Starting out as an interim – FIVE top tips

1 March 2022

“Interims aren’t gap fillers, they’re problem solvers”

Looking to embark on an interim career but not sure if it’s right for you? In our latest article, we examine the key areas to consider before taking the plunge.

Attaining a better work-life balance, stimulating assignments, variety of work, the novelty of different cultures, meeting new people and very competitive day rates. While there are many benefits of becoming an interim, before you hand in your notice, you must carefully consider your situation and plan ahead.

Apart from establishing whether to set up as a limited company or work via an umbrella company, you need to weigh up the benefits compared to your permanent role. You’ll be foregoing company perks and interim assignments can fall in scope of IR35, which will reduce take home pay.

“However, you may end up in interim consultancy, whether by default, for example following a restructure or an MBO [management buyout] situation or because you have a defined niche offering that is in high demand, make sure you really understand what the implications are of making the move,” says Gavin Wingfield, Principal Consultant at NCSG.

Before starting out as an interim, consider the following five areas:

Financial security

Life as an interim can be daunting, particularly in the early days when you’re trying to establish yourself and money can be tight. “Financial resilience is a really big thing when starting out, so you have to be prepared for income fluctuations. There will be periods of uncertainty and downtime with no guarantee of work – you’ve got to be ready for that,” says Wingfield.

Use your networks

Getting a foot in the door is often the hardest part. With the exception of very specific skill sets, clients will look for prior interim experience. “You need to have an established professional network that you can tap into. Networking is key so take advantage of any opportunity to meet prospective clients, whether at industry events or by having speculative conversations and interviews,” he advises.

Define your niche

Stick to what you’re good at, urges Wingfield. “A mistake that people make at the start or if experiencing a long downtime period is they tune into buzzwords. Words like change management are ambiguous, so zero in on your specific skill set, for example, HR restructuring, cybersecurity, manufacturing operations, financial turnarounds etc. Avoid the trap of trying to spread yourself too widely – focus on what you know best.”

Deliver at speed

You’ve got to be really comfortable being parachuted into different businesses and assessing cultures really quickly. Hitting agreed objectives is a key requirement to success. No two businesses are the same and you’ll have to formulate a plan of action quickly. “The best interims I know deliver things quickly, they’re not thinking about how they can drag it out but how they can get to the final objective as quickly as possible and save the client money,” he adds.

Choose your ISP carefully

If considering partnering with an interim service provider (ISP), the Institute of Interim Management (IIM), the UK based professional body for interim management, has plenty of resources for interims. “You’ll find a ranking of ISPs on their website so take a look at the organisations that are best suited to your skill sets. The other thing I would say is to pick the most relevant two or three – you’ll lose your focus if you contact too many. Also, don’t forget to seek recommendations from your network,” says Wingfield.

 

Embarking on an interim career

“You’ve got to take stakeholders on a journey with you,” stresses Wingfield. “An interim solution is a significant financial investment for the client, so you’ve got to be very clear on your objectives are and how you’re going to provide value for money. Ideally bringing in an interim will make the company money in the long run, so the ROI will often far exceed any initial outlay. Remember that you’ll be working independently and you well may have to make tough decisions, so you need to have a thick skin.”

Wingfield also warns against transitioning to interim purely for financial gain. “Thinking about interim as a more lucrative route breeds the wrong behaviours and clients will see through it. Interims have a huge wealth of knowledge in their field and are passionate about what they do – they want to transfer knowledge and share wisdom for the benefit of the business. That always has to be the primary driver.”

And finally, there is a clear distinction to be made between an interim and a temp or contractor. “Interims aren’t gap fillers, they’re problem solvers. It’s not a role to keep things ticking over, you have to think about inside change. Identify your niche, hone that skillset and market yourself as the best in that area.”

If you’d like to learn more about starting out as an interim, please get in touch.

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