SIXTEEN YEARS AS AN INTERIM DIRECTOR
Working in interim management has some fantastic advantages – and a number of drawbacks. It’s important to understand both before committing to life as an interim. Here are my hard-won lessons.
As an interim, you get to meet a number of interesting people – from interim providers to top-level directors, accounts teams, professionals and other seasoned interims. I’ve also been lucky to experience a diverse range of roles – from Consultant to Financial Controller (FC) to Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a FTSE 250 listed company – across varied sectors.
Interims are constantly learning, through being thrown into new roles. You’ll develop your team management skills in varied circumstances and receive thanks for the work done.
On the other hand, there are some distinct challenges. The gaps between work can be troublesome. You need a financial buffer, a cheerful disposition, steely resolve to reject a job that’s not right, and support from those closest to you.
Another major disadvantage is that, just as you bed into an organisation, you find it’s time to leave. If being part of a team for the long-term is important to you, then interim is probably not the best choice.
Why go into interim?
It’s important to consider if interim work is right for you, so ask yourself these questions:
1 – Can you cope with the lack of financial security? You must have a buffer to withstand down time. There’s no redundancy money to fall back on so, if you have a mortgage and school fees to service, think carefully about interim as a career.
2 – Can you really cope with the loneliness of being on your own when in work and out of work?
3 – How will being in business on your own impact your family?
4 – Will you miss being a ‘permanent’ part of a management team?
5 – Do you have the physical and mental fitness to cope with the ups and downs of interim life?
What makes a good interim?
Most interim providers list on their website the qualities needed to be a success. Here are my favourite 10:
1 – Leadership – you need to have experience of being a natural leader, capable of clear communication and able to inspire confidence.
2 – Proven track record – you need to be able to apply your experience to any interim situation or problem, and require a number of years’ experience in varied permanent roles.
3 – Adaptability to different cultures – your experience should enable you to engage quickly with your new team.
4 – Hands-on approach.
5 – Resilience and independence – you need to be used to working alone.
6 – Quick to grasp key issues – it is often said that a new CEO has 100 days to prove him/herself; an interim has just 5 days.
7 – Used to change – you need to be confident living outside your comfort zone.
8 – Capable of making tough decisions – most situations will need some quick decisions which are never easy and can only be achieved by listening to the right people.
9 – Results orientated – the client will expect you to achieve certain goals by the end of the assignment.
10 – Capable of planning and organisation.
How to market yourself and land the right interim job
Plenty has been written on how to write a CV, but writing a CV as an interim has some very specific requirements. My advice is:
- Make clear your break between your permanent career and interim assignments.
- Keep it as short as possible. This isn’t easy if you’ve collected a number of interim assignments, so describe your most recent roles, and list earlier positions with the role, company and dates.
- Avoid all waffle and statements like: “I am trustworthy and hardworking”. Replace them with quantifiable achievements and hard facts.
- Be sure to indicate the size of company you worked for (turnover or assets) and the number of people you managed directly and indirectly.
- Make the sectors in which you’ve worked – or want to work – prominent.
- Use key search words that enable your CV to be found easily.
- Have a clear top line statement explaining who you are and what you offer. Two sentences is enough.
- The first page is really important – very few people read beyond it.
- Try to find something which makes your CV memorable. Remember, interim providers see masses of CVs; yours needs to stand out from the crowd.
- Make sure it’s consistent with your LinkedIn profile and keep to just one CV at any one time.
- Use a covering letter to bring out salient points on how you meet requirements, rather than constantly changing your CV. Never cover these points in an email but always a separate Word document. So often, the email going to the interim provider will not be sent onto the client and you may miss out on an opportunity.
Once you’ve completed your CV and your LinkedIn profile (click here for advice on your LinkedIn profile), where next? The three main routes are: interim providers, your network and other organisations.
- Interim providers: Sourcing interim providers from the IIM survey is possibly the best way to start, but it helps to have someone point you to the right person in any firm. Keep the relationship with your interim provider simple, make life easy for them and, above all, be open and honest.
- Networking: networking is hard work and needs an outgoing, ever-confident approach. It takes many years to reap the rewards, but never give up, as every meeting is another opportunity.
- Other organisations: there are many groups and organisations to plug into. There are turnaround panels run by the banks and panels run by PwC, Deloitte and EY. Interesting people run these groups but jobs are few and far between. There are other organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Business Growth Fund PLC, local societies and, for finance people, the Finance Executive Network Group, as well as turnaround specialists and memberships.
During your job search
When searching, do so methodically, covering the whole market. Keep an open mind, as jobs come up in the most surprising way.
As an interim, you must be prepared to advise a client during your interview that your services may not be suitable. People hiring interims are often in a state of panic and their view of what they want is blurred. Being honest and walking away from an opportunity is sometimes the right thing to do.
Finally, setting fees is really important. Fees are best set by comparing with fellow interims. Most will be happy to share their views. I set my rate at a level that I believe to be a fair, but will reduce it if the role adds to my CV – and I’ll increase my rate if I can get away with it. While you must stand firm on rates, the market has been weak and you also need to take this into account.
Starting the job; a few hints
You need to stay focused in the early days, for which I have three key rules:
1 – Within one week, set objectives and agree them with whomever you report to. As the job progresses, new objectives will appear and others become less important. Sharing these with your boss will ensure that he/she knows what you have understood and they can provide any changes needed.
2 – Although you may be tempted to let everyone know who you are and what you’ve done in your life, it is best to say very little and just listen at first. Your experience will become apparent as you progress through the assignment.
3 – Keep out of office politics but be sensitive to them. As an interim, it’s great that you have no need to be involved in the politics, but you need to be aware of the games going on. Your antennae and experience should enable you to identify the risk areas and avoid them.
My final piece of advice is simply to network and enjoy each role as an opportunity to meet new people and expand your skillset.
By Colin Hawkins
Keep in touch
We’d love to stay in touch, please register to receive topical insights and exclusive event invitations.