble, the employees could’ve been there three years—and that’s very draining and demoralizing. People need to feel that the new people are there to get them out of the mire. The temp exec needs to be like a swan. If you watch a swan on a river, not a feather is ruffled. But it’s pedaling like hell underneath.”

Show tenacity at the beginning: “The trick to getting that first good temp assignment is to use your own personal network. You may be in the New York office but can use that to get a temp job in the L.A. office—something with a direct route. The next stage is to look at your current client or supplier base and work your way out from there. Represent yourself to clients as a low-risk option with a high return on investment. People may see you as an employee. Remember: You’re not.”

Stay positive: “I know this is stating the blinding obvious, but all of this must be based on a very positive approach to what you do. Adopt an approach that is a constructive-positive: ‘OK, you’ve got a problem. Fine, how do we fix it?’ If people make a mistake, ‘OK, let’s move on.’ Continue that very strong, positive mental attitude. You have to sustain it. You can’t do it one week and switch. If you can’t do it, then you may want to think about if this is the kind of work for you.”