Secretarial: Just passing - I'm on my way up

The temp is no longer the poor relation of the office. More and more graduates are choosing this route as a way on to the corporate ladder.
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The Independent Culture
A TEMP, 10 or 15 years ago, was perceived as the poor relation of the permanent secretary. Sure, everyone accepted that you'd do an excellent job of covering an employee who'd taken a sickie or who'd gone for a two- week break in Bermuda.

But all the while, you knew their underlying belief was that you secretly longed for a "proper" job. Today, however, the status of temporary work has changed beyond recognition. Not only is it accepted that the variety and flexibility of temping has become the choice of many secretaries, but it is also becoming recognised that temping can be an excellent stepping stone into a career.

"I'd been temping for NatWest in the City for just three months when the company offered me a permanent contract with a view to fast promotion," explains 22-year-old graduate Daniel Lay. "In fact, I didn't want the job so I thought I'd check out whether the same thing would happen at Standard Chartered Bank where I really wanted to work. Sure enough, I've been working here since February as a temp and am likely to be moving to a permanent contract."

It's not only graduates who are using temping as a fast-track to a career, claim recruitment consultancies. "People returning to work and people looking to change their career are also taking temporary secretarial jobs as a stepping stone," says Jackie Campbell, regional services manager for Reed Employment. Campbell says there are several ways in which temping can be used as a short-cut to your dream job. "Temping is a much faster way into an industry than competing against everyone else on a CV basis. Graduates are recognising this faster than any other group of job-seekers because companies are inundated with applicants for graduate recruitment schemes, whereas many of them are crying out for temps."

Beware, however, that this is easier in some industries than others. It can work particularly well in personnel, marketing, banking, media and PR. But, as Christopher Holt, a 22-year-old graduate, emphasises, you may not be so lucky elsewhere. "I've been temping in industrial management companies for a while now and although I hope to get offered a permanent position one day, I'm very aware that masses of graduates are doing what I'm doing - and therefore even getting accepted for a temping job in this business has become competitive."

Vanessa Clovis, branch manager at Adecco recruitment consultancy believes it is for this reason that some companies are becoming extremely fussy about the qualifications required of temps.

Campbell claims people are using temporary work as a way of testing out particular sectors or industries. If and when you do wind up in your dream job, says Susan Hamilton, whose recruitment agency places increasing numbers of graduates in office support roles, an enlightened boss is your best hope of advancement. But, adds Dr Sandi Mann, author of Hiding What You Feel, Faking What You Don't, you must create the right impression to get his or her attention. Mann advises hopefuls to be positive.

Dr Charles Woodruffe, occupational psychologist and author of Winning the Talent War adds that "taking ownership of problems, looking to make improvements, challenging the way things are done and being proactive are also essential. But don't alienate your colleagues or appear arrogant."

According to Belinda Lighton, director of Knightsbridge Secretaries, individuals using temping as a stepping stone should opt for the longest- term placements.