I had worked my heiny off in college to graduate a full year early. Unfortunately, my GRE score was less than stellar, so I decided to take a semester off to focus on raising my score and applying to graduate school. In the meantime, I looked for temp jobs to save up money and gain experience.

After submitting my resume online, I was called in for an interview at the local branch of a national temp agency. Everyone was very pleasant and encouraging. I took several skills assessments and scored high on all of them. They informed me that most of their positions were located downtown (only ten minutes from my home) and rarely paid less than ten dollars an hour. I was very impressed when they found me a position after less than a week, even though it only paid nine dollars an hour. Unfortunately, that temp job ended and MVW job began.

The temp agency did not call me until 4:30 p.m. and explained that they needed me to fill a position for a mail clerk the next day. It wasn’t until after the office closed that I finally received an email with details about the position. The hours were 7:30-3:30 in an advertising agency an hour from my house. A little disheartened by the early hours and the distance, I showed up for work twenty minutes early at an industrial park nestled in a remote suburb. After waiting for the receptionist to arrive (the temp agency did not tell me who my supervisor was, or what part of the building the business was located in), I got an irate phone call from the temp agency. Apparently the email was wrong, and the job started at 7:00, not 7:30. The mail processing facility was located at the back of the building, and would not open without a key card.

The mail processing facility functioned like a factory, where one worker was assigned a menial task in an assembly line. We had half an hour for lunch, and two ten minute breaks, indicated by a bell that was just louder than the whirring of the equipment. Since I was actually fifteen minutes late by the time I found the main entrance, the supervisor shouted at me. Then she led me through a labyrinth of machines in a warehouse and told me to start working before walking back through the labyrinth. My co-workers seemed to only know about a dozen English words. After about two minutes listening to promotional flyers get fed into a large printer before one of the regular workers shoved a box at me and shouted, “Strip!”

I blinked in bewilderment. “What?”

She grumbled and pushed past me, then showed me how to put a plastic packaging strip on a box of flyers.

And that’s what I did all day. I packaged envelopes together, then organized them on the warehouse floor. There were other tedious tasks involved that I learned in the same manner. Since her English was so poor, I would often make a mistake because I didn’t understand what was going on. Then one of the other workers would shout at me in broken English until I figured out what I’d done wrong.

By the end of the day, there were putrid sweat stains all over my clothes–the warehouse had no air conditioning and the machines generated a lot of heat. As we were packing up to leave, one of the regular workers tried some small talk, explaining how she needed surgery for her “pee pee.”

On the second day, three out of the six temps had quit and been replaced with another girl in her twenties, a teacher with a Masters degree, and an elderly woman with a limp that moaned about being on her feet all day. The temp agency hadn’t told them the dress code, so they all showed up in business casual clothes. Thirty minutes into our shift, the teacher accidentally started a small fire. For some reason, the supervisor shouted at all of us.

By the third day, only three temps remained (the teacher had quit).

Even though I hated the job– I was exhausted by the end of the day and I was tired of the supervisor calling me an idiot– I decided to stick it out for the full three weeks. Then on the fifth day, the supervisor informed all the temps that they were no longer needed. A little relieved, I decided to spend the next week with family.

While I was out of town, the temp agency called me and asked if I had been paid. The company was not paying any of the temps. After the temp agency argued with the company for a few days, I finally received a direct deposit. Noticing that my paycheck was a little smaller than I’d anticipated, I did the math. I’d been paid minimum wage. The temp agency had told me I would be making $8.50.

Comments (9)

JillianAugust 2nd, 2010 at 7:37 am

I can’t believe you lasted more than one day! Absolutely awful!

erinAugust 2nd, 2010 at 8:24 am

OMG I had a temp job exactly like that. Down to the being told I would start at 7.30, when I actually started at 7. Mine wasn’t quite as bad though – I was actually doing data entry, which I stupidly finished in 4 days (they had given me 2 weeks to complete my work!), and then given the option of spending the next 6 workdays stuffing envelopes with the other temps. I decided against it because I would’ve gone insane. But at least they all spoke English!

Frau BlucherAugust 2nd, 2010 at 11:45 am

I love when you’re told nothing and then everyone calls you an idiot.
A couple of years ago I did a temp job filing….it was supposed to be for a few days, but the temp agency told me the client had said that I ‘hadn’t worked out’ and gave no explanation.
I had no idea why but I think it was because they had two of us and only really needed one. But at least I got paid.

MaryAugust 2nd, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I think a new site should be started called my very worst temp job. I think it would be interesting. I temped for years so I know the crazy stuff that can happen.

mystic_eyeAugust 5th, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Yeah temp agencies are nuts, not as bad as those job placement agencies. Yikes

I got sent to more interviews that the interview hadn’t been informed of and wasn’t there than I can count. The best was the time they sent me to 600ish Street W when it was 600ish Street E, and right downtown in rush hour. Luckily I was an hour early because I was coming from another interview (which happened 45 minutes late because the interviewer didn’t know I was coming). When I got to the right address they chuckled and said they’d been asking the placement agency to fix it, I was the 6th or something to be sent to the wrong place (luckily the other address didn’t exist). I went to that place three times, three times the interviewer didn’t show up and the kicker is the second two interviews were set by the company not through the agency. I don’t even know why I went the first time, it was in a business I didn’t want to be in for a job I didn’t want and wasn’t qualified for…. desperate I guess. They did give me free coffee (and numerous refills) and usually dessert while I waited for the interviewer to not show up.

davidAugust 7th, 2010 at 2:07 am

temp agencies are horrible, avoid them at all costs… even staff at the largest ones like kelly are completely incompetent. they have no idea how to match the job to the person.

actually it’s because they’re working for the companies (who pay them), not you. you’re just a product that’s being bought and sold.

OPAugust 14th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

To Erin, the irony is that I actually asked in my interview if they had any data entry jobs. I worked as a research assistant during college for academic credit, and ended up doing data entry several hours a week. And they actually did have me stuff envelopes on the last day, which made me pathetically happy. It was very tiring shifting boxes for seven hours a day with no air conditioning in Florida during the summer.

To Frau, my first temp job ended way earlier than I expected. At least the temp agency was honest and told me they overbooked.

I’m surprised I lasted more than one day as well. I actually called the temp agency and asked if they had anything else when I realized how horrible I was. They told me that being a file clerk was “all my background qualified me for.” Then the woman with a Master’s degree showed up and I realized they didn’t give a hoot about anyone’s background. I mainly stuck to it because I thought they would just give me crappy jobs to see if I were a conscientous worker, then eventually give me something better. Then when they messed up my paycheck, I realized that it wasn’t worth it if I wasn’t even getting paid.

JeffAugust 19th, 2010 at 7:41 am

“Thirty minutes into our shift, the teacher accidentally started a small fire. ”

I had to laugh at that part, although it does sound like a miserable experience. It takes a real shlemiel to set the place on fire within an hour after walking in the door!

OPAugust 19th, 2010 at 8:36 am

She seemed really embarrassed, but I don’t think it was completely her fault. A lot of the equipment was old and malfunctioned a lot. It was also dangerous. The first time that I used the “strip” machine, it jammed and immediately began smoking. The regular workers even managed to jam a lot of the equipment. I just thought that it was really sad that someone who was bilingual with a Master’s degree was only placed in mail clerk positions.

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