If you’ve been checking out my twitter feed, you will know that I recently had the extraordinary pleasure of being awarded ‘UK Interim of the Year 2014’. Apart from abject surprise (I was in a shortlist of 20 accomplished nominees), followed by very real excitement (I won, I won!) it’s now back to reality. Still, I’ve spent the last few days thinking hard about what makes an interim.
I’ve been doing this now for almost 7 years, and while I’m always honoured if clients ask me to go permanent, interim is a deliberate choice. It gives me flexibility, the opportunity to work with multiple organisations and – assignments allowing – a fairly decent income bar the odd tax bill! However, it’s not for everyone, so if you are considering this as a career path, here’s my advice:
1. Look before you leap!
It can be tempting to think of interim as a ‘stop gap’ when facing redundancy, or a change of scene if you are bored with your current employment. Resist the urge! Interim Management is a well developed discipline and it’s not for dilettantes. It can be very rewarding, but it can also be demanding, demoralising and difficult. Career interims are used to having gaps between assignment, and while such breaks may be necessary – see my post ‘H is for Holiday’ – you need to be prepared to work hard to secure that elusive first assignment. And the second… and the one after that. You get the picture! You also need a sufficient financial cushion to allow for bench time, especially if you are trying to establish yourself.
2. Be in the know!
It’s worth talking to interim providers, and those in the know. Here in the UK, providers such as Alium Partners and industry bodies like the Institute of Interim Management (IMA) offer courses on how to market yourself and what to consider when becoming an interim. Remember, when you become self employed, you will need an accountant to help you navigate the IR35 legislation, you will most certainly need professional indemnity insurance, and you definitely need marketing or web expertise. Unless you are a super human with high capability in all these areas, you will have to invest in outside help. Getting your teenager to help you with twitter doesn’t count!
3. Expect the unexpected!
As an interim, the only constant is change. Be prepared for client briefs to be vague. For golden opportunities to be less than shiny close-up. For the assignment of your dreams to vanish because the sponsor leaves the organisation or they get bought by someone else who doesn’t see the need for interim. You will be expected to be problem solver, multi-tasker, and therapist on the Monday you start. Tuesday you will be expected to make and take the decisions that no one else wants to… Hours can be long and clients can be fractious. You will have to meet organisational resistance with persistence, stakeholder cynicism with compassion. And you will always need to know when to exit the building. I know, it’s sounding like the North Face already!
However, like many interims out there, for me the positive aspects almost always outweigh the negative. Being an interim means you can be an objective guide, helping management navigate knotty organisational problems. You bring experience of multiple organisations and specialist skills to companies who genuinely need your help. And you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a real difference.