8 Things that are different when you employ an interim

If you or your company have only ever employed permanent staff then bringing a professional interim into the mix is likely to throw up some different challenges.

As someone who works as an interim manager and who has employed interims I thought it might be an idea to put forward some thoughts on what the business needs to do differently.

Thing 1 – before you start. Often when you employ a permanent member of staff you are simply looking to swap like for like. With an interim that is likely to be different.

It may be that you have a specific issue that you need to solve, a project that you want managed or need to backfill for some planned or unplanned absence.

Whatever the issue is you need to have a clear vision about what it is you want and what skills the person needs to bring with them. You’ll need to be realistic about a budget and you’ll need to find somewhere to source great talent.

Answer these questions before you start; What issue are they expected to be able to solve? How long will it take? What skills will they need? What resources will be available in-house to help them achieve?

Once you have a clear sight of what you need then you need to find the talent.

Thing 2 – where they hang out.

Finding your interim talent is likely to be different too, especially if you want the best.

Here’s a thing, with permanent people you can’t really ring someone in a different company and ask if they have someone great you can poach, but with an interim you can call your contacts and ask if they know of anyone with the skills you are looking for. This is absolutely the best way to source great interim talent because you’ll have a recommendations from someone you trust who has worked with the person in the past.

You can of course go down the traditional recruitment agency route which is probably the easiest and least time consuming method but also try and think outside that particular box.

If you need someone with a particular set of skills then check out groups related to that interest on Linkedin. You can find great talent lurking and commenting so a well placed post can pay dividends here.

Thing 3 – the interview.

Please please don’t try and interview a professional interim in the same way as you would a permanent hire.

We’re different people and our methods and experiences are probably totally at odds.

To give you an example I once went for a job and had to spend 40 minutes explaining why I’d had a lot of jobs! The hiring manager had simply not got his head around the fact that people can choose interim work as a profession rather than because they have to.

Your questions need to be much more skill and outcome based rather than exploring where the person wants to get to or what their outside interests are.

Also remember that the interim is interviewing you. They are looking at how cool the place is to work for,whether you get the idea of interim work and whether the project is achievable. You need to be on your game because the likelihood is that they have been on more of these meetings than you have and they will be assessing the quality of the company they may end up working at.

Also make the interview process a short and sweet one. Don;t go expecting to do two rounds of interviews, followed by a cod psychological test and a final meeting with a selection board. You’ll get blown out of the water long before then by anyone good.

Incidentally great interims move in and out of the market with some speed so you need to make up your mind quickly.When you have chosen the person then get to the offer and don’t go away on holiday because you can bet they won’t be there when you get back.

Thing 4 – the deal.

There may be things about the role that the interim wants to be different so be prepared to be flexible. Job titles matter to people who send their CVs to a lot of places so they may ask to change this. It may be that they have other interests such as part-time clients or charity work that they want to pursue so will you may need to be flexible around the working hours or days.

In terms of money then you’ll need to be paying market rate. Trust me when I say that the adage ‘pay peanuts and get monkeys’ was never more true than here. People find their level in the contractor market and highly experienced, well qualified and successful candidates will cost you more than someone just starting out. You may want to structure a project with a completion bonus or for contractors working away from home pay expenses.

Thing 5 – Day 1.

Specialists that move from place to place are used to getting in, learning the company quickly and becoming productive much sooner.

Make sure that you have people for them to meet from day 1 so they can get up to speed. Arrange for resources to be available so they can find out about the company, the issue they are trying to solve and the people they will be working with.

Also sort out the simple stuff. Get a workstation for them, log ins and email addresses and make sure that they have licences for the software they will need. One of my clients took 10 days to get me a log in to their system. Remember that interims are expensive so for those 10 days that client was getting less effective work from me than they should have been.

Thing 6 – managing.

I’ve worked with all sorts of managers. From some who think they need to check everything I’ve done to others who have been totally absent.

It’s likely that your interim will need a catch up meeting every so often but will probably be more fire and forget so you won’t need to closely check their work. You are bringing in top talent after all so the emphasis will be more on arms length guidance rather than day to day management.
It’s always good to set up a regular call or update session just to keep a weather eye but other than that they will probably be self-sufficient.

Thing 7 end of contract.

So you had a great time, the project is over and you are happy with how it all went. What now?

Well you need to decide whether you have any other work and if you think the person will be suitable. If so then make an offer to extend early on. Great interims will be making plans for end of contract so they will have factored in some time out, a holiday or will be lining up their next gig. You need to make your pitch early to make sure you retain them.

If you don’t have work then tell them as soon as you know. It’s surprising how many managers think that the interim will get upset but actually it’s the opposite. Having certainty on the end date is helpful because it allows everyone to plan a structured exit and make sure everything is in order and the interim is able to plan their holiday.

Thing 8 – after the contract.

It’s not very nice when a permanent person leaves. It is a visible confirmation that they weren’t happy with their job, their manager, the company or all of the above! So it’s difficult to go back to where you once worked or to employ someone who has left in the past.

When an interim leaves it’s merely the logical conclusion to successful contract. Make sure you don’t lose contact though because the likelihood is that you’ll have another project along sooner rather than later that you could engage them for.

Similarly be a kind person. The interim lives or dies by their reputation so make sure you write a recommendation for them on platforms like linkedin and if any of your contacts needs someone then be sure to pass on the name of the great person you found.

Interims are a fantastic resource for companies looking to add talent and capacity to their company on a flexible basis. They can make a massive difference so make sure you get the best out of yours by following these tips and if you have any of your own then be sure to comment.

Giving away the trade secrets – 7 things you need to know as an interim

Being an interim isn't just like having a permanent job for a short while - there's a whole set of skills and behaviours to learn and adopt

If you are thinking about becoming an interim manager then you need to attack it like owning a business. After all that's exactly what you will be doing.

Sure you won't have stock on the shelves or a load of employees working in a factory. In fact most of the time it will just be you on your lonesome doing what you do. But it's a business nonetheless and you'll need to get up to speed with real world skills sooner rather than later.

I've been an interim manager for almost two decades now and I've learnt a few things along the way.

In the early days it was by trial and error and stealing a few tricks from the other interims I met. It was hard going but it worked and now I'm passing on some more of the trade secrets so that future interim managers can get a head start.

Now this isn't a complete list and it's not in any particular order (although it's roughly in chronological order) but it will give you a good start on your journey. 

  1. understand yourself - before you even think about taking an interim role you need to be brutally honest about your own personality. If you hate uncertainty, hate change and get worried by financial instability then you are going to struggle. Most of the time I have been unemployed on Monday and working the week after and at the end of the contract I've not been certain I'm going to finish until I'm walking out of the door*. If you think you won't be able to handle that kind of uncertainty then don't even try the interim lifestyle.
  2. learn the company quick - as an interim you are there to do a job so you don't get the luxury of spending the next three months finding out about the business. In fact in one company I worked for there was an accountant who'd been there 5 years and hadn't bothered to speak to any of the operations people.** You need to get in,understand what the company does, how it does it and what makes it tick. It doesn't really matter what you are doing whether it be statutory accounts, management accounting or a systems project, that deep understanding of what is important will make your work so much easier and of infinitely better quality.
  3. lose the attitude - nobody cares that you were like a god at the last place you worked. Nobody cares that you were at one of the big practices and nobody cares that you knew Oracle backwards in your last role. All they care about is that you can do the job and do it well. This can be great if you were a dick at the last place you worked because you can reinvent yourself but it can be a bit of a pain if you are a lovely lovely person (like me***) because you have to prove yourself all over again. I love that. See point 1.
  4. learn to ask smart stupid questions - Part of this comes from point 1 and 3. You have to not worry about asking basic questions and you have to learn the company quickly. So you need to ask what look like stupid questions that are actually pin point accurate in terms of what the company does, how it does it and what is important. Similarly you need to be able to ask why people do what they do in a non-threatening way. Check out six sigma and the way it reduces waste for an example. I guarantee that most finance teams produce at least one report that takes ages, has a deadline and that nobody reads.
  5. find the guru - there's always one. The guru may well not be in a high position in the company (in fact they probably won't be) but they will know everything because they've been there years. More importantly they will be able to give you accurate answers to your smart stupid questions without bias. Buy this person coffee and cake regularly because they will save you time and headaches.
  6. track your progress and publicise your results - really really important for people who are working on a change project. So can you remember the last time you had toothache? It really hurt a lot didn't it? But now you think it wasn't so bad. Humans are great at re-writing the past. So your commissioning manager will have a massive pain point that is causing them sleepless nights and the moment you fix it they will begin to forget how bad the pain actually was. Make sure you write up an 'as is' report at the start of the project and then report on all of your successes as you go along . Do it cumulatively so that by the end of the gig your manager has a clear sight of just how bad it was and what a difference you have made. Marketing is everything.
  7. manage upwards - we've probably all been in a job where we have a demanding manager who doesn't understand how difficult or risky a job is. Or we have a boss who won't sign stuff off, misses meetings, doesn't communicate etc. Well I'm afraid that as an interim part of your job is to make sure things get done and not have a cry in the toilets if your guvner hasn't authorised everyone's timesheets. Learning to manage upwards is one of the key skill you need to get in place. It's so important that I may even write another blog piece on it!

If you are an interim or if you are thinking of becoming one then I hope this has been of some help.

If you are an experienced interim and have other points you think are useful then please do comment. Be aware that I may steal you ideas though!


*I was once given a card by my team on the day I was due to leave and then immediately approached by an FD of another company in the group who asked if he could have a quick word. It led to another three months at the same company working for a different boss.

** This goes to point 1. You need to be a pretty outgoing person as an interim and not lock yourself away in an office and not speak to people.

*** and modest too!