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Diane Morris

Interim Women


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So you want to be…an interim HR manager?


Professional women are increasingly opting to work as interim managers these days. 

In fact, the latest research from the Interim Management Association revealed that females were now undertaking 31% of all available assignments, up from only 24% in 2008.
So while the industry may still be a male-dominated one, it is clear that growing numbers of women are also embracing this life- and work-style choice too.
We recently surveyed 1,600 women who were working as interims in order to find out why they had gone down this route. A report entitled ‘Women in Interim Management – how to succeed, the opportunities and challenges’ was the result and its aim was to provide an insight into the realities of working in this way.
It emerged that the top drivers for becoming an interim were an interest in working for different clients in diverse industry sectors, the appeal of working for oneself and a desire to work more flexibly.
Another major attraction was the possibility of gaining new skills and experience from each new assignment. But even though interim managers command on average about £600 per day, most of the women said that money was not a major motivator.
Although around 45% of those questioned worked for three or more clients at the same time – and enjoyed the variety and challenges that this kind of ‘portfolio’ working offers – the number one challenge for everyone was securing and winning that first assignment.
The second big issue was networking and marketing themselves effectively in order to ensure that they won enough business, while the third was defining their professional offering clearly enough to clients.
The following case studies illustrate how two senior HR women successfully made the transition, however, and offer some insights into their experiences and lessons learned so far:
Interim HR director – Kathryn Riley
Kathryn Riley, who was formerly an HR director at a financial services company, has worked as an interim since 2000. She had decided to change careers in the mid-1990s and travelled to Thailand, where she set up a training centre.
On her return, however, she came across a recruitment consultancy for interim managers and decided that the approach would both suit her skills and provide her with the varied work and challenges that she craved.
Riley’s first assignment was with mobile phone operator, Orange, but since then, she has undertaken major projects with everyone from Network Rail and Novartis to Roche.

For instance, in the case of Network Rail, she was acting HR director and part of the bidding team that helped to take Railtrack out of administration in order to create the new organisation.

As one of the few interims employed by it, Riley also led a major cultural change programme, helping to facilitate senior leadership team-building events and implementing an employee engagement programme.
But she now combines interim work with a portfolio career. Riley has become a certified ‘ethicability’ facilitator, working with Professor Roger Steare, corporate philosopher in residence at the Cass Business School, on how to embed ethics and values into business.
She is also an ambassador for the charity Soldier On! While Riley gets huge enjoyment from working on an interim basis, she chooses to focus on areas that she is passionate about.
Interim HR specialist – Angela Sheen
Angela Sheen is an interim HR specialist who worked at NatWest Bank for 23 years before deciding to leave to become a small business advisor.
But, quite by chance, PricewaterhouseCoopers offered her an opportunity to travel to Minsk in Belarus to provide HR consultancy for an EU-funded project supporting the re-structuring of banks in emerging markets.
The EU insists that people working on such initiatives are not only knowledgeable in their specialist field but also experienced bankers. So she found that her fairly unique set of banking and HR qualifications, coupled with her wide-ranging experience at NatWest, opened up a whole new world for her.
Sheen loves the challenge involved in being an interim and, since becoming one, has gained additional HR qualifications – she is now a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and holds the British Psychological Society Level 2 qualification in occupational ability and personality test use.
But Sheen has also focused on developing her change management skills, which has opened up a wider range of assignments to her as an interim manager, consultant and trainer.
Her advice to women who are considering a career in interim management is to be flexible, ready to respond to challenges and to ensure that they keep their professional knowledge and qualifications up-to-date.
But they also need to be resilient and persuasive as there will be times when it is important to overcome objections and persuade senior leaders of the necessity of a particular course of action.
However, if individuals have confidence in their own abilities and expertise, Sheen believes that they will gain credibility over time and, ultimately, succeed.
Top tips for becoming an interim:
Here is some of the advice and practical tips from the women that we surveyed:
  • Consider all of your options and take your time in making a decision to become an interim
  • Talk to as many other interim managers as you can to get a good ‘feel’ for what the work is like
  • Consider what you have to offer and what you want from your career: What benefits would you bring to a client? What are your strengths? What are your requirements? Is there a market for what you have to offer?
  • Prepare a business plan
  • Meet and register with the main interim management recruitment agencies and ensure that you have a clearly-defined offer of the services that you bring to the table
  • Ensure that you have a financial cushion of at least a year’s outgoings before you take the plunge
  • Be clear in your own head that you can deal with the uncertainty of the work and cash flow issues – some people simply can’t and permanent employment is a better option for them
  • Apply for lots of credit before starting – sort out your mortgage and the like – because it will take two years to build up a credit rating again
  • Register for VAT before making any purchases
  • Ensure that you have a good network of contacts – join LinkedIn, for example – undertake targeted networking, and start spreading the word about your new role
  • You will need to be self-motivated and get on with the job of generating business, even though you may not always feel like it
  • Always present yourself as a complete professional
  • Be flexible and ready to learn new skills
  • Once you are sure interim management is what you want to do, stick at it and don’t give up!

Diane Morris is director of interim recruitment consultancy Russam GMS’ Interim Women business network.

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Diane Morris


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