While permanent contracts are still dominant in business, in a disrupted environment, interim executives are an indispensable resource for organisations seeking to adapt and change. They bring with them a specific set of skills and experiences, and offer significant expertise and agility.

Interim executives have been used successfully across all industries at group and divisional level in public, private and family businesses, as well as public sector organisations and across all job functions throughout the UK and globally.

We explore the world of the interim executive; what it takes to be successful as an interim and the benefits they offer to for organisations. We look at the journey to becoming an interim and consider how you can maximise your opportunities. We also look at the process of hiring an interim for your organisation and how you can make the most of your investment.

What is an interim executive?

“Interim management is the provision of effective business solutions by an independent, board or near-board level manager or executive, over a finite time span. Such complex solutions may include change, transformation and turnaround management, business improvement, crisis management and strategy development. Interim managers are often experienced in multiple sectors and disciplines.” “Guide to interim management”, Institute of Interim Management (IIM)

Interim executives are commissioned at a senior level on an assignment basis and take full line or project responsibility from day one, reporting directly to their client organisation. The average assignment is intense, usually lasting between six and twelve months, five days per week. Therefore, to be immediately effective, interim executives must be overqualified for the role, with a strong, proven track record and competencies that match the needs of the job in hand.

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Interim executives are not to be confused with someone working on a temporary or non-permanent contract basis – in fact, the difference is clear. The term “interim management” is sometimes wrongly used to describe middle and lower management short-term contract roles. However, these managers can lack the authority to bring about significant change; they are usually brought in to “hold the fort” during planned periods of absence, to provide extra resource at peak load times or to carry out a narrowly defined project. They require direct management time, whereas an interim executive does not - they will manage the situation and deliver a transition or change if required.

Additionally, interim management is not “try-and-buy” recruitment. Maintaining objectivity is critical to the success of an assignment and, so, a correctly selected, overqualified interim executive would typically refuse a full-time position. An interim contract can be “bought-out” for an agreed fee to maintain the interim on site for a longer period, but there are always very clear and defined objectives for doing so.

What does “good” look like?

The IIM identifies seven “hallmarks” of interim executives, which differentiate them from other types of temporary employees and make them unique within the workplace environment:

The key characteristic of a first-rate interim executive is that they are overqualified for the job and highly experienced – the quality and extent of their skillset should be more sophisticated than any full-time position would normally demand. An interim executive will also have core specialist skills – these make up their unique selling point (USP). After all, they are their business; they are the service they sell. For a good interim, it’s their skills that truly matter, not their specific sector experience.

Often, an interim arrives when the situation has become critical and after others may have already tried and failed. To make an impact from the start, they don’t have time to settle in and learn the ropes; they must be independent and hit the ground running. In any case, they are not looking to further their career, but to capitalise on their knowledge and capabilities - and their reputation is dependent upon a continuing string of successful assignments.

Whatever position they occupy, an interim executive is entirely focused on outcomes. Since they are paid by the day, they need to be able to consistently answer yes to the question: “Did I add value today?”

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What are the benefits?

Interim managers can take the lead on vital projects that may be outside the skillset of the business’s permanent employees.

Speed and agility

Interim managers can parachute into an organisation and start making an impact straight away. This approach means that urgent projects can be tackled quickly. Interim managers are well-versed in stakeholder management and relationship building and used to adapting to different company cultures, allowing them to easily navigate the business to make quick decisions. Furthermore, interims have the capability to adapt and flex to meet new challenges as they occur; they are rarely daunted.

Cost flexibility

An interim manager can command rates of up to £2,000 a day, depending on the sector, the application involved and the level of experience required, as well as the length and duration of the assignment. At first glance, this can seem like a huge sum. However, hiring a full-time employee entails other hidden costs – for instance, holiday pay, and pension and NI contributions. An interim manager is only paid for the days they work, with no additional costs. This means that businesses can acquire resources as and when they need them, rather than employing permanent members of staff.

A boost to innovation

With significant practical experience and a proven track record, interim managers bring a different perspective to proceedings – and their view has gravity. Interims can introduce measures and execute plans that perhaps the permanent team might have shied away from.

A lasting legacy

During their assignment, most interim managers will spend time mentoring and coaching internal teams to ensure a smooth transition after the contract ends. A good interim manager will leave behind a series of transferable skills which will strengthen the internal capabilities of the organisation.

How can you become an interim executive?

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Working as an interim manager is not easy. Professional interims are only as good as their last assignment. Your reputation depends on a succession of good, enduring results – so there is a constant pressure to perform. The focus is always about delivering value, knowledge and a real legacy. For many people, it’s the perfect job. But how do you make the move into interim management?

Most business is conducted through known and trusted relationships. A report by the IIM found: “Most assignments are not advertised, a trend which has been well established with the growth of social media and sites such as LinkedIn. Being ‘easy to find’ is much more important than being good at ‘applying’ to vacancies.”

Therefore, building relationships is the key to success. It’s crucial to think carefully about how you market yourself, to showcase your skillset and USP. What do you want to be known for?

If you decide to seek work through an interim service provider (ISP), you should spend time researching your market to find the ISPs best suited to your needs. A good approach is to be referred or recommended to a provider, as these organisations will generally only work with interims that they know and trust. Once you have engaged with several ISPs, networking and maintaining the relationship are key – after all, the perfect placement is unlikely to simply land in your lap. You should agree on how you will remain in touch and keep the provider updated on your availability.

Once a potential assignment has been found, you will often have to decide on whether to take it or not quite quickly. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some time to think carefully about the offer. There should be a significant emphasis on culture and fit – both you and the client organisation need to be a good match, to achieve a positive result. If you think you won’t be able to succeed in the role – for instance, because the organisation is closed-off to change, or the management team is dysfunctional – then it’s probably not a good idea to pursue the opportunity further.

The IIM identifies four important areas to pay attention to, to succeed as an interim manager:

Being found on LinkedIn

  • Build a connected network
  • Be clearly available for assignment (if you are)
  • Have flexible contact settings
  • The key message: be contactable

The number of interim service providers to contact

  • Be appropriately selective
  • The average number of active interim relationships (from 2017 data) is seven

Provider contact

  • Use email in the first instance, then phone thereafter
  • Most providers like to be updated every quarter or every couple of months

CVs and customisation

  • 3 pages is the most popular CV length for interim managers
  • Start with a longer version of your CV and cut it back

Source: Interim Management Survey 2018

Practical matters - making the transition to interim

Being an interim manager can be a hugely fulfilling role, but there are several important factors to consider.

Have you built up a good network during your career?

People who have worked hard at maintaining genuine relationships with both colleagues and recruiters will have a much better chance at finding successful interim work, and don’t neglect the advisors who have supported your business in the past, like lawyers, bankers and management consultants.

Have you used all the tools available to you?

Make sure your CV reflects the key skills you can offer a client, and contains the necessary details to demonstrate your experience, with emphasis on your achievements and the various projects you have worked on. Your LinkedIn page should be up to date with a photo, good recommendations and finish dates for your most recent job. Let recruiters and clients know that you are available now.

Are you prepared to be an interim manager?

Get yourself ready before you begin looking for jobs: have a financial safety net, familiarise yourself with limited companies, indemnity insurance and VAT registration, and IR35 regulations.

Do you have a good relationship with the right recruiter?

A company with a specialist interim management capability will not only be better at finding you quality interim opportunities, but will also be able to support you during your assignment in terms of providing advice or extra team members, to ensure success.

Do you know what you can offer?

Appreciate what it is you provide that no one else can. It may take one or two assignments to truly know what value you can add, but identifying exactly what your niche skills are will make it easier to be confident and challenge the status quo constructively.

Do you understand what it means to be an interim manager?

Interim managers must be highly proactive, adaptable, self-sufficient and possess a lack of ego and status. An interim manager who can fact-find independently and work autonomously is invaluable.

Interims will need to be comfortable with risk and lulls between jobs, both financially and mentally. Interim management is a career, not merely a stop-gap between other jobs, and needs to be started at the right time – only once you’ve developed your own management skills to a high level. If you have these skills and know how to build on them, then being an interim can be a hugely rewarding career.

Hiring an interim manager

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The hiring process

Selecting the right interim manager to meet your business requirements is key. We’ve broken the hiring process down into five steps:

1. Build the business case

Once you have identified a need for an interim manager, whether it is to lead a change or transition, to act as a bridge between permanents, or to get a failing project back on track, you will need to establish a strong business case with clear objectives and outcomes. This will help you to get all stakeholders on board and determine the skill set you require

2. Determine your ideal candidate

If you are looking for an interim manager to help implement a new system, you will need someone who has successfully implemented something similar in another organisation. If you require an interim manager to lead on a business transformation, your ideal candidate will be well-versed in leading organisations through similar change programmes.

3. Recruit

Typically there are two options for recruiting an interim manager. You may reach out to interims directly through LinkedIn or your own personal network, or you may decide to enlist the help of a specialist interim agency.

While LinkedIn can be a great resource, specialist interim agencies are often better able to guarantee both quality and choice. An agency will have access to a wide pool of cross-functional experienced executives, all of which will have been met or vetted. If you do choose to reach out to an agency, make sure you choose one that understands your specific requirements and goals.

4. Agree key objectives and set clear expectations

The objectives and expectations should be agreed at the outset of the assignment. This should form the basis of a statement of work that should be adhered to at all times.

5. Communicate plans to your employees

Support from employees will play an important role in enabling the interim to deliver the desired outcomes. Once you have committed to bringing an interim on board, make sure you communicate your plans to staff. Make sure they know why the interim has been hired and the outcomes they have been brought in to deliver.

Tips for hiring success

  • If you do decide to use an agency to assist with recruitment, the Institute of Interim Management’s list of approved suppliers is a good place to start.
  • Be realistic when setting timescales. A good interim will be honest if the proposed timescales are unachievable.
  • When agreeing on a rate, consider how the interim will add value to your organisation, rather than allowing the salary of a similar permanent employee to dictate it.
  • Have everything in place to allow the interim to get started from the moment the assignment begins. Inform the team and have information ready that allows them to get going right away.
  • Meet regularly with the interim throughout the assignment to discuss progress. It will benefit you to stay up-to-date with key milestones.
  • When the assignment comes to an end, make sure there is an exit plan in place that allows them to leave a legacy that the team can build upon.


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