Interim measures: how to get ahead as temporary senior manager

The interim management industry provides an often hidden, but essential role supporting the UK economy. Interims are proven senior executives that can be deployed on a short-term basis to support an organisation during a period of change, transition or crisis.

Tom Legard, consultant and industrial manufacturing specialist at Odgers Interim, provides his advice to senior executives considering a career change from permanent to interim work.

What is motivating the move to interims?
Companies are using interims far more strategically and some of the challenges we see in the market – such reducing cost pressures, driving productivity, or supply chain transformation projects – all require specialist skills and experience to address properly. These requirements are opportunities for interims managers to come in for a temporary period, draw on their industry expertise and deliver the project or initiative.

A major shift in your mind-set will be required
The client will be turning to you as the expert. You will be expected to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. You and your experience are a valued product and business in your own right, meaning you need to take time to identify what makes you different from the rest of the market – your USPs – and learn how to sell yourself effectively to prospective clients.

Your track record counts
All industries require bespoke sets of skills and experience to navigate, but also an appreciation of the industry culture and what it takes to get a job done. That robust and evidence-based approach to recruitment should be reflected in your CV and interview style. In interim management, people often say that ‘you are only as good as your last job’. This puts further emphasis on making sure that you build, but also leverage your track record in industry.

A simplistic, but effective, technique is to structure your CV using bullet points to highlight experience on a ‘feature and benefit’ basis, that clearly signposts your experience and provides a clear record of achievements. Signposting your experience during interview and providing a clear record of achievements that are relevant to the role will help demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job.

Don’t forget creating strong connections
You can find yourself working closely with or reporting to a group of people on one project for anything from just a few months to a year or more. While the role might be relatively short term, you can’t forget the importance of building a good relationship with the business to be effective. You’ll rarely be operating alone, so make sure that you consider the chemistry you have with the interview team, but also have the right cultural fit with the business.

You will need to ‘hit the ground running’ on every assignment
More often than not, interims are appointed at short notice; whether they urgently need a position to be filled after a departure, or a new project has been rushed to the front of the queue and requires an expert to lead it. As such, you should expect the process to run quite quickly if you are shortlisted for a role and with little time between brief, interview and appointment. Therefore, you need use whatever time you get to research the role fully.

Making tough decisions will be expected
Interims are needed to make tough decisions, so a tough skin is required. Often, these are the decisions that the business might not want to make or can’t. It is your job to leverage your experience and insight to make the best decision for the business. Once your contract is up, you will have put your own mark on the company, but also left the relationship between management team and their employees intact.

It can be hard, but gratifying, not being an ‘employee’ anymore
Interim pay can be high compared to your permanent colleagues. However, the premium reflects the sometimes last-minute and sporadic nature of the work, the experience and skill set you bring to a client as well as compensating for the loss of benefits you would have enjoyed as a full-time employee. The career also brings with it new tax considerations. Interims work through their own limited companies and with this you’ll need to invest more time in managing your own finances and pay close attention to developments from HMRC.

You are only as good as your last assignment
The interim market can be a ‘small world’ so be aware that both CEOs and management will often speak to each other and talk about their experiences of working with an interim. It could be how they helped them out of a tight spot or of the great work that they did and this can work its way through the market. So remember, your reputation as an interim will precede you. Always stay professional, make sure you give each task your all and put your best foot forward every time.

You’ll need to think differently about your career
Interim work can be inconsistent. This transition from a permanent role to project-based work can be emotionally challenging and be difficult during the downtime between projects. Time and money need to be invested in networking and building your own contacts to secure future work. This needs to be a continual process. It is worth getting to know agencies that specialise in your sector, but also reach out to former colleagues, customers, competitors and suppliers.

Tom Legard is a consultant and industrial manufacturing specialist at Odgers Interim