A-Z of Interim: S is for…Skills!

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What’s your particular interim superpower? Mine happens to be working with CEOs and their teams to help them navigate change successfully. Of course, I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider – so while some of this ability might be innate, my skill in this area comes from a combination of graft and experience – a.k.a. hard work and multiple client engagements over more than a decade!

Although I make my living from change, I also am in the process of changing countries – swapping home life in the UK for wedded bliss in Bruges, Belgium.  To help in this adjustment, I’ve spent the last 6 months formally studying Dutch.  I’m pleased to say that I’m now about 80% fluent (give or take the odd verb) but this prolonged period of self improvement has made me think deeply about keeping current as an interim.  Is it really necessary?

The short answer is ‘Yes’.

Clearly, there is no substitute for experience, but in today’s interim market, it’s wise to remember that ‘old ways, do not open new doors’.  Here are my top tips for staying skilful and staying ahead:

Be relevant.  Do your skills still matter in today’s gig economy? Are you au fait with developments in your industry or discipline?  Once on assignment, it can be hard to make time to bone up on the latest trends – but it’s vital if you need to keep up with more than the Kardashians.  I usually read the business section of a quality newspaper at least once a week, with a focus on the articles that relate to transformation and business change.  Another option is to attend conferences or industry events. And if you really are short on time, why not use your commute to listen to a TED talk or podcast which speaks to your area of expertise.

Be portable. Just because robots are taking over the world doesn’t mean the future workplace won’t need people with super-powers.  I’m not talking X-Ray vision here! However, if your skill set is limited to an industry with a shortening shelf-life, you might need to re-evaluate. Where best could you use your ability?  What do you do that could be applied elsewhere?  What value could different experience bring to a prospective new client? Wherever you are at, its important to package your know-how in a way that fits more than one square peg.

Invest. The best thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny.  The worst thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny!  If you are not investing in yourself, how are you adding value to your clients? Outdated ways of thinking and doing are not going to build your credibility as a proficient professional. So, spend the time to read. Spend the money to learn more. Spend the effort to sharpen your skills – it could be the difference between being left behind and leading the way in the interim olympics.

And finally…

Stay Curious. When I was young, I was interested in everything.  My biggest worry was that all the mysteries of the world would have been solved by the time I became a grown up. Obviously we still haven’t found the location of Atlantis, but we have found life on Mars,so maybe wanting to know isn’t such a bad strategy after all. The point is, ask questions, be interested in what’s going on around you. You might just learn more than you think you already know.

I’m curious!  What do you think the top skills are in today’s interim market?  Do you think it’s necessary to reinvent yourself every so often?  Answers on the blog, please!

A-Z of Interim: P is for…Personal Development

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September 2016. A leadership workshop. I was having severe second thought syndrome. What seemed like a really great idea when I was taking a break between assignments, wasn’t such hot stuff now that I had a demanding client and a burgeoning task-list. Can I actually afford to use a billable day for myself?  Why am I sitting here when there are multiple, more important work issues needing my time? I actually paid for this? 

Sound familiar?  I’ve often remarked that work as an interim means fast-paced days with relatively little opportunity for reflection. Personal development? Well, surely that’s for people with time on their hands. Erm, actually…no.

As an interim, you choose a path that means you are your own currency. So stay current! People buy you on the basis of your experience, but they also hire you on the value you can bring to the assignment. Trotting out tired ways of working and outmoded thinking no longer cuts it in today’s working world.  That sort of old-school behaviour went the same way as the old-boy network! The harsh reality is that you will need to stay on top of developments in your industry, role or specialism if you want to thrive commercially. You will, as the Buddhists say ‘be called on to expand’. So why not invest in yourself to extend your professional reach?

Here are the top 3 reasons why personal development isn’t optional:

  • Deepening your knowledge, honing your skills and building additional expertise makes you marketable in a way that breathes success, not stasis.  Standing still is going backwards!
  • Broadening your interests to related fields can bring an entirely new network into your orbit, and the opportunity to meet new clients. Widening your network pays dividends if you maximise time building new connections and maintaining existing ones. 
  • And finally…using your time wisely between assignments can give you an edge in interview – and also helps to prevent desperation from setting in, should you find yourself adrift in sluggish interim seas…

What do you think?  Is personal development an optional extra, or a wise investment of time? Answers on the blog, please.

 

 

A-Z of Interim: O is for…Opportunity

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It was all supposed to be going so swimmingly…

2016 brought a new assignment, a wedding (my own) and a cross-channel commute home. It also brought additional stress and a severe case of shingles as my immune system finally called time on the frenetic interim lifestyle.

I said ‘sayonara’ to the assignment.  November was spent lying in a darkened room channelling a look that was somewhere between The Terminator and a deranged raccoon on account of the red eyes and anti-itch powder. Not exactly client-facing!  

Fellow workaholics will realise that enforced bed rest is not my thing. Neither is being ill. But this was an entirely different matter. There was no option but to endure, and no way to see an upside. Upside-down more likely!  And yet…there is always an opportunity to learn from the circumstances you find yourself in.

Henry Ford said it best. ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’. As the meds kicked in and my convalescence wore on, I had ample opportunity to think.  Which is why I am spending the first quarter of 2017 acclimatising to a new culture (Belgium), learning a new language (Dutch) and looking to base my business (and my assignments) closer to home.

As interims, one of our superpowers has to be that we can craft opportunity out of a piece of string and some sticky tape. That’s called change management.  Being flexible and open to changing circumstances means we can course correct when we need to. That’s called being entrepreneurial. And finally…knowing when to pause and when to act. Well, that’s commonly known as having Plan B. 

How do you define opportunity?  How do you deal with failure?  Answers and comments via the blog, please…

N is for…New Year’s Resolutions

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If you are one of the estimated 2 million people who participated in Dry January, you are probably relieved that we are well into the New Year and that you can begin quaffing once more. If you are an interim still looking for an assignment, perhaps there is not so much good cheer as there is fear that a sluggish market means you never work again.

Personally, I find the New Year a really good time for professional reflection. My own ‘new’ year usually starts in December – as that is the time that I’m wrapping up projects, and setting financial goals and business resolutions for the 12 months ahead.  So far, so good…except that this time round, pressing personal commitments meant December and January were a write-off, and I was unable to kick-start my grand plans for 2016.

Which is why I find myself in February contemplating my working life and feeling somewhat as though I’m several steps behind. Of course, moaning about it, isn’t going to propel me forward any faster. So, below is a taster of the action I’m taking.  I hope this inspires those of you who might also be experiencing the February funk:

Goal Clarity. I’m using this time to be really clear on my goals for 2016. As a career interim, I’m pretty well established, but it’s still helpful to know where I want to go. I’ve set myself an earnings target (see my previous post M is for Money ), and some non-negotiables – i.e. location, type of role, working patterns, etc. This way, I can easily evaluate any opportunities which arise – saying  ‘yes’ to the ones that are a good fit, and saying’no’ with confidence, but without regret to those that don’t.

Networking. Also known as getting out and about!  I am a great believer that networking should be a compulsory subject in high school, but for those of us who only learnt this business skill later in life, here’s the word: never underestimate the power of a good conversation. If you have been in regular contact with your interim providers or former clients, then this shouldn’t be that hard a task.  But if you are stepping into an interim role for the first time, it can be a bit daunting. Please resist your introvert urges to hide under the duvet! Reach out to providers and people in your network, attend industry events. Talk, ask questions. Be open and approachable – assignments can be found if you tackle your search in the right way.

Brand coherence.  Think you are a person and not a brand?  Think again. Clients who buy interims purchase more than what’s on your CV.  You want that fabulous shiny new assignment?  Then walk your talk and be the person they want to hire. This month, I’m using my time to refresh my website, update my blog and make sure that my social media profiles (linked-in, twitter , about.me) not only reflect who I am professionally, but also why clients should engage my services.

Action is the antidote to despair. Focused activity might not help you find an assignment immediately, but consistency of momentum has a funny way of generating luck.

Have you made any professional resolutions this year?  How do you deal with downtime? Comments and answers on the blog, please.

K is for…KLOUT

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Do you have Klout?   And no, I’m not referring to that meeting where you went 6 rounds with a particularly difficult CEO.  As regular readers of this blog will know, the 21st century Interim has a good grasp of all things social media. So, once you’ve mastered the basics of Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook, it’s time to get really serious about your online presence.

Founded in 2008, KLOUT is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank it’s users according to their online social influence. Eh? Social Media Analytics?  Yes people, that’s the technical term for the practice of gathering and analyzing the data from those clever algorithms which power search engines like Google. It’s most commonly used by brands to identify customer preference, in order to find out what they like, and then sell more stuff!

Klout uses analytics to measure the size of a user’s social media network.  A social ‘aggregator’, it works by correlating the content created and measuring how other users interact with that content. In other words, how influential you are online. Your ‘Klout Score’ is a number from 1 to 100. In case you think this isn’t really important, here are some other numbers:

  • Over 200,000 businesses use Klout across the globe
  • Each day Klout analyses around 12 billion social signals
  • There are over 620 million ‘scored’ users. That’s the population of China’s top 15 cities!

Klout is rapidly becoming the global standard by which both brands and individuals measure their social influence. So how does this relate to being an interim?  Well, every time you post on Linked-In, enter a search term in Google or tweet, you are creating social media content.  So far, so Google+…However, it’s not just your contribution to social media that matters – increasingly your influence – i.e. your Klout Score – is an important factor in your job search. Creating and sharing content is a means of marketing your brand as an interim.  But, by providing useful content you are effectively increasing your visibility and establishing thought leadership.  And engaging with your online network can put you front of the queue when opportunity comes knocking!

For example, my Klout scores indicate that I am in the top 1.0% of people talking about Consulting, the top 0.2% of people mentioning Management, and the top 1.2% of people whose topic du jour is Leadership.  As an interim specializing in Transformation, it’s important that I’m seen as an expert in the fields that matter.  The app also lets me see which of my tweets and blogs have garnered the most interactions, so I can keep track of the content that is genuinely connecting with people in my network.

Savvy companies are also actively using social media as a means to vet potential candidates. Yes, now really is the time to unfriend your former client on Facebook and restrict all professional connections to Linked-In!   Of course, an arbitrary number isn’t necessarily going to indicate whether you are worthier than another person with similar skills and background, but it can give you the edge.  In life and in business, we all want to know whether the people we interact with (and their digital persona) are credible and can be trusted.

As with all internet based tools, the decision whether to use Klout is entirely up to you. I find it useful, but I’d love to know what you think?  Comments on the blog, please.

J is for…Jobhunt

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Being an interim has definitely got it’s perks, but there is one inevitable aspect of this lifestyle choice that must be addressed. Job hunting. Unlike those colleagues who reside in the world of permanent work, interims often find themselves in one of two modes: 1) Working like a whirling dervish to deliver on assignment…or …2) not working, but actively looking for the next assignment so you can deliver like a whirling dervish…

Realistically, you should expect to have anything between 3 and 5 months as down time between interim assignments. Of course, if you’ve been following this series you will know that building and maintaining good client relationships is vital if you are to maximise your income potential and avoid prolonged periods on the bench.

In spite of this, there may well be times when the transition from one project to another is protracted and serious searching becomes the requirement if you are to keep yourself in beer money.  Here are my top tips:

1. Job-hunting is a job!  You wouldn’t dream of showing up late to a client meeting wearing inappropriate clothing. Just because you’re back at home, there is no excuse to show up late to your laptop wearing pyjamas!  Schedule time to job-hunt.  Decide up-front how much you want to invest in the process, diarise it, and stick to it.  It’s far too easy to get distracted by the laundry or the gardening or Candy Crush..that way madness lies!

A sensible rule of thumb is to set aside 4 hours, 3 days per week.   This gives you a spare 2 days to schedule meetings or interviews, and sufficient time to make calls, adjust your CV and reach out to your network via email. Of course, if another pattern works for you, then do that!

2. Focus your efforts.  A week flies by, especially if you are waiting to find the next piece of work. As time goes on without a contract in the offing, you might increasingly feel pressure to find something, anything.  It’s tempting to want to pursue every opportunity you spot, but being discerning pays dividends. Ernest Hemingway urged us ‘never to mistake motion for action’ and he’s right – just because you are doing lots of things, doesn’t mean they are the right things.

Focused activity will yield results, but you must be very clear on what you are looking for, and what you will say yes to.  If Enterprise Architecture is your bag, for goodness sake stop applying for jobs as a sous chef! Same things goes for blanket bombing your CV to every interim provider in town.  You are a professional interim, not a mailshot. Target your search and build strong relationships with a small number of providers who operate in your field. And be realistic. A very small percentage of the job market for interims is advertised.  Using your personal and business network wisely can be a good way to be in the know when the right thing comes along.

3. Practice intense self care. Desperation isn’t a good look on anyone. Extended periods of unemployment can make you feel undervalued and underconfident, so it’s important that you build in ‘me-time’ when you are job searching. Repeated rejection is demoralising, and you need to be strong of mind and heart to persist – and ultimately – to secure the next piece of work.   A good support network helps, but using the additional time  to do something fun can lift your spirits, help you maintain equilibrium, and make you appear more rounded in interviews. Personally, I relish my down time – in my 7 years as an interim, I’ve been able to renovate a crumbling wreck, pursue my creative hobbies (printmaking and pottery) and begin training for a 10k race.  My running ability is totally remedial but at least it gets the blood flowing to my brain while I’m pounding the pavement!

Job hunting can be tough, but it needn’t be tiresome. How do you do it?  I’d love to know what your top tips are.  Answers on the blog please!

Lisa Bondesio is a career interim. She She delivers common sense and change consultancy to clients in times of transition. When she is not working she can be found on the coastal reaches swinging a sledgehammer!

I is for…Interim

© Vlue | Dreamstime.com - Rubiks Cube On Open Book PhotoIf 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.