Interim management: the thrill of the ride

An increasing number of HR professionals are taking up an interim career - some as a response to redundancy or the scarcity of full-time positions, but many for the flexibility and challenge it offers. Nick Martindale reports.

When HR director Sharon Willis was offered voluntary redundancy by her previous employer in 2007, she decided to make the switch to working as an interim HR consultant. "I'd always said that at some point I was going to move out of permanent corporate life to give myself the flexibility to have more of a portfolio career," she says.

Since early 2008, Willis has worked for Co-Operative Financial Services (CFS) on four different assignments, and says the rewarding mix of flexibility, variety of work and the short-term focus of project work means she is unlikely to revert to a permanent role. "It works well because I'm very delivery-focused," she says. "Every day I like to ask if I've earned the fee. In corporate life, you don't think like that."

Another who made the switch to a freelance career is Mark Edwards, who trades under the name Co-Create. "I wanted to focus on the things I'm very good at and can add value on rather than being a jack of all trades," he says. "I have a greater sense of achievement when I'm given a huge level of responsibility, with a clear budget and a clear set of deliverables within a finite period of time. I find it rewarding to go in, make a big change, and then go on to the next project."

Signs of growth

Yet while the interim recruitment market slowed down in 2008, there are signs that demand for interims is growing.

"What most companies need is somebody independent who can go in and give a quick but comprehensive view of what the organisation needs, and then implement the solution," says Martin Smith, director of talent at recruitment services provider Ochre House. "That's what an interim can do."

Not surprisingly, recruitment agencies report that roles which tend to feature prominently during tough times - such as organisational development, change and talent management, TUPE and redundancy - are most in demand, while there is also an increased need for reward specialists as organisations seek innovative ways to retain top talent and increase morale.

There are certain characteristics - both professional and personal - that are needed to build a career as an interim. The ability to hit the ground running is vital, says Carole Harden, who has been an interim executive for the past 14 years and has worked for a diverse mix of organisations including HM Revenue and Customs, Transport for London, Laura Ashley and Thales Aerospace.

"I'm used to arriving and performing on the day," she says. "You don't go in there on a learning curve. You've got to have the experience and confidence to move in and advise some very senior people."

Temporary assignments

A successful interim will also need to be able to deal with the uncertain nature of temporary assignments. Stephen Huard counts himself as a generalist HR director and has undertaken 14 assignments in the past 10 years, but has currently been looking for another position for six months. "Being an interim is not for the faint-hearted," he says. "At the moment there's a surplus of interims, and for every job you face a negotiation over your rate."

Nevertheless, for an increasing number of HR professionals, working as an interim provides the perfect mix of a fulfilling career with the lifestyle flexibility to match. "In addition to the professional challenge there's also the personal freedom," says Edwards. "I feel quite deserving of taking long breaks in between short and intensive assignments."

Source: Personnel Today

Posted by Personnel Today

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