Temp Your Way to a Career

With the economy struggling to improve and unemployment rates at an all time high, we have all heard tales of job seekers waiting months just for a hint of a job offer. For military spouses who plan to relocate this year, the jobs shortage is complicated by the challenges of being new to an area.

It is not all doom and gloom, however; on the positive side, temporary staffing and recruitment agencies report they are especially busy right now. Working for a staffing agency has the added benefit of allowing you to learn about a new area and meet people. Temporary agencies offer many alternatives including long-term temporary, temp-to-permanent, and direct hire positions. When done right, temporary work can be a bridge to permanent employment.

Temporary labor is utilized for a variety reasons. An organization may have a special project to complete, experience seasonal shifts in staffing needs, or they may want to try an employee out before making a commitment to hire. As the economy improves, hiring temporary workers provides an attractive alternative to employers. According to Thane Meads, Director of Operations at Dynamic Recruiting, “In economically hard times–employers are hesitant to spend and do not tend to make many full-time hires. Instead, they utilize more and more temp labor to get work done, as such temp positions are often the only gateway someone has to get into a company when the economy is down.”

Temporary work is a great way to find hidden jobs. According to the American Staffing Association 40% of temporary assignments become permanent positions. Christina Gross, Recruiter at Manpower Inc., one of the world’s largest staffing services states, “We have already seen a number of positions transition into permanent positions within the last two months, and as the economy stabilizes we expect to see more.”

Temporary work is flexible, and allows you to try out a variety of work environments. As a temporary employee you have the freedom to choose when, where, and for how long you work. Another benefit of working for a temporary staffing agency is, well…benefits. Typical perks include medical and dental insurance, 401K’s, and over 90% of temporary agencies provide free training.

Temporary staffing agencies and recruiters operate differently, but can both be useful in your job search. According to Thane Meads, temporary staffing agencies deal with quantity and usually staff jobs requiring basic skills. Temporary agencies are more interested in finding individuals with good work habits. Recruiters on the other hand, typically work with higher level career opportunities.

Ranstad and Manpower are among the largest national temporary agencies and usually have divisions that recruit for higher level careers. There are also many regional and local agencies, so do your homework to find the best fit for you. Some agencies specialize in specific areas such as accounting, medical, technical, or administrative services. Whether you choose a temporary staffing agency or a recruiter, do not feel like you need to commit to just one. Signing-up with multiple agencies increases your chances of placement.

Temporary agencies and recruiters often utilize well-known job boards such as Monster.com to advertise current openings. Start by doing a job search to find staffing agencies or recruiters that have jobs posted of interest to you. You can submit a resume on-line, but you will get a quicker response from a recruiter if you contact them. Thane Meads offers advice for individuals using temporary staffing agencies or recruiters. He says, “each firm is very busy and not as likely to follow-up as most candidates would like or even expect. Do not expect to have anyone hold your hand or get a job for you, but try to use them as facilitators that can help you find uncovered opportunities.”

When you contact an agency a recruiter may conduct a phone interview to determine if your skills match-up with their current customer base. If the recruiter feels they may be able to place you, they will request an in-person interview. Prepare by gathering professional references and polishing your resume. Just like you would at any interview be enthusiastic, flexible, energetic, and display a good attitude.

The interview can take up to 3 hours—yes, really 3 hours. But, do not worry you will not be grilled the entire time. The process consists of several steps, and the interview is just one of them. At the interview you will complete a job application and other employment forms. Usually the interview itself is highly standardized, and will focus on salary expectations, work preferences, and past job experience.

You may be asked to take assessments, which vary depending on the type of work you are seeking. Typically, office workers take tests to show proficiency with Microsoft Office or typing speed. Industrial workers take sorting or assembly skills tests. These tests are designed to assure the temporary employee possess the minimum skills required to be successful on the job. The agency will share test results with you and address any discrepancies between your skill set and the type of work you are seeking.

If the agency has an opening, they may offer you an assignment immediately. The offer will include a description of the working conditions, tasks, hours, and pay rate. It is entirely your decision to take the assignment or not. Be realistic, you do not need to take every assignment. If you are not sure if the job is right for you it is better to say no than to take an assignment you will not be able to complete. Consider every assignment as an opportunity to increase your job skills, build contacts, and improve your employability.

If you are not offered an immediate assignment, you should check-in with the agency periodically. Recruiters interview many candidates each day—they do not remember everyone. Checking-in at least once a week is a good technique to ensure that you are fresh in the recruiters mind when a suitable assignment becomes available. According to recruiter Christina Gross, being flexible is a sure way to stay busy when working for a temporary staffing agency; she says, “We never know what that next phone call may be. If you are able to go to work with a day’s notice and willing to work anywhere then there is a greater chance of getting out to work more often.”

When you go to work you are employed by the staffing service and assigned to their customer. The temporary agency is responsible for issuing pay and withholding appropriately. Temporary staffing agencies do not take a fee from employees—their fees are paid by the customer. Be wary of any agency that takes fees from employees.

Keep in mind, while on assignment, the company you go to work for may be trying to select temporary employees who they feel would be good candidates for permanent employment. They will notice stellar employees. Look for ways to be the kind of employee they will not be able to live without.

Many temporary staffing agencies have experience working with military spouses and understand the challenges they face. Recruiter Christina Gross who works within 15 miles of Fairchild Air Force Base says, “We have worked with a number of military spouses and are always ready to assist them in getting acclimated to a new city. It is especially nice because coming from different parts of the country military spouses bring a variety of different skills to the area and we have had a lot of success.”

What do spouses need to know about the Survivor Benefit Plan?

Think about what would happen if your spouse’s monthly income suddenly stopped. This is the reality for the spouse of an Air Force retiree who came to me for help recently. Her husband passed away suddenly, and his retirement pay stopped. Now the only income she has is Social Security, which she says isn’t enough income to cover basic living expenses. She told me her husband always said, “The Air Force will take care of you” giving her the mistaken impression that his retirement income would continue after his death.

She came to see me because I assist with benefits for survivors of retirees who die. She wondered why her friend, a widow of a military retiree, was receiving part of her husband’s retirement. She wanted to know why one spouse would get that income while she receives nothing even though she had been married all during the years her husband served in the military. The reason is Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) protection.

The Survivor Benefit Plan protects a portion of the income a retiree receives and makes it payable to a surviving spouse or eligible children after death. SBP protection is provided for all active duty service members at no cost. If an active duty service member with a spouse and/or children dies, dependents will continue to receive 55 percent of the retirement income he/she would have received. At retirement service members must elect to continue SBP coverage. After retirement the government subsidizes a portion of the cost for SBP protection, but the service member is required to pay a share of the premiums equal to roughly 6.5 percent of the amount protected.

The decision to participate in SBP is made at time of retirement. With so many other decisions being made like where to live and work it is easy to miss the importance of the decision. A service member and spouse who elect not to participate at time of retirement will not have the opportunity to enroll at a later date. If however, the couple participates and later decides that the protection is no longer needed an opportunity to terminate participation is available after the 2nd anniversary of retirement—no refund of premiums paid is given. On the 3rd anniversary of retirement the decision to participate in SBP is irrevocable, and as long as the retiree has an eligible beneficiary he or she will remain enrolled.

In 1986 an important change in the law was put in place to protect spouses and ensure they are actively involved in the decision to participate. Any election other than full coverage now requires written spouse concurrence. This means if a service member wants to reduce the amount of SBP or not participate at all his/her spouse must agree with the decision. If the spouse does not provide written concurrence by the date of retirement the service member will be automatically enrolled.

One of the most common objections to SBP participation is that it is expensive when compared to term life insurance. But consider the following when comparing SBP to term life: If a retiree protects $3,000 with SBP his/her spouse would receive a taxable annuity payment of $1,650 per month. If a widow outlives the retiree by 7 years SBP will have paid $138,600. On average it only takes 2.6 years for a widow receiving the SBP annuity to have recouped all the premiums paid, and SBP will continue to pay until the surviving spouse dies.

Conversely, even if managed well life insurance will eventually run out. If instead of investing in SBP a couple decided to purchase a life insurance policy with a value of $250,000. In order to get the same amount of coverage the spouse would have to deduct $19,800 per year from the proceeds. At that level the life insurance would be completely depleted in 12.5 years.

The SBP annuity is adjusted annually to keep up with the cost of living. This is a feature of SBP that no commercially available investment can match. If you were to protect a base of $2,200 today the monthly annuity would be $1,210, but in 30 years that annuity amount will have grown to $2,407 per month.

Unlike commercial life insurance the premiums for SBP only increase with cost of living adjustments made to retirement pay. Term life insurance premiums will increase as the insured ages. A Veterans Group Life insurance policy with a coverage amount of $400,000 costs $68 per month for a 40-44 year old. That same coverage will have increased to $600 per month at age 65—and it will continue to increase. The SBP plan has a paid-up provision which stipulates that after the retiree makes 360 payments and is at least 70 years of age no additional payments are collected, but the beneficiary is still eligible to receive the annuity.

There are some downsides however. If the spouse of a retiree participating in SBP dies first and he/she does not remarry the money invested in SBP is lost. This is especially important to female retirees because women tend to live longer than men by an average of 5-6 years. There is no inheritance of SBP. After an eligible surviving spouse dies no additional payments are made. So SBP is not the best alternative if a couple is seeking to provide an inheritance to adult children. Additionally, SBP has no cash value unlike whole life insurance policies.

When making the decision to participate consider finances carefully. For spouses who don’t work outside the home examine earning potential compared to financial needs to determine if enough income will be available to live comfortably. Additionally, if a surviving spouse has no retirement income of their own will Social Security be adequate?  Family health history should be factored into the decision. If either the retiring service member or spouse is in poor health or have a family history of short life expectancy it should be considered.

Ultimately the decision to participate in SBP is a personal one that for the majority of retiring members makes good financial sense. Explore your options and talk to your installations SBP counselor to help with the decision. Spouses are encouraged to attend the SBP briefing. Remember the decision essentially rests on the military spouse so ensure you are fully informed before signing anything. The decision you make may impact your future standard of living.