8 Million Stories: Temping Hell

Written by Sara E. Grossman on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

I am a recent graduate of an MFA writing program. That degree left me with three choices. I could teach, which I don’t have the patience for. I could continue to babysit, but what good would that do for my resume? Or I could try to find a writing or publishing gig, but those are nearly impossible to find in a city with 8 million people—2 million of whom, it seems, are writers going for the same jobs.

But then, a friend suggested I use a staffing agency. I could pick up temporary jobs until I found something solid, and I could stop changing diapers. So, I kissed my tax-free high-paying nanny gig goodbye and went hunting for a headhunter. I sent my resume to several places and one asked me to come in immediately. Whether this was because a family friend worked there or my resumé was astounding, I cannot say. I walked in and was greeted by three different people who said they would love to work with me. In my meeting, one said that according to my resumé and past pay, I should be making anywhere between $15 and $20 an hour. I was elated, expecting I would have to settle for an assistant position at a healthcare office or something for much less.

Soon enough, the staffing agent called.

"I have a job for you! Are you available tomorrow?" My heart dropped. I was in Florida, visiting my family. I told him I wouldn’t be able to take it, but to keep me in mind.

The next week I returned from Florida refreshed and determined. I had three interviews lined up. Two were for writing jobs and one was for an editorial assistant position at a small publishing company. I get a call from the staffing company. "We have a position at a publishing company! You’d have to start on Monday." Once again, I was in a pickle: two of my interviews were scheduled for Monday. I asked if I could start Tuesday instead, and that’s when my family-friend got on the phone. She told me to reschedule all of my interviews and just take the job. I passed on the offer. I stuck to my guns and kept to the interviews. The interviews came and went: no dice. It was another week before I got a phone call from the temp agency— the evening before Rosh Hashana.

"We have a position for you at a big publishing company."

"Awesome! Is it an editorial position?" "Yes! You’d have to start tomorrow." "But tomorrow is a holiday." The man laughed and I think he said, "I’m done with you." I was taken aback.

"You’re sure it’s editorial?" I asked again. "Yes! Of course." "OK, I’ll take it." He said he would send me the information and the contact info that I was to ask for in the morning. He thanked me and hung up.

Fast forward to 8:45 a.m. when I show up at this big publishing company’s Midtown office. The woman I will be working for greets me and leads me up two flights of stairs to the Children’s Division. I imagine myself copyediting the next Goodnight Moon or, to my chagrin, Twilight. Until she brings me to the sales cubicles.

I try not to let the reaction show. I sit down and rationalize: This is a foot in the door, this is a foot in the door, this is a… My new boss comes to my desk and tells me that they had almost no notice that I was coming; I wasn’t in the computer system. So I had to sit tight until IT fixed that. I sat tight until 3 p.m., then I told her it was a holiday. I asked if I could leave early.

"Absolutely! Why would they have sent you in on a Jewish holiday?" she asked. I tried to hide my emotions.

"I was wondering the exact same thing," I said before I left. It took another three days before I was in the computer system.

I kissed my tax-free high-paying nanny gig goodbye and went hunting for a headhunter.

For the next two weeks, I was banished to a world of sales-assistant spreadsheets. I emailed the guy at the agency, asking when I’d be paid. He never got back to me. I emailed the admin at the agency and received several emails from different people apologizing, saying how it must have been a mistake; my timesheet wasn’t attached.

The next week, I had no work to do.

I sat in the cubicle and read for hours each day, took a lengthy lunch break and wandered around Midtown. I figured that even though this wasn’t my ideal job, it was only temporary and that at least I could now pay my bills.

Finally, I got my paycheck. I was expecting something extravagant since it was for three weeks’ worth of work. I looked at the dollar amount on the check and thought something was wrong. I flipped to the next page where my hours were. I was astounded; this was hardly enough to pay my cable bill! After New York City taxes, I was receiving nine dollars an hour.

Infuriated, I wrote to the agency and received an email response: "Sorry you felt misled." Subtext: "We aren’t taking the blame." Fed up, I deleted the email and finished out the job. I learned my lesson; babysitting would never put me in this kind of situation—and what temp job lets you have free reign of the fridge?