28th Feb 2012
Leaving behind the stable world of PAYE won’t appeal to everyone in the current economic climate.
But even with predictions of a second recession ahead, many HR professionals still crave a new career challenge and some are even brave enough to make big changes.
One career option that commonly appeals to senior HR practitioners who are seeking alternatives, have been made redundant or are looking for a second career is interim management.
Interim managers are senior-level executives who are parachuted into a business to fill an immediate gap or solve an organisation’s most pressing challenges. They are recruited for their specialist skills and expected to make an impact on the business immediately.
Such people are independent, able to bring fresh perspectives to the situation and often operate at board level. Frequently, it falls to them to tell the chief executive a few home truths about the business, which the immediate management team has either failed to notice or is too scared to impart.
Clearly, therefore, it is not a career for the faint-hearted and is, arguably, a highly challenging way of working. But with many companies now restructuring and rationalising to try and ensure that they are fit for the future, interesting and varied opportunities are starting to appear for senior HR specialists to spearhead major change programmes.
But what is the reality of working as an interim HR manager and do the benefits outweigh the risks and uncertainty of such a career in these difficult times?
We recently surveyed 1,600 women who were working as interims to find out why they had chosen this career path and produced a report entitled ‘Women in Interim Management – how to succeed, the opportunities and challenges’ based on the findings.The aim was to shine a light on the benefits and drawbacks of an interim career, which are summarised below:
Benefits - The top drivers for leaving behind a permanent career in order to become an interim were the desire to work for different clients in diverse industry sectors; the attraction of working for oneself and wanting greater career flexibility.
The other major appeal was that this career path offered a way of gaining new skills and experience from new assignments. Despite the fact that female interim managers command an average income of £604 per day, money was not a major motivator, however.
Challenges - The number one challenge when starting out down this route is securing and winning that first assignment. The second is finding ways of networking and marketing effectively in order to win business, while the third is coming up with a clear definition of the professional product that will be sold to clients.
Charles Russam, chairman of the UK's longest-established interim management provider, Russam GMS, also stresses the need for people to clarify their professional proposition.
He firmly believes that customers like to buy from specialists and, ideally, they should operate in the same industry sector. This means that anyone thinking about a career in interim management first needs to define their unique selling point in order to ensure that they market themselves effectively to potential clients.
To ensure success, however, they will also need to roll these plans out with vigour and professionalism - and continue doing so in order to maintain a steady flow of business.
Another important consideration, however, is financial. Half of all of the women questioned in our survey found making the transition from permanent to interim work difficult, intimating that it generally took several months or more to find work. Some people even took up to a year.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, it is crucial to ensure that you have a financial cushion in place in order to cover the initial period before the first assignment is won.
Good financial management is also important on an ongoing basis, however. This means, among other things, saving money to get you through the leaner times and those periods between assignments when no income is coming in. Because few assignments are back-to-back, this is a major consideration.
On a brighter note though, not everyone questioned experienced it as hard to find work - 37% said that it had been easy for them to start up in their new careers, with many taking just a few weeks to secure their first assignment.
But interim management tends to appeal to people who want to run their own business and so, in order to operate in this way, it is necessary to set up your own limited company and run it as a “serious small business” (read about the SSB Model here).
In terms of other key advice for would-be interims imparted by the women questioned in the survey, much of it focused on the importance of networking and marketing in order to win work and of treating it is a serious career option rather than simply a career stop-gap.
Here are a few of the most useful hints and tips:
- Take time to make your decision of whether to go down this route and consider all of the options
- Talk with as many other interim managers as you can before you take the plunge to get a good feel for what being an interim is like
- Do your homework before taking the plunge and work out what benefits you would bring to a client/what your strengths are/what your requirements are and whether there is a market for what you have to offer?
- Ensure that you can deal emotionally with the up-and-down nature of this kind of work as well as the potential cash flow issues. Some people simply can't, which means that permanent employment is a better option for them
- Prepare a business plan
- Ensure that you have a financial cushion consisting of at least a year's outgoings before you take the plunge
- Apply for lots of credit before starting and sort out things like your mortgage because it will take two years to build up your credit rating again. Also register for VAT before making any purchases
- Always present yourself as a complete professional, meet and register with the main interim management employment agencies and have a clearly defined service offer
- Ensure that you have a good network of contacts and join social networking sites such as LinkedIn
- Undertake targeted networking and spread the word about what you do as you will have to be self-motivated and generate a lot of your own business - even though you may not always feel like it
- Be flexible and ready to learn new skills
- Once you are sure that interim management is the route that you want to take, stick at it and don't give up.
What was striking about the research was that the average female interim manager had an impressive 22 years of experience under her belt before starting out on her own, which implies that it is a career option that lends itself most to senior people with extensive know-how.
So if that sounds like you and, despite the potential risks and uncertainty, you feel that it’s time for a new challenge, then interim management could be just the thing to help you move into the next phase of your career.
Diane Morris is director of industry association, Interimwomen.