Contributor, Sarah Gordon, Associate Trainer, Recruitment Matters International.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that we are facing skills shortages across most industries. Many articles talk about how clients can simply ‘get a temp or contractor in’ to cover the role until they can find someone for the permanent position.

Nobody seems to be mentioning that if we are in a skills short market, that applies to both permanent candidates AND those choosing to work on a temporary or contract basis. Finding great temp/contract candidates is tough in today’s market.

I run candidate sourcing training on a regular basis, and temp recruiters are finding it hard to source roles at all levels – from blue collar temps through to executive interims. And the particular difficulty with temp/contract resourcing is recruiters are usually working to much tighter timescales. This means temp/contract recruiters are often having to recruit before the specific vacancies arise, which can bring its own challenges.

What are the challenges of recruiting people on a temporary or contract basis?

a) You can’t encourage someone to leave a permanent job for a short term assignment

Sometimes you may see someone with the perfect skill set for a temp/contract role, but if they are in a permanent role at the moment, it would not be ethical to persuade them to leave the security of a permanent role for a shorter term engagement. There may be some exceptions – for example if the role was something that carried particular prestige, would be a huge developmental opportunity or had the potential to lead to something else. This means that for most temp/contract opportunities, a huge swathe of the talent pool is essentially off limits.

b) People wanting a mortgage are likely to prefer the stability of a permanent role

There are some people who may be available immediately, but are only interested in permanent opportunities, because they are looking to buy a house, and most lenders will only give favourable terms to people who are in permanent employment.

c) The role has to be right as the company becomes less important

When selling a permanent opportunity to a candidate, a key part of the conversation is usually talking about the company, and the opportunities for development in the longer term. Sometimes people will take a role that isn’t perfect, because they can see the advantage of getting into a great organisation and then moving into different roles as their career develops. With temp/contract opportunities, there is a greater emphasis on the role, as candidates are not necessarily looking at a long term future with the company (especially for very short term temp assignments, I found candidates aren’t that interested in who the company is – it’s more about “what will I be doing, where is it, how much, and for how long?”).

So why do people choose to work on a temporary or contract basis?

1) They are looking for the right permanent role, but are temping until they do

It can take time to find the right permanent job, so many people are prepared to do temporary or contract work until they find the right opportunity. The drawback with this kind of candidate is that when a suitable permanent opportunity arises, they may be likely to leave their assignment before its due end date.

2) They are finding it hard to secure a permanent role in their chosen market, and are hoping for temp to perm

From my own experience, and in various studies, the diversity of the temp/contract market is greater than that of the permanent market. This suggests that people not fitting the ‘traditional’ job profile may be accepted by employers on a temporary basis who wouldn’t necessarily be offered the role on a permanent basis… until they have had an opportunity to demonstrate how great they would be for the role by actually doing the role on a temporary basis.

3) It suits their work/life balance

There can be a whole host of reasons people use temporary/contract work to suit their work/life balance. Some parents only work during term time, some love to travel for months at a time… it can be a variety of reasons. Some also prefer to work as a contractor because they feel like they have more choice, more control and more freedom.

4) They get bored if they stay in one place too long, and it’s better for the CV to show contract roles

I have worked with many ‘career temps’ over the years who temp because they love the variety. Some people know themselves really well, and like to be able to change roles and environments on a regular basis. They know that a series of permanent roles all lasting less than two years won’t look great on their CV, but presenting themselves as a professional contractor or ‘career temp’ will be better understood by hiring managers.

5) The kind of work the person does is, by definition, project-based

If someone’s work is related to project design and implementation, but their role has a natural ‘lifetime’ (once the project has been implemented and monitoring systems designed, for example), permanent roles simply won’t be appropriate.

So what are some tips on finding temp/contract talent?

i. It sounds basic, but use the terms ‘temp*’ and ‘contract’ in your searches

Professional temps/contractors are likely to have the words temp, temporary, contract or contractor in their CVs, so if you include those search terms you are more likely to find candidates who are open to flexible working, and have done it before.

ii. Think about, and target, groups who may be interested in temp work

I had great success reaching out to Facebook groups like Kiwis in London and Aussies in London to source office temps. Think about which categories of individual are likely to be interested in temp or contract work and then think about where you can reach them. What about mum/parent returners? What about students?

iii. When interviewing, always ask how many temps/contractors people worked with

Temps/contractors often work in environments alongside other temps/contractors, so interviewing is a great chance to gather information. If you identify particular organisations that use a lot of temps/contractors, not only have you identified a potential client(!), you can search for people who have worked in that organisation.

iv. Visit your temps/contractors on site

I am not suggesting that you deliberately poach temps/contractors from your competitors. However, I know from experience that if you deliver an exceptional candidate experience, and visit your workers at the client site from time to time (whether that be giving out a temp of the month award, or taking Easter Eggs or a hamper of muffins to thank your people for their hard work), and there are workers on site whose recruiter doesn’t look after them to the same level, you may find that you receive unsolicited applications from workers interested in working with a recruiter who values their efforts.

v. Get creative

Think beyond job boards and social media. What about geofencing? What about advertising at colleges offering professional qualifications in your sector? What about holding seminars or webinars on subjects your contractors will be interested in relevant to their daily work? Free training/CPD opportunities will be attractive to contractors on limited budgets who may not receive the same training as permanent employees. Why not sit down with your team and think about how else you can reach your target audience?


There is a great saying in life “don’t ask, don’t get”. Bearing in mind how valuable referrals and recommendations are, why are so many recruiters failing to ask for them on a regular basis? If you set yourself targets for the number of referrals received, it should help you to remember to ask for them on a regular basis. If you are giving a great service, there is no reason candidates would not wish to refer your service.

It is important that recruiters talk to their clients about the challenges of temporary and contract recruitment. It is not ‘easier’ than permanent recruitment, and because it often fulfils an urgent, business critical need, it carries real value.

When I see recruiters letting themselves be negotiated down to single figure mark-ups, it really frustrates me, because I appreciate the hard work that goes into building a quality temp/contract talent pool.

Recruiters need to make sure that clients understand the value of the service they provide, and that simply ‘having temp/contract staff available’ is not something that happens easily – especially in the current labour market.

There’s a lot more to ‘let’s just get a temp in’ than meets the eye!