Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Your step-by-step guide to working as an interim 11/10/2012
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and work as an interim – what can you learn from those who’ve done it before you? Caroline Talbott reveals her tips for success in this step-by-step guide.
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- Set up your business
- What sort of role do you want?
- Choosing an agency
- Setting out your offering
- Establish your value to the client – fast
- Finding your next assignment
Set up your business
When starting out as an interim, the three main elements to consider are:
- Whether to be self-employed (sole trader) or to form a limited company (personal services company). You are likely to find that most agencies expect you to be the latter and in fact this is usually a more tax-efficient option as you can pay yourself in both salary and dividends. Dividends attract a lower level of tax
- Buy professional liability insurance, often available at a discount to members of professional bodies such as CIPD
- When establishing your contract and relationship with each client, be wary of HMRC’s IR35 regulations where they may investigate whether you’re an employee of that organisation and liable for pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE) and national insurance (NI).
What sort of role do you want?
Not all interim jobs are the same so consider what will suit you best and give you the career satisfaction you are seeking.
The three major distinctions between interim roles are:
1. Covering a job that already exists, for example due to maternity leave. You are likely to have to fit into established ways of working with an existing team to lead. Because you will be handing back to someone, you have to steer a diplomatic path between doing it your way and making improvements without criticising the permanent leader and team. Be conscious that the decisions you make will end up as their responsibility. You have limited opportunities to choose the team members who will work for you.
2. New or one-off job where the company wants to see how it pans out before making a permanent appointment or knows the role is unlikely to be needed long- term. This type of positions presents a real opportunity for you to put your stamp on the business.
3. Project role. Increasingly, agencies are offering their interims to organisations in place of more expensive, well-known consultancies. Again, this is a real opportunity to make your mark and you’re usually able to choose the team members who will work with you. This is likely to be intensive and demanding.
Choosing an agency
Choose an agency that specialises in the sort of roles you are looking for and whose approach, ways of working and values fit well with your own. You can use your network, search online, and send out your CV via email initially, but it’s important to meet someone from the agency face-to-face. This will ensure mutual understanding and increase the likelihood of achieving what you want.
You need to understand what they can offer you and they need to be clear on what you’re looking for. It’s important to establish a relationship where you’re valuable to them and will be remembered when they’re looking for someone to fulfil an assignment.
Setting out your offering
Keep your CV very focused – start with your personal profile and key skills and include information about the last 5 years of your career. Many recruiters will only look at your last interim assignment so you need to succinctly and prominently display information to give them a full picture of what you have to offer. Most are indifferent to your schools and hobbies but are interested in significant networking.
The thorny issue is your daily rate. As with any negotiation, have a range that you are willing to work for. It’s unlikely that you’ll always be able to negotiate the maximum amount and there will sometimes be reasons why you’d be happy to accept less (eg: if it’s close to home).
Establish your value to the client – fast
You probably have two weeks to get to grips with your client organisation – their technology, people, and ways of working. Spend the first week meeting key stakeholders and establish the targets and objectives they want you to achieve. Identify some simple quick wins that you can complete over the next two weeks, demonstrating your contribution and credibility.
They want you to be part of their team but also different. As an outsider you can bring new insights, take an unbiased view, and question their traditional way of doing business, adding value beyond their expectations and always working in their best interest. Keep out of the office politics, which is probably one of the attractions of interim life anyway. Remember that they are paying you at an enhanced rate to their permanent employees so be prepared to put in extra effort and work beyond your job description.
Finding your next assignment
Keep in touch with 10-12 agencies – phone your key contact at least every three months while you are on assignment. When you are coming to the end or are between roles, call or meet them every 3-4 weeks. You might even want to start working part-time towards the end of your contract to give you more time for your search.
This personal relationship with your agency contact is vital and if they move on it’s a good idea to move with them. Remember this is a two-way thing – take an interest in them and have the informal banter you would with other work colleagues.
Network, network, network. Maintain your contacts with those who may be helpful in finding new roles and other interims you can share information and experiences with. Fundamentally, be a pleasure to work with for both the agencies and your clients.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, take a break and enjoy your time between assignments. Interim management is a lifestyle choice and you don’t get paid for holidays while you are working, so take some time to make the most of the life you’ve created.
Caroline Talbott, managing director, Caroline Talbott Ltd
With over 30 years experience in business, Caroline develops leaders and their organisations through OD and change consultancy, leadership development and executive coaching. She is author of Essential Career Transition Coaching Skills.