Interim vs. Interim – Is now the time to consider a career as an interim executive?

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said that ‘in this world nothing is certain except death and taxes’ but if he was in the recruitment community I’m pretty sure he would have added ‘and the commonly perceived wisdom that the interim job market will return more quickly and more buoyantly than the permanent market’. Not such a snappy quote, perhaps, but you get the point.

Why does hiring an interim make more sense in a recession and for those people who sadly are currently unemployed, I’ll try and answer the question ‘Should I be thinking of an interim career, even if only for an interim period?’

If we are to believe all we hear on the news, the economic situation is bleak. This month it was announced that an extra 700,000 people have disappeared from the payroll of British companies since March when the coronavirus lockdown began. The furlough scheme unwinds over the next couple of months and will push the unemployment figure even higher.

But are there signs of life across the employment market? Our interim practices specifically had a strong August with regards to new mandates and interim placements. Although the fastest growth was in our interim finance practice, all our interim functional practices grew and in speaking to our key interims, many of them have seen an uptick in opportunities.

Leveraging interims to supercharge change

Our client base is broad both by sector and geography but what we have observed is that the strongest organisations are thinking about where their business will be in 6 months and what skills they require to help them get there. People in organisations are exhausted and have worked at a pace that is unsustainable moving forwards. They realise balancing the demands of what their job was pre-COVID and what it looks like now is impossible. So, interim support to help supercharge the change becomes a great solution. Hiring experienced interim executives with broad competencies honed across their entire career can play an important role in helping organisations adapt to a changing world.

We are also seeing come in to play the cost flexibility that using interim management offers. Many of the most experienced interim associates in our network have picked up assignments which flex up and down on a weekly basis, some weeks 3 days and others 5 days. They do not need onboarding as their way of working means they can land and make a difference quickly – we talk about the first 100 hours rather than the first 100 days being crucial for interims. Coupled with this, agreeing KPIs up front allows the interim to have a laser-like focus on the outcome required. The interim manager is cognizant of, but not involved in organisational politics, allowing them to tell the client what they ‘need’ to hear rather than what they ‘want’ to hear and this ultimately helps ensure interims deliver maximum value more quickly.

So, if the interim market is going to provide more opportunities, does it therefore follow that candidates in the market should consider interim as an option, even if they have a preference to continue their permanent career. The reality is that it is a very individual choice but here are some things to ponder when making that decision.

Three attributes of successful interims

Most successful interims have made a conscious career choice to pursue interim opportunities instead of permanent roles. There are many drivers behind this, but the most common reasons are related to lifestyle, to get a more diverse set of experiences or to avoid organisational politics. The best interims tend to be more action-oriented, have the ability to make ‘gut’ decisions and don’t have a particular need for organisational affiliation; remember even if you love the business you are working for, you will likely be leaving someone else to implement your actions. Many individuals I have spoken to who have tried interim for the first time talk of a sense of loss when they have to leave a business they’ve really loved. These elements need serious consideration if you are weighing up whether a career as an interim could be for you.

Secondly, interim executives get hired for what they can bring rather than for what they might learn – the ‘inch-wide, mile-deep’ experience. So, if you want to position yourself as interim then take the time to understand what your key skills might be. In a market where supply outstrips demand, one might think that broadening what you ‘could’ do will enhance your chances of success, but often it is the reverse. One of my experienced interims summed it up succinctly; “Does saying I can do everything mean I’m not perfect for anything?”

Thirdly, if you really want a permanent job and interim is a back-up plan only then I would advise focusing on the permanent market, or at least temp-to-perm options. Using precious time trying to make yourself ‘fit’ the interim market can damage your personal brand and could end up harming rather than helping.

And finally, if you are lucky enough to land an interim assignment, you must see it through to conclusion. At least twice a year I place someone who has told me that they are keen to explore interim opportunities into roles and they leave before the end of the assignment to take a permanent job elsewhere. Your word is your bond so if interim is ‘second choice’ do think carefully about whether you are happy to be out of the permanent market for a period of time.

In an ever-changing world, interim managers will have many more opportunities to help create the organisations of the future. AESC Research suggests that over 90% of organisations expect greater demand for interims post-COVID.

For the right individuals, moving into the interim market can be a rewarding, positive and permanent decision.

Paul McNamara

Partner
Head of Interim Human Resources Practice


Paul is a highly respected executive consultant with more than 15 years’ experience within Human Resources. He delivers senior level interim assignments across all HR disciplines and industry sectors, operating at daily rates typically between £600 – £2,000.