Workers with in-demand credentials may be able to bypass agencies and deal directly with employers, Osborne says, particularly in the information-technology arena. "If you are highly skilled and already have the connections, great," he said. "But if you don't, it's easier to have someone else do all that for you."
4. Prepare to counter the "overqualified" conundrum. Given the nation's 8.9 percent unemployment rate, many people might be willing to check their egos at the door, as having a job takes on greater importance. An engineer might be willing to do warehouse work, or a marketing pro might offer to answer phones and perform data entry. Agencies understand that, but they are wary of placing seasoned candidates in lower-level positions for fear they'll quit without completing the assignment.
Allay their fears by making it clear that you're open to new job experiences and learning opportunities, as a way of making yourself more marketable. You, and the agency on your behalf, also can make the case that your know-how will streamline a temporary job.
"Candidates can pitch themselves from a cost-effectiveness standpoint," Mack says. "If they can use their experience to get a project done faster, the client wins."
5. Once you're on the job, don't coast. Temporary jobs are more than a paycheck. They're a foot in the door to a prospective full-time employer, a networking opportunity and a chance to learn new skills in a new business sector.
Temping also gives you the chance to get paid for trying out entirely new fields, such as substitute teaching or call-center work, with an eye toward changing careers entirely.
Sharon Davis temped for more than three years after being laid off from her post at a health insurer in Chicago. The one-time manager took clerical jobs at $8.50 an hour despite her master's degree and supervisory experience.
"The upside is that you are always increasing your skill base," she says. "Everywhere you go, you make yourself more marketable."
Davis says that through temping she never missed a mortgage payment and recently accepted a full-time job with a property management firm. Her wages are nearly $14 an hour, "and they're going to pay for me to go to school and get a real-estate license," she says.
6. Take advantage of training. While agency clients expect a basic skill set from their temps, such as meeting work schedules and deadlines and taking instructions from supervisors, most offer some sort of training. You might get a chance to learn a new database, the latest accounting software or how to operate state-of-the-art machinery.
Aside from on-the-job training, many agencies' Web sites offer free access to online learning modules, newsletters and seminars in topics such as leadership, communication and common business software applications.
7. Make the most of perks. Depending on your tenure, some of the larger agencies offer medical benefits, paid vacation, 401(k) savings plans, workers' compensation coverage and other benefits. The agency administers your paycheck, so you won't have to chase down payment from the client.
Some in-demand professionals can use temping to enhance their lifestyle by opting for short-term, varied assignments, or even overseas and traveling jobs.
8. Register with multiple agencies. It's not taboo to be working with several placement firms. "It's understood that (it) happens. Like applying for any job, you circulate your credentials and hope for an assignment," Berchem says.
But don't keep agencies guessing. If you've accepted a post through one, let the others know and tell them when you expect to become available again. It doesn't hurt to send a reminder a few weeks before one assignment ends, so you'll be placed back in the pipeline quickly.
Sometimes an assignment is a good fit from both sides, and the company recognizes it.
"You can prove yourself with a client and they'll say, 'We have to find this person a spot in our organization,'" says Mack. "When the economy turns around, all companies are going to be scrambling for talent."