Ten traits of a good interim: How you can display them – and how an employer can spot them

Stephen Tarrant, Partner in Interim Management, CFO & Finance at Eton Bridge Partners, offers a fascinating insight into the way interim managers look for new opportunities and how they should position themselves in the interview process and beyond. His observations also act as a guide to organisations on the lookout for individuals who represent a valuable interim fit.

There are several reasons why good interims are offered a regular stream of opportunities – and why career interim managers are often asked to return to the same company several times.

These can be codified in a set of attitudes and behaviours that mark out interims who become valuable assets to the organisations they serve.

I would suggest that there are ten traits that good interims exemplify – and it starts during the interview process…

1/ Be clear about what you are offering

Unlike a candidate in the running for a permanent role, you are not being interviewed as an individual. You are representing yourself as a business and the service you provide. This should not feel like a job interview; it is a business discussion.

You are not meeting the client to answer competency-based questions. Instead, you should be finding out what the client’s specific needs are, and what issues they have that requires a solution that your business can provide. When you talk about previous roles and situations, make sure they are entirely relevant to the company, the sector and the particular challenge at hand.

2/ Never, ever mention a desire to be permanent

Sometimes the interview is going well, your guard comes down and mentally, you put your feet on the desk – and drop the ball. You say you like the feel of the company so much you could be tempted by a permanent role. As we’ve established already, the company is not looking for a permanent member of staff – they have a need for a particular solution to a particular problem.

3/ Be passionate about life as an interim

This follows on from the previous trait. Explain why you like the rhythm of life as an interim and the satisfaction of solving fresh challenges on a regular basis. It should be a given that you also need to show passion for the work you are going to do.

4/ Put the client first

A poor interim will spread the work out over the course of their appointment. A good interim tries to find ways in which it can be done more efficiently. If you are told you have six months to deliver a project costing £300,000 but realise you can do it in half the time at half the price, say so.

Yes, it can be tempting to pad things out. But if you have the client’s interests at heart, you will be brought back in, be highly recommended and get more assignments – for more money.

5/ Have a long list of questions

An interim manager will want to know about the issues the client faces in forensic detail. By the end of day one on an assignment an interim should be able to have answered many of their own initial questions such as: “What is the company’s cash flow like, where are the burning platforms, what is the relationship like with the bank, auditors & other external relationships?” By the end of their first week they should be giving the client a detailed plan for the coming months.

6/ Provide feedback to the client

On a regular basis, you should communicate in detail what you’ve delivered and the targets you’ve achieved. This reminds the client – and you – that you are there to provide a service and you can demonstrate what you have accomplished.

7/ Don’t be boastful

When talking about your role and your contribution to a client, don’t claim independent credit for too much. A good interim would phrase it as: “We saw a way to save this much money.” Rather than “I saved them this much money.”

8/ Be flexible and align yourself to the client

Interims can sometimes start off on the wrong foot by saying they can’t work this day or that day. For a client, the interim has to be a happy, smooth option that makes life easier for them and their business.

9/ Don’t dodge the politics

It’s easy to say life’s too short to get involved in the internal office wrangling. But a good interim will place themselves right at the heart of the business in question – and that means understanding in detail how the place works and the people within it.

10/ Leave a good legacy

I’ve heard interims boasting that everything fell apart after they left – but this is nothing to be proud of.  A good interim changes a business and its culture for the better, leaving a legacy behind having given them the tools to be self-sufficient.

Being an interim is a challenging yet rewarding career. You will use your skills to really make a difference.

If I can be of any help with growing your interim business, please let me know. 

Stephen Tarrant

Partner
Interim Management
CFO & Finance


Stephen is responsible for interim management appointments across the UK and Europe. His client base is a mixture of Blue Chip and high growth PE backed businesses.