Interim or permanent? Never say never in todays market

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Dec 2013

21 Dec 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Making the transition

Perhaps with the exception of straight-forward gap-filling assignments, the conventional wisdom is that senior interim and permanent roles are distinctly different, each requiring a particular character of candidate with specific background, skills and career aims. How does that argument stack up nowadays? 

What skills are required?

From the recruiters’ perspective, there might be concerns that a candidate seeking both interim assignments and permanent roles might be less committed to the former, posing a potential risk of bailing out mid-way through an interim assignment if the right job offer arises. On the other hand, there could be concern about a long-standing interim’s ability to fit in and settle down once again as part a permanent management team, with the attendant politics and regimented routine of corporate life. Either way, some veteran interims would argue that ‘true’ interims would never be interested in a permanent, business-as-usual role; it’s simply no longer part of their DNA.

These are all moot points, providing strong evidence that there is no simple, clear-cut answer about how easy it is to move between interim and permanent roles, or vice-versa. At the risk of fence-sitting, there really is only one answer to this: it depends.

What recruiters look for

People like us make decisions based on a broad range of factors. Uppermost are the role itself, what kind of person would it best suit? Mandatory or desirable skills and experience are part of it, but importantly what are the chances someone can actually deliver what the job demands? We’ll also look at the personal and career motivations of the candidate.

If we’ve worked with someone before and have a very clear understanding of what the role involves and the strengths required, that will often tip the balance between who we do or don’t shortlist. Answers to these and numerous other points are what we use to make the short-list decision for both permanent or interim roles. 


Pros & cons of each route

In today’s market for senior HR talent, if you’re looking for a new role of either type, it’s probably best to keep an open mind and adopt a ‘never say never’ attitude. One HR professional who made the move from permanent to interim and back again is Rita Faherty, currently HRVP for reward and recognition at Logica [now part of CGI]. Before joining Logica, Rita was an interim reward director for four years, including stints at the BBC and Centrica. Her previous permanent role was group director of reward with global supply chain services business Exel plc. Rita believes today’s senior jobs market is now much more fluid:

“I think it’s easier than ever to move from interim to permanent and vice-versa. Having been an interim and having hired many, I’m not convinced interims are distinctly different people. Like many, I fell into interim work; rather than taking a conscious decision to be an interim, opportunities found me. It was really valuable in terms of knowledge and insight, broadening my experience and exposing me to alternative ways of doing things in different organisations.

"For those reasons the experience was excellent  but I decided to re-enter the permanent working world because that suited my personal circumstances: I wanted something more settled, I missed the sense of belonging and, as an interim, I was always having to think about my next role. However, to move back into permanent work as I did, you must be able to adapt your psychology to being in an organisation for the longer term."

The changing HR market

Currently the group HR director at Towergate Insurance, Lucinda Charles-Jones also believes there’s been a noticeable change in the jobs market:

“The world of work has altered so much in the last 3-4 years. I think it’s outdated now to pigeon-hole candidates as permanent or interim: I don’t behave any differently whether I’m somewhere for 6 months or 6 years.”

In the past, Lucinda had interim assignments with Barclays Bank, Thresher Group and most recently as interim group HRD for AXA UK. Her permanent HR director posts were with Hays, Vivendi and the RAC. She’s moved back and forth successfully between interim and permanent jobs twice in her career so far. 

“I’m very change and delivery-focussed, she adds. “And, like so many interims, there’s a somewhat impatient side to my character. So in 2004, when the opportunity arose to do some interesting interim employer-branding work with Thresher Group, I jumped at the chance. Shortly after that assignment ended I started a second interim assignment with Barclays followed by three years in a permanent post as group HRD at Hays plc. I enjoy being an interim but my philosophy is to never close the door on permanent roles if something really fantastic comes up.”

How did this go down with interim agencies she was registered with? 

“When I am looking for interim work, I am committed to being an interim and would never drop a short-term interim assignment for a permanent post. I am very clear on this point: you always finish the job you’ve started; you have to see things through or you’ll both let your client down as well as damage your personal reputation and brand.”

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