September 15, 2017

Converting a short-term position into a long-term career

Posted by AGU Career Center

As organizations try to remain flexible, they are more and more reluctant to hire permanent employees.  Many organizations are using contract or temporary staff, then hiring a select few into fulltime positions.  Sometimes, a temporary position is the only way to get into a company, but if you use the opportunity, you can turn a temporary position into a permanent job.

To begin, make sure you understand the contract terms.  Especially if you are working through a placement agency, make sure you understand the contact between yourself and the agency, and between the agency and the client company.  Sometimes the client company cannot hire you directly for a certain period of time after your temporary position is finished (often a few months, but could be up to a few years).  Sometimes, they can hire you right away, but must pay a fee to the placement agency.  Knowing the constraints means you know what sort of hurdle your manager will have to overcome if she wants to hire you. 

Ask what happened to people in similar positions in the past.  It’s easy to ask the placement agency about their previous dealing with that company, but you may also be able to ask your supervisor.   This is also a great way to let your supervisor know that you are interested in a permanent position. 

If possible, find out what the financial arrangements are – knowing what percentage the placement agency is taking will allow you to negotiate from strength when the time comes. You can ask for a salary that will save the employer money, but allow you to net more, as an employee. 

Once you start work, treat your temporary position like a very long interview.  Always do your absolute best work, always be on the lookout for more that you could do, and try to find ways to do improve existing workflows.   Demonstrate that you have the potential to learn, grow, and contribute in the long term.  Consistently doing outstanding work is the best advertisement for why they should hire you permanently.

Obviously, always be on-time and on-task.  Be available if they ask you to work a few hours of overtime – that’s an investment that may pay off very well in the long term.  But don’t work extra hours without permission, especially if you’re getting paid by the hour – that may not be in the budget.

Make the most of every minute while at work.  If you have some downtime while waiting for an instrument to run a sample, can you skim a technical paper, or make notes to improve the instructions for that piece of equipment?  Much better to do something professional than to check your Facebook or place personal orders on 

Don’t neglect your soft skills.  Make sure your communications are crystal clear, and regularly update others on your status and progress.  Address requests quickly, even if it’s just to say “I received your request, and will have an answer for you by this afternoon.”  Make personal connections (ie, be friendly) with your supervisor, and with others in your lab or office.  That doesn’t mean asking them personal questions, but does mean showing interest, and maybe a few details of your own career aspirations or personal life.  Not only will it help build your connection with your fellow professionals, but you never know where they may be able to refer you if your quest for a permanent role does not work out. 

While your supervisor and coworkers are evaluating you, you are also evaluating them and the company, to see if you want the job.  Make connections with people in other departments and other parts of the organization.  Have coffee or lunch with them, and ask about their jobs, and their career paths.  Find other places in which you could contribute, and offer to help – with your current supervisor’s permission, of course.  You never know when you will stumble across and appropriate opening elsewhere in the company. 

A contract position puts you close to the action, and provides a chance for you to show what you can do to people who might need to have that done.  Take advantage of the opportunity!

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for over 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).