Break into IT with Temporary Work

By Allan Hoffman

July 23, 2008 ( The business world may be looking for technology pros, but you're not a pro (yet) if you have a new certification and no experience. How do you gain that experience? One way is to take temporary assignments.

Working as a temp may not be your ultimate goal, but when you're launching a career, you want to get experience any way possible. A temporary job allows you to hone your skills, establish a track record and make contacts in the IT industry. If a permanent position is your goal, a series of temporary assignments can help you get there.

"It should be looked at as a great opportunity, rather than something that's not so secure," says the Web evangelist for one IT talent agency. "That first gig is often the toughest to get."

People who have certifications or nontechnical degrees are turning to temporary work as a way to break into IT or simply explore a career in the field. "You see these people developing more skills while they take jobs on a temporary or contract basis," another recruiter says.

Temp Types

In the technology world, you're likely to encounter different names for temporary work. The term "temp" is often avoided as it connotes administrative work to many. Some agencies refer to temporary assignments as "contract" or "project" work. Is it all the same? Not quite. With contract assignments, the length of time is typically established from the start. It can range from, say, two weeks to six months or longer. Temporary work generally does not have a set time period, although you may get a guesstimate as to how long you'll be needed.

Contract work typically is for individuals with more experience. Contract workers may command hourly rates of $40 and up, with some earning $150 an hour or more for specialized, in-demand skills. Needless to say, those jobs don't go to newbies.

"The people who are contract or independent professionals have made that their career choice," says the senior vice president of an information technology staffing company. Contract professionals typically choose that route to select projects with leading-edge technology, he says. It also gives them flexibility and top-notch compensation.

Test the Waters

Temporary jobs typically do not pay as well, especially for those without much experience, but they do allow people to sample options early in their careers. Do you want to continue with networking? Get involved with databases? Working in the field helps you clarify your thinking about what you want to do. Those new to the industry, with some training, will find opportunities in these areas:

Technical Support: Companies involved in product roll-outs or software launches may need to increase staffing on a temporary basis. Pay may be low, sometimes less than $10 an hour.

Low-Level Web Skills: Individuals with basic Web skills, such as HTML and JavaScript, can use temporary work as a way to break in and hone their Internet and e-business strategies. Pay rates vary widely, from $15 to $25 an hour or higher, depending on skill level.

Programming: Though budding programmers may be able to find long-term contract assignments, temporary work -- for those with knowledge of languages such as C++, Perl and Java -- is a way to demonstrate an ability to work on real-world projects. Pay varies with the language and level of expertise. Expect $20 to $40 an hour.
For technology professionals early in their careers, staffing agencies may be able to assist with education, too. And you don't want to stop learning. Independent professionals need to make use of computer-based training and other educational resources even as they take on new assignments and decide what skill areas they want to develop.

Consider staffing agencies as a source of advice, too. If you have information technology expertise, whether from a community college or a certification program, agencies looking for technical workers can provide guidance on what steps you should be taking to launch your career. Agencies don't charge for that advice. They're in the business of helping people get into the industry.


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