Temp Lessons: Part 1

April 23, 2015


(I’m preemptively making this a series because Lord knows what lies ahead.)


We should all know that college isn’t real life. It takes some of us a little longer to figure out how to get by in a culture that gets going long before we would’ve scheduled our first class and doesn’t provide an hour-long break for every fifty-five minutes of work. I’ve only spent four months in this strange land, but here are the most important lessons I’ve learned so far.


1. Answer your emails right away. No, I mean now. Seriously. Right now.


Hitting “reply” fills me with terror. My inbox anxiety probably stems from irrational fears of sending, shall we say, *vulgar* messages meant for friends to my boss, or hitting the dreaded “reply all,” or striking too casual or formal of a tone. Do I always lead with “Hello” or can I start right in? What name do I pick for an adult who isn’t my parent or professor? Am I using too many exclamation points?! We never covered this medium in Language Arts. But, much like my habit of worrying about my bank account so much that I refuse to look at it, email delay gets me into trouble. When you don’t answer a message for four days, you look like you don’t care about the person who sent it, because everyone knows you’re not that busy. I mean, are you suddenly the CEO of a new start-up? No? Then you’re not swamped enough to put off a three-sentence response for 24 hours. Sorry. You’re just not. Type and click send, buddy. Your email prose can’t be any worse than that of all the professionals I know who freely replace periods with ellipses…It’s suspenseful…And infuriating…


2. Show up stupid early.


As much as the sleep-lover in me resents the expectation that I will show up before the hours of pay begin, sprinting through the door at the exact minute your shift starts makes you look like a tool. It just does. And chances are, if you don’t plan on being early, one of these things might happen to you*:

  • Your train will halt for fifteen minutes while paramedics evacuate some poor guy who had a heart attack on the Blue line.

  • You will notice that your bus stop has been moved at the exact moment the bus blazes past you.

  • You will wait at a stop for the amount of time in which two buses should have arrived, until finally three show up all at once.

  • You will realize your transit pass expired/ran out of money, forcing you to wage war at an early hour with those most resistant mechanical titans: the Ventra machines.

*They all happened to me.


When you’re going somewhere for the first time, factor in the time it takes to find the main building entrance (I’ll save you the trouble–it’s not hidden inside the Chipotle), navigate various front desks, wait for an ID badge to print, pick the appropriate elevator (I spent five minutes yesterday getting on and off elevators that only traveled to floors 20-39 when I needed 8), and decipher the suite-floor relationship (before my first interview, I asked a doorman on what floor I could find suite 2100 and he replied, with utmost derision, “21.”).


3. Don’t buy so many drinks. Or food. Or pens.


Save yourself the $3 a day. When you’re at a temp job, there will be free coffee for daaaays. During one gig at a law firm, every corner revealed another white-cloth-covered table displaying a pristine arrangement of soda cans including Diet Dr. Pepper.Both days I worked there, the company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (I took home a pan full of salad and a box of pizza on the bus which shouldn’t surprise anyone.) When I handed off microphones and name tags at a 12-hour conference on pensions, the catering staff brought out a fresh platter of chocolate-covered pretzels or fancy popcorn or expensive cheeses every hour. My current position gives me access to an espresso machine and actual vending machines stocked with free Perrier, for God’s sake.


Short-term deals regularly result in a score of leftover corporate swag–my canvas Whisky Advocate tote, various thermoses (I can’t lose ’em fast enough!), a phone charge cord, and pens. So many pens. Not every job will be as lucrative as, say, the law firm deal (which took place in an office featuring a reflecting pool that overlooked the lake from the 50th floor and made me involuntarily think, “Mr. Grey will see you now”) but don’t waste your hard-earned temp dollars on Starbucks when you can gorge yourself on cappuccinos for free!

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