A spell of temping on a resume used to be a red flag to prospective employers. “When the word ‘temp’ came up, people would react with ‘That’s for losers,’ or ‘That’s for people who can’t get a real job’,” notes Jackie Ducci, CEO of Manhattan-based recruiters Ducci & Associates and author of an insightful new book, Almost Hired: What’s Really Standing Between You and the Job You Want.
Those days are gone. “I often recommend temping, especially for new grads who haven’t quite figured out yet what they want to do,” Ducci says. “It can also be a great idea for people who want to explore new careers. Working as a temp in a field that interests you gives you a chance to ‘try before you buy.’”
Meanwhile, employers struggling to find enough available talent are more willing these days to consider hiring current or former temps for permanent full-time openings. A few months ago, when finance staffing company Accountemps surveyed almost 3,000 senior managers across a wide range of industries, nearly three-quarters (71%) said they now see even candidates with long histories of temporary work as comparable to those who worked in full-time jobs.
Not only that, but the same report says 53% more employers than two years ago are using temps to fill in for a while on specific projects, or as stopgaps until the right full-time candidate comes along.
The right full-time candidate just might be you. Let’s say you’re filling in for a new mom who’s out on maternity leave, and she decides not to come back. If you’ve done a great job standing in for her, that permanent job might be yours for the asking. “I’ve seen plenty of companies who never really planned on hiring through a temp agency wind up so pleased with their interim hire that they offer that person a job,” says Ducci. “Why go conduct a full search if they have a perfectly capable person, who knows the job and wants to be there, already sitting in the seat?”
It’s relatively easy to stand out as a star when you’re temping, Ducci notes in Almost Hired. “Unlike headhunters and recruiters, temp agencies will tend to represent pretty much anyone remotely qualified who submits a resume. They have tons of hours they need to cover each week, and it’s hard to find enough reliable people.” Assuming you’re not only dependable but “presentable and professional, with skills to bring to the table,” she adds, you’ll probably be in demand and working steadily.
For new grads and late bloomers who haven’t yet chosen a career path, spending a few months here, a few weeks there, and a few days somewhere else is a chance to get to know lots of different businesses, people, and workplace cultures. “Every experience will help you figure out what you want in your ideal position and employer,” Ducci says.
That can prevent some costly mistakes. Suppose, for instance, you’ve just earned a four-year degree and , before heading off to law school, you opt to sign on with an agency that specializes in providing temps to law firms. What better way to get a close-up look at the nitty-gritty of how attorneys actually spend their days? You may love it, and get even more charged up about joining the profession than you already were. Then again, you may realize that practicing law would make you miserable. In that case, you’ve just saved yourself three fairly grueling years of school (and possibly a fresh pile of student debt), and the hassle of looking for a whole different line of work later on.
The only real risk of temping for more than a few months is that you might someday run into one of those hiring managers —29%, according to the Accountemps poll— who still look askance at job candidates who’ve hopped around from one company to another. “If an interviewer asks you why you haven’t ‘settled down’ in one place, you can honestly say that you did, by working for the same temp agency for however long it was,” Ducci points out. “The agency is, or was, your actual employer —not its short-term clients.”
Then, she suggests, explain why you liked working for that agency (if in fact you did), and talk a bit about “how the overall experience helped you figure out your next career move —and how it made you a great fit for this job that you’re interviewing for right now.” Sweet.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—How “recession-proof” is your job?
—How the World’s Best Workplaces create a great global culture
—5 TED Talk strategies to be more compelling at work
—If you want a higher paying job, the time to quit is now—How this daughter of immigrant farmers found her comms job at Tyson
Get Fortune’s RaceAhead newsletter for sharp insights on corporate culture and diversity.