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Interims: Try before you buy

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Interims at workAnne Beitel explains why being an interim manager is such an attractive offering to so many highly-skilled people, and provides insight into why they are increasingly willing to then take on permanent, employed positions.


A new pool of high quality executive talent has made itself available to the harassed recruitment director, as 57% of practicing interim managers now say that for the right role they could be persuaded to go permanent. And access to this group of overqualified, results focused, outspoken and highly sought-after individuals appears to be increasing.

For those who choose to step outside the confines of permanent employment, interim management offers a number of benefits for both the individual and the hiring organisation. It provides executives with variety in the workplace through the ability to work in a range of different companies. Furthermore, it offers an escape from corporate politics if a person has become weary of this.

“Interim management enables an organisation to recruit a person whose profile is an exact match to the organisation’s requirements.”

There is also an attractive financial proposition with potential earnings of up to £1,500 per day, or even higher for high-stakes assignments. The work also provides an interesting pattern of flexibility with some people making the decision to take some time off in between placements to pursue other interests.

The benefits to the organisation are equally well established. Interim management enables an organisation to recruit a person whose profile is an exact match to the organisation’s requirements for a particular project or time. The individual is also far more likely to deliver results in the very near term and will hit the ground running as their focus will be on the task in hand rather than integrating into the organisation to ensure personal success in the longer term.

Fast results

The speed at which the right interim manager can be identified and engaged is integral to ensuring that business operations run smoothly, as it can take up to six months to hire a permanent replacement for an executive role.

Interim managers enable companies to see results in weeks rather than months, which guarantees that little time is wasted and lost contribution is avoided. Both of which ultimately help to eliminate a potentially large financial burden on an organisation.

It is easy to see why some employees choose to leave the corporate world behind and become interim managers, but up until very recently it was a one-way street. Once somebody became an interim, they never went back to permanent employment. This characterisation was perpetuated by certain interim management providers who promised only ‘true interims’ to their clients, not executives who were new to it or would ever consider employment again.

However this trend appears to be changing as people are choosing different patterns for their careers. A study which Executives Online conducted back in 2004 showed that 67% of interims strongly intended to remain as such. By late 2007, this figure had shifted dramatically with 57% saying that they were open to permanent employment if the right role presented itself.

There are a number of reasons that explain why more people are considering entering permanent employment instead of remaining interim managers. Firstly, while these individuals are able to work on exciting projects during the interim period, it is only for a limited time, making it impossible to immerse oneself in a company.

“It is easy to see why some employees choose to leave the corporate world behind and become interim managers, but up until very recently it was a one-way street.”

There is also a very limited chance that an interim manager will be considered for promotion, making it very easy for someone to become pigeonholed in one particular role or level. In addition, there are usually no equity benefits such as stock options or the chance to participate in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) while working via an interim contract.

Unique opportunities

These unique career opportunities are what individuals are looking for when they choose to leave interim management and rejoin corporate life. Given the pace at which employees change jobs in some sectors, interims do not even distinguish between the two, pointing out that there is little difference between a two-year employed individual building a company up for flotation, and a long-term interim assignment doing the same thing.

A big challenge that companies frequently face when looking to convert an interim manager into a permanent employee is overcoming the prohibitive transfer fee levied by interim management companies that are keen to keep their interims ‘on the bench’, or barring that, extracting maximum value from their limited number of interim candidates.

This charge is common practice, making it financially impracticable for an organisation to acquire permanent employees initially engaged through an interim placement via certain providers. Essentially, interim personnel are prevented from making the move to permanent employment by their agencies’ client terms.

While the proponents for interim and permanent positions will continue to sing their respective praises, the important point to note is that they both have their place when used in the right circumstances.

Furthermore, it is important not to restrict the movement of these individuals between temporary and permanent placements through artificial fee structures, as the unique flexibility they offer an organisation provides added value. There are advantages to each type of employment for both the individual and the organisation and companies are discovering the benefits of having increased access to these highly-qualified individuals.


Anne Beitel is managing director of Executives Online.

6 Responses

  1. intent
    I agree with Tony there is a big difference (and the correlation hasn’t been tested) between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

    Intentions aren’t actions

  2. Clarifying Interim to Perm data
    Thanks Denis and Tony for your comments. Your observations about the benefits of working as an interim – variety, avoidance of politics and complacency, focus on results – very much echo what we heard from our interims in this research. As to this question of openness to a permanent role, what we heard really was a sea change in attitudes, not something that could be produced by a margin of error or interpretation. Among an audience of professional interims, two-thirds of whom had been practicing for more than 3 years (so not just bridging), who bill an average of £648 per day (so definitely not the £22K HR administrator) there was for the first time far more openness to the idea of opportunities which present themselves in the form of a permanent role rather than an interim assignment. We asked this question the same way in multiple prior research initiatives, and this year the answer was strikingly different. Our conclusion is that the rigid, classic definitions are becoming less relevant than they may have been in the past.

  3. When is an interim not an interim?
    I agree with Denis that there is a large difference between the person using an ‘interim’ appointment as a bridge between two permanent roles, and the professional interim.

    I also think that it is dangerous to over-interpret responses to questionnaires that ask questions such as “would you consider taking a permanent role if sufficiently interesting?” – or similar. The response depends so much on emotional factors and what the individual thinks might be an interesting alternative, appropriate remuneration being conjured with in the head, how you would be able to perform the work and so on.

    It is about as informative as asking the same question to the permanent role holder community.

  4. Truly Interim or merely Temporary?
    The phenomenon described above would seem to more accurately apply to those who are etween permanent jobs rather than filling a vacancy that exists between two finite points.

    The advantages of not being part of the permanent workforce is that one can work more objectively, and the inevitable political intrigues and job complacency are avoided. Add in the satisfaction of a job completed rather than being on a treadmill.

    The main disadvantages would be the lack of company benefits (sick pay, paid holidays) and the necessity to find new assignments.

    In my view the advantages tip the scale. the opportunity to work across a variety of sectors in different circumstances facing different issues is really developmental.

    Incidentally, there may need to be a more standard definition of “Interim”. An HR administrator position paying £22,000 p.a. should probably more accurately be termed “temporary” rather than “interim”, a fact that most job boards seem to overlook.

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