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5 Top tips when considering a career in interim management

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A career in interim isn’t an easy choice. But for those that are willing to dedicate themselves to delivering the best service it can be fulfilling, highly rewarding and provide an opportunity for the kind of freedom that is unheard of in permanent placements.

Alison Rotundo, Interim Management Partner within our Finance Practice at Eton Bridge Partners, was pleased to join an expert panel in a webinar hosted by ICAEW alongside successful career interims Mary Douglas and Louise Croxson. They discussed the ins and outs of the career of an interim manager, and shared their insights on how and why interim management is a rewarding career path.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is a professional membership organisation that promotes, develops and supports chartered accountants and students across the world. At the end of 2020, it had over 189,000 members and students in 147 countries.

Here are some of the key tips from that discussion.

Tip 1: Remember that you’re providing a service

As an interim you’re running your own business and are entering roles simply to provide a service. This is vastly different from being a permanent employee, and requires an entirely separate mindset.

Our interims both agreed that going into any role with expectations is a mistake. While a permanent employee might expect a handover for instance, most interims will be expected to hit the ground running.

It is also wise to be prepared to get your hands dirty, you might be on “clean up duty” from a previous staff member or be there to solve a difficult problem. There may be a tricky management situation and you may not necessarily be welcomed by the rest of the team. This is where being professional is essential. Don’t take it personally, and focus on getting the job done.

You’re going in to provide a service and it’s slightly more give than take. I don’t ever go into a client with expectations. I’m there to do a job for them, it’s not about my career. – Louise Croxson

Tip 2: Flexibility is non-negotiable

All our webinar guests agreed that the number one skill that any interim needs is flexibility.

Reality rarely lives up to expectation, and the same is true with interim management. Very often the impression you have of a job won’t live up to what you expected, and you might need to do things that are above or below your pay grade.

Being adaptable and able to do exactly what needs to be done will help you to carve out your reputation as a reliable interim who gets results. And dependable, results driven interims are given better roles.

“Being a good interim is realising that the job you interview for can be quite different when you actually turn up. And don’t be surprised about it. The interim world is fluid and fast changing.” – Alison Rotundo

Tip 3: Make sure you’re paid what you’re worth

While working as an interim can be a lucrative choice, it’s not for the faint hearted. This is why our guest experts agreed that being financially prepared with a buffer can be one of the best things to do to offset the uncertainty of an interim career.

Having said that, your pay as an interim reflects the fact that you’re there to carry out a single project or task for a limited period, and right now there is no shortage of roles in the interim market.

If you’re not sure what to expect, it’s worth talking to other interims in your market about what they’re charging for their roles, and don’t forget to consider IR35 when negotiating your rate.

“There is no guarantee with interim work, and that’s part of the reason you do get elevated day rates, based on that level of uncertainty. But typically, if you have a strong skill set, the current market is so buoyant that you should be able to move from one role to another.” – Alison Rotundo

Tip 4: Don’t expect a regular 9 – 5

Interim roles are often based on the delivery of a particular solution or task. This means that you’re there to get a job done, not clock in and clock out at certain times of the day.

Our guest interims said that they both worked over and above what was expected of them to carry out a job to the required standard, but knowing that they were going to have a break after the job was a good motivator.

In their spare time, Louise has built an additional career for herself as a yoga teacher, and completed several triathlons (in fact, she has just become world champion in her age group), and Mary likes to travel.

“A lot of my projects are deadline driven, so when I’m working, I’m fully absorbed. On average I do a 10-hour day. But when I’m not working, I can take long breaks. I took 4 weeks off before Covid to visit Antarctica and I also travelled New Zealand.” – Mary Douglas

Tip 5: Reputation is everything

Being a successful interim is dependent on securing the best roles, and for that you need to build up a solid reputation, as well as know the right people. Alison said that networking and building a good relationship with your interim provider and consultants within the firm is key, because if they trust you, you will be first on their list to call when a client requests someone with your particular skill set.

As for experience and skills, it is crucial to be confident in what you can offer and what your client is buying. Use the time when you are in between roles to think about how you can expand your service offering to clients and carry out additional training.

“The higher the day rate, the more expertise required. You can’t go in and expect to be taught like you might in a permanent role, but know that you will grow. And in terms of development, the downtime is when you invest in training.” – Mary Douglas

And finally…

Remember that being an interim manager requires a complete mindset and lifestyle shift, but if you’re successful, it can be a life changing career move.

Constantly taking on new challenges is rewarding and provides plenty of room to learn and grow. You don’t have to be tied to a particular role or even sector, and that variation can be key in keeping things interesting.

Both Mary and Louise agreed that the freedom they get from being an interim has been the biggest attraction.

“It’s your decision to be there. You have control of your own destiny and the flexibility to move roles when you want to.” – Louise Croxson

Thank you to our contributors for their fascinating insights, and to the ICAEW for hosting the webinar.

If you’re considering a career in Interim Finance, do talk to Alison Rotundo at Eton Bridge Partners.