The Boy Scouts have a saying: "Be prepared." The Girl Scouts also have a saying: "Would you like to buy some cookies?" These are two radically different credos, and one heavily outweighs the other. I mean, youíve got one group tying knots, learning bird calls, and eating moss, and the other group walking around looking adorable and going home with their pockets stuffed with cash. So I subscribe to the Girl Scout philosophy, as well as their newsletter and steamy full-color calendar. Thatís just a joke, but the Girl Scouts obviously have a better head for business. I know I canít help but buy a couple dozen boxes of macaroons when their stretch limousine pulls up to my door, and it has nothing to do with their hired thugs grinding their boots into my spine. I love macaroons, truly, despite my life threatening allergies to them.
So, while Iím not overly concerned with preparedness, Iíll just briefly go over a few things you should know while getting ready for your first day of work. Most of this is elementary stuff, and you will probably be very insulted that I included some of it, and will no doubt close this page and go back to looking at usenet porn. Donít say I didnít warn you.
Attire / Grooming / Your Stuff / Other Gear
Your agency will probably give you some guidelines about how to dress and look, and Iím certain you wouldnít have made it through the initial interview if you were a total slob, so just a few pointers and then weíll move on.
Step one: Buy some clothing.
Step two: Wear it.
Step three: Repeat as necessary
Okay, okay, you took all the trouble of visiting this page, so I guess I could say a bit more about clothing.
Thereís a saying that goes "The clothes make the man." This is an incomplete statement. The entire saying goes "The clothes make the man extremely uncomfortable." The reason the end of this statement has never been heard before is that the original speaker was wearing a tie that was cutting off his oxygen, and passed out before he could complete his thought.
I hate ties. I hate "slacks." I hate jackets. Unfortunately, they are a must-have in the professional office world.
Before I start (or rather, continue) complaining about professional attire for men, I must admit that I really have nothing to complain about. Men in general have no legitimate gripe when it comes to clothing, for women have to deal with far more serious horrors. High-heels, hose, make-up, brassieresÖ the list goes on and on. And while I havenít had the occasion to wear these garments (not to work, anyway), I can sympathize if not understand. I mean, how can women be expected to squeeze into those tiny, narrow shoes and walk around balanced on their toes and pointy heels? How many outfits must they buy as to not repeat anything in a two-week period? And how much does all that stuff cost, anyway? I mean, a guy can buy a few pairs of pants, four or five shirts, a jacket and a couple ties, and be set for an entire decade. White shirts and dark pants donít go out of style. Women, on the other hand, are subjected to trends and in/out phases that require them to buy entirely new wardrobes every few months. The poor dopes.
Anyway, back to men.
I gotta recommend a vest. Vests are great. If youíre wearing a vest, you can take off your jacket and still look professional. Missing a few buttons or got a pesky bloodstain on your shirt? Is your tie falling apart, or you canít tie it so the thin end is shorter than the thick end? Wear a vest and no one will be the wiser.
Vests come in all sorts of different colors and patterns, and you can button it up for that professional look or unbutton it for the cool and casual look. On business casual day, wearing jeans, a shirt and a vest leave you with that "Iím relaxed but still at work" look that so many Christians died trying to achieve.
I have nothing to say on the subject of ties, because I apparently have no taste. I wore a tie to work one day, and I admit that it wasnít the best looking tie in the world, but youíd think I had been wearing a picture of myself clubbing a baby harp seal around my neck, the flak I got. Sheesh.
Women: For the most part, I donít have any notes to give you. As a gender, you seem to be doing just fine on the grooming front. My only suggestion is to take it easy with the perfume. It is not a sealant. You do not need seven coats. Just a whiff is all. Just a trace, if any. Thereís a little something called the Geneva Convention that outlaws gas weapons, and some of you women are dancing up to the line. Itís a fine intention to want to smell good, just leave us with a few functioning nose buds, or whatever you call them.
Men: Okay guys, crowd around. Itís time to take a solemn oath. Promise me that once a week, you will go into a well lit bathroom, stand in front of the mirror, tilt your head back, and look directly up your nose. I mean it, fellas. Itís time we took on the responsibility of having well-groomed nose hair, and by well-groomed I mean non-existent. Some of you are walking around looking like youíve got Gene Shallit stuffed up there feet first. Go out, right now, and buy a nose-hair trimmer. They donít cost much, and while it may be initially frightening to stick a piece of machinery with rotating blades up your nose, you will get used to it. And if you donít want to commit to that, you can do a halfway decent job with a pair of those little scissors. And now that Iím on the topic, you may want to check your ears, too, and I donít just mean the older guys. I am only in my twenties and my ears have already convinced themselves that just listening to stuff is not enough of a task for them, so they have gone into hair farming.
Also, and this is for everyone, letís watch that breath, people! Brush in the morning, mint after lunch, maybe some gumÖ come on, people, letís snap it up out there!
I love those movies where thereís a spy or commando, and he or she has a neat kit filled with stuff like wire cutters, detonators, grappling hooks, global positioning indicators, lock-picking devices, and, of course, the cyanide pill. As a temp, you may sometimes feel like one of these daring spies, because you will encounter a great deal of people you would like to kill. There, however, the similarity ends, because you really need very little in the way of equipment to survive. I do recommend the cyanide capsule, however, though not for you. Donít get me wrong, you will entertain thoughts of suicide, and quite frequently, but I think the poison capsule is better spent on that guy from accounting with that stupid moustache and the Hyundai and the habit of saying "Gotta get me some of that!" when an attractive female employee walks by.
Get yourself a nice pen. Always keep it with you. And when I say nice, I donít necessarily mean expensive. Chances are, someone will walk away with it at some point, so keep it simple but make sure it writes well. Believe it or not, Papermates are higher quality than most of the pricey pens, and easy to replace. Be aware: if you have a decent pen and give it to someone to write with, many of them will comment on it, and you will have a little conversation, such as:
Person: "Nice pen."
Not too painful. You can deal with it, Iím sure.
I realize that keeping a pen handy is generally much easier for guys than women. Men, while generally not having breasts, have a breast pocket built into their dress shirts. Women, generally having breasts, donít have the breast pocket. Boy, is that irony, or what? Huh? I bet youíll never look at shirts the same way again!
So while men can zip their pens right out of their pocket, women have it tougher. Pulling a pen from the depths of a bag or purse just doesnít have the same flourish, and you probably donít carry your purses around with you at work anyway. In this case, I would advise keeping the pen in a spring-loaded wrist-mounted ejection device, ala Moonraker, to make your pen not only a readily available writing implement, but also a potentially deadly offensive weapon.
I guess you can get a backpack too, but I think the briefcase looks a little more professional. And I donít necessarily mean the kind lawyers carry around, or the ones they use in the movies to carry cash in. I have a black canvas one that is pretty nice, and keep in mind you may have to cram it in a drawer or under a desk at your job so flexibility is a plus.
Never leave it out in the open. I donít care where youíre working, no matter how swank or high security, offices get robbed all the time. Personally speaking, three offices I have worked in have been burgled, during daylight hours, when everyone was at lunch except for me, and I had all the keys, and the next day I showed up to work in a private helicopter, but thatís all circumstantial! You canít prove a thing!
You can get a pager, I guess. I donít have one. I havenít had one since I worked in the entertainment industry back in the early nineties, and then it was used mostly for social purposes. But if you want to be a real "gung-ho" Temp, I guess you should get one. It will allow your service to contact you anywhere, anytime. As if this is a good thing. If youíre like me and youíre only ever at home or at work, it may be unnecessary. But I understand some of you may have "hobbies" or "interests" or "lives" that take you from your dwellings and into the real world. In that case, get a pager. ĎCause youíre just so cool.
Well, if youíre gonna have a pager, Mr. Fast-track, you might as well flush any thoughts of privacy right down the loo. Get a cellphone, so not only can people bother you while youíre at the movies, but you can call them back immediately and have a loud annoying conversation right at the climax of the film. If you feel a burning glare on the back of your head, thatís me.
Yeah. Right. Start giving people a little card with your phone number on it. Great idea. See, the single benefit of temping is that once youíre done with the job, you never have to see these people again. Now, why would you want to give out your phone number? So they can call you? Invite you to lunch? Offer you a permanent job?
Then again, I guess thatís what most people want. To have lunch and get a permanent job. Well, whatever floats your boat. If you want to have a social life and steady pay, I guess business cards are a good idea. I mean, everyone has them. People hand them to me all the time, and look them over, thank them, and put them in my wallet, and then later use them to pick my teeth, clean between the keys of my keyboard, squash small insects, etc.
Again, something I cannot entirely relate to, because I donít really have "appointments." My day planner, if I had one, would be completely blank. I would feel silly writing in things like Go to work on every weekday, I mean, I know I have to go to work. I know that at the end of the month my rent is due. I know I havenít gone to the dentist for six years. Why should I write this stuff down?
Of course, as I have said before, a lot of you have active lives and family gatherings and meetings and dates and friends, so a planner may be useful. However, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Iíve known a lot people with those planners, and when they lose them, they totally freak out. Itís a lot of fun to watch. Why do they get so agitated? Because everything is in there. Every little detail of their lives: appointments, phone numbers, receipts, namesÖ if you lose your planner you are screwed. I am in no such danger because I donít keep all my eggs in one basket. Some of my stuff is in my briefcase, some in my wallet, some on the desk, under the bed, stuffed into magazines on the coffee table, on the toilet tank in the bathroom, inside the fridge, in the mailbox... Sure, this makes it hard to find things, but even if I lose, say, my coffee table, itís only a small fraction of things I need to replace. You may be saying, Yes, but what if your apartment burns down? No problem! Thereís enough stuff on the floor of my car to keep me in business.
Donít need Ďem. Youíre going to work in an office! Everything you need is already there! Just load up your pockets when you leave!
A lot of temping books will give you lists of things to carry, like staplers, notepads, calculators, paper clips, rulers, dictionaries, tape, etc. But this stuff will be there already. Donít use your stuff. Use their stuff. Do you bring condiments and utensils to a restaurant? Do you bring Band-Aids and morphine to the doctors office? Do you wear pants and shirts when you go clothes shopping? You do? Oh.
The only time Iíve encountered an office supply shortage was when I was working for a teachers union in California. Here was an office with no budget whatsoever, so I would have felt guilty swiping stuff, even if there was any stuff around to swipe. It was a challenge locating a few staples or a Post-it note, let alone enough to fill my bag with. I mean, the salad crisper in my fridge has more office equipment than their whole supply room did. I didnít even have a computer, just some weird thing people kept calling a "typewriter." I couldnít get it to work, because someone had apparently stolen the mouse. On top of that, I kept breaking things. Everyday I would break something different, and Iím not talking about a pen or a ruler. I broke their postage machine, an entire file cabinet, one of those huge three-hole punch gadgets, and two pairs of scissors. I felt really guilty since they didnít have the budget to replace them. I even started a list of all the things Iíd broken, thinking I might write an essay about it, until I realized that carrying a list titled "Things Iíve Broken" with several hundred dollars worth of office equipment jotted on it was probably a bad idea.
At any rate, donít bog yourself down with needless supplies. Generally, the office will have what you need, and if they donít you can just get creative. Canít find a paper clip? Gum will hold that report together! Need to measure that new desk? Your hand is probably several inches long! No calculator to determine the monthly sales average? Just guess!
Itís not just office-type stuff you need to concern yourself with. Remember, you left home this morning and wonít be back for another nine or ten hours. God, itís depressing just thinking about it.
While you may be filling in for someone of importance, you may not actually be doing important things. Particularly on the short-term assignments, they donít like to take the time to fully train you, they just have you do a few routine tasks. Therefore, most of your time there will be spent staring at something. You might as well plan ahead and bring something to stare at.
Bringing actual books might not be the best idea. Particularly if you answer phones all day, you might find it difficult to really get into The Brothers Karamotzov or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. However, some lighter reading may suit you well, such as Atlas Shrugged or The Yale Shakepeare. No, just kidding. Stick to Grisham, A.A. Milne, or something written by a Spice Girl. Or print out some stuff from this website and read that! And make sure you laugh really loud while reading it and say things like "What a great website!" or "This website is perfect for everyone I know!" And while youíre at, try to work my website into every single conversation you have with everyone. Thanks.
Magazines are also a good thing to bring with you, because any you might find in the break room or lobby will have cover stories on a new sensation called steam power or on what a promising band A-ha is.
If crossword puzzles are your thing, bring some along. I myself went through an entire book of New York Times puzzles in a single day. I even got a few of the clues.
And remember, just because you work with people, doesnít mean you have to talk to them. Nothing says go away like a book. Itís not foolproof, as anyone who has ever tried reading on an airplane will tell you, but generally, people are less inclined to invite you over to their lunch table if you seem engrossed in a book.
Now, you donít want to bring anything too mainstream, such as Clancy, Cornwell, or, God forbid, John Gray, because a lot of people you work with will have read them, and will want to talk to you about it. On the other hand, you donít want to bring anything too weird and freakish, like Lovecraft, Bret Easton Ellis, or the Bible, because, while most people will keep their distance, those few that do approach and want to talk to you will scare the living crap out of you.
Try not to bring a book with an inconspicuous cover, because people, being very curious, will want to know what it is that youíre reading. Make sure the title is visible, but not particularly exciting. Books with names like I Think Joe Found a Quarter or These Socks Are Mine. Stay away from popular genres, like legal thrillers or self-help books, because they will invite conversation. Stay away from books that are currently movies, because they will invite conversation. Stay away from anything Oprah has recommended, because they will invite the worst conversation imaginable.
To hedge your bet Iíd recommend any book about a well-known serial killer, and while reading it giggle regularly. If someone does approach, just look at them and say, real quiet, "OhhhÖ youíll be perfect."
You are guaranteed two breaks and a lunch during the day, but I was once guaranteed a desk job and wound up wearing a hairnet. A lot of these jobs require that someone relieve you when it is your break time or lunch time, and a lot of these relief people are capable of escaping into other dimensions when your stomach starts rumbling. Bring some food.
I never bring food, because I am always too busy hitting the snooze button in the morning to get up and prepare myself a snack. I donít know if you do this. The alarm goes off, and I think I can probably do without making myself breakfast, so I hit the snooze. It goes off again nine minutes later, and I figure my shirt and pants donít need to be ironed, so I hit it again. By the time I get up, Iíve decided I donít need to shower, brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, put on socks, catch my bus, and of course, make myself a snack to bring. And when Iím sitting there at ten-thirty in the morning, my hair greasy and awry, my eyelids crusted with goo, my clothing wrinkled and mismatched, watching my co-workers gaily warp into other dimensions, my stomach rumbles its familiar tune.
The snooze-button. Friend or foe? I cannot say.
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