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Working for a Temp Agency - What's the Proper Etiquette?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  February 22, 2012 10:12 AM

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Q. I have been working for a temporary agency for almost three years and have had a number of different assignments. Is it proper business etiquette to ask a temp agency for a raise? Are they really my employer, or is it the company where I am working?

A. In this market temporary agencies have been a source of great work for candidates and great help for employers unable or unwilling to make long term permanent commitments. And while etiquette plays an important role in how you ask for a raise, it is not the key variable for whether you should ask for a raise. According to Staffing Industry News, raises have returned in 2012 with an average increase of 2.7%, and over 70% of employers saying they are planning on giving raises. So timing may work in your favor.

Temporary agencies are often the first types of employers to rebound after difficult economic times, and this has been the case over the last 2 years. 2009 paralyzed retained, contingency, and temporary staffing firms. The slow climb back was the first indicator of an economic recovery looming - and slowly coming into focus. Currently their robust business is focused on finding good candidates, not identifying more openings.

If you are a good candidate, as represented by the continuing work, and multiple assignments, you should be having a conversation with the agency about your earning capacity. Temporary agencies charge an hourly rate for your work at the employer you are serving, which is some percentage over what they pay you for the work you do. These margins are most often quite small, but clearly enough to generate a profit. The agency benefits from you earning more, as long as they can charge more for the expertise and experience you bring.

To be most effective in getting a raise, you need to know what the current rate is for someone with the skill set you bring to the market. Your network is one place to try and gather this market intelligence, or other agencies, or from managers at your former temp assignments. You should also ask which skills would get you a higher hourly rate. You may have these skills, but not demonstrated them, or find that they are skills you can quickly develop. Having this data will prepare you for the conversation with the agency with whom you are working.

Let them know how pleased you are to have such a long term relationship with them, and remind them of your stellar track record of happy clients. Also let them know your rate of pay is what it was 3 years ago, and that based on your research the going market rate is higher than that by X%. Ask them what they believe the range is for the work you are doing, because you would like to see an increase which reflects the skills and track record you have, and the contributions you make to the employer. They may tell you they have no flexibility with your current employer, but don?t stop yet. Ask them about other employers they provide staff for, and if any of those other employers have a higher pay scale. This conversation does not need to be adversarial. Your goal is to get their help in finding ways to get you a higher rate of pay, while they continue to bill a client for the work you provide.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.