How can you put your various skills and years of professional experience to best use? It's a question many people ask themselves at some point in their career - perhaps because they are eager to boost their earning capacity, or feel the need for a new challenge.
Successful professionals always have options, and these extend beyond moving up their organisation or applying for a new job elsewhere. In many cases, ambitious high-flyers choose to strike out on their own and begin an interim career.
- Why hire an interim manager?
Talented project managers are always in demand, with businesses recognising the value of bringing in specialist professionals on short-term contracts. The reasons for hiring them vary - it could be to plug a gap in the workforce, to lead on a one-off project or scheme, conduct training, oversee a merger or acquisition, carry out restructuring, or simply keep the permanent headcount low.
Often, bringing in an external expert can help improve operational systems and processes, or identify problems which had been missed. Since they come from the outside, interims tend to be less emotive, more objective and have a clearer view of the organisation as a whole. They may also benefit from greater knowledge and insight on how other companies function within the industry, which can help firms boost performance, maximise output and drive efficiencies.
- Interims can be high earners
Given the potential value they can add to organisations, and the high level of expertise they are likely to possess, interim partners can typically command high rates of pay. The fact they are not permanent members of the workforce - and as such, are not guaranteed a salary in the long term - means employers are often willing to offer generous terms.
So while interims - as project management professionals - do not have the same level of job security as ordinary employees, they do have the capacity to earn large sums when they are on placement. This gives in-demand executives the scope to pick and choose their projects - where and when they work - allowing them to achieve a more favourable work-life balance.
- Demand for consultants rising in financial services
In a study of financial services senior executives, conducted by Robert Half, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of businesses said they had increased their use of interim staff such as consultants as a result of the financial crisis.
The most common reasons for hiring temporary workers were to carry out systems improvements (59 per cent), undertake regulatory initiatives (52 per cent) and re-engineer business processes (48 per cent). Interim professionals were also hired for compliance (47 per cent), financial control (46 per cent), risk management (33 per cent) and internal audit (20 per cent) roles.
Some 37 per cent of employers said they had turned to consultants because the skills they required were not available in-house. A further 27 per cent said it was more cost-effective to hire an interim, four per cent hired for a specific project and three per cent had no need for the role in the long term.
- Employers value talented interims
Neil Owen, global practice director at Robert Half Financial Services, commented that temporary and interim staff play "a valuable role" in bringing additional resources or missing skills to companies. This is particularly the case where large projects such as regulatory initiatives are underway, he suggested.
“The opportunities for interim professionals in the financial services industry are clearly on the rise in London as well as across the UK," Mr Owen said. "Those professionals with experience of implementing initiatives around regulatory compliance, business process change and systems improvement are the most in demand and should remain so as companies continue to invest in these areas."
- Can you succeed as an interim?
If you are thinking about leaving the permanent workforce and operating as a consultant in your particular field, it is important to assess your suitability for such a role. The temporary jobs market can be highly lucrative for the right candidates, but unless you are able to secure placements with employers, you will quickly find yourself without an income. As such, it makes sense to ask yourself a number of questions - both about your industry sector and your personal characteristics - such as:
- Is there sufficient industry demand? - If your chosen field is already flooded with consultants, many of whom are struggling to find work - or are accepting low fees to secure placements - will you be able to generate the income you hope for?
- Can I offer something unique? - Having specialist skills which cannot be offered by other candidates will increase the likelihood of you securing placements. Having a niche is important as an interim, but that said, it cannot be such an obscure specialism that there is no demand among employers.
- Am I sufficiently motivated? - Once you begin life as an interim manager, the onus is on you - and you alone - to find work. Interim management providers, like Robert Half Management Resources can provide valuable support, identifying opportunities and marketing your services to potential companies. Ultimately candidates, however, must be able to impress potential clients and have sufficient persuasive powers.
- Am I organised enough? - As a self-employed professional, you are responsible for managing your financial and legal affairs. This may involve chasing your own invoices, calculating your own tax and filing the required returns. Working as an interim manager is like running your own business, with your personal services as the commodity on sale.
- Am I a good communicator? - In the first instance, you need to be able to network with potential clients and/or interview well to secure placements. Often you will be up against other highly-competent individuals for project management work. Then you need to be able to communicate with people working at all levels in an organisation - right the way down from the CEO to entry-level employees.
- Can I solve problems? - When employers invest in an interim manager, it is usually because the interim employees can offer something their own permanent workers cannot. Often this will be an ability to solve problems and deliver a favourable outcome in testing circumstances. This is the reason they are willing to pay generously for specialist services.
- Is my knowledge current? - Interims need to be on-the-pulse where the latest industry developments are concerned, in areas such as regulation, compliance, best practice and technology. Understanding the latest approaches and techniques, and having an awareness of latest thought leadership in the sector, will position you to impress clients and succeed in your role. Should you need to learn on the job, it will cost you time - and potentially cause others to lose confidence in your abilities.
- Am I adaptable? - As an interim partner, you could potentially end up moving around different organisations week-to-week or month-to-month, working in a variety of different roles. Can you accept the constant danger of upheaval? Or are you inflexible and reluctant to embrace change? Your family situation may be a relevant factor - can you afford to work away from home if and when required?
- Should I register with an agency? – Interim management agencies can help match executives with clients who are in need of the skills they are offering. This can take some of the pressure of professionals, in terms of marketing their own services, allowing them to focus on what they do best - delivering value to their clients on placement.