Interim contractors are used across all major industries and governmental departments, and have become a vital cog helping to turn the wheels of productivity in the UK. But often, they divide opinion.
They can be seen as expensive, and if recruited carelessly, quality is not guaranteed. I believe that when used effectively, interims offer a solution that is unmatched in the marketplace. They bring recent experience of delivery within multiple environments that a committed permanent employee can not match. They also cost 50-75% less than management consultants, who are the other main alternative.
Anybody can take the plunge and become an interim. But before doing so, it may be useful to consider some of the benefits and constraints that come with this lifestyle.
The first obvious benefit is financial. In the procurement profession, a candidate who is earning £65000 in their permanent position can expect to charge themselves out at a daily rate of £500. On this basis, gross earnings based on working 46 weeks would be £115000 (taking into consideration holidays, bank holidays and any other absence). Therefore, if an individual can obtain a 12 month contract, they will be set to nearly double their income.
Another benefit is that you are somewhat removed from career politics. Fighting peers for that all-important promotion will become a thing of the past. Appraisals and annual reviews are equally obsolete. You are the master of your own professional development, and tasked to deliver on an assignment-by-assignment basis. Interims do have to be politically astute in order to deliver, must be able to quickly fit into a structure, and understand the existing relationship dynamics.
Working for a variety of different organisations and people is an element of being an interim which I am often told is very enjoyable. For example, moving from an Investment Bank to an Oil Major means brand new environment with its own culture and unique practices. We all experience this when we move jobs, and interims have the benefit of this being frequent occurrence, one that serves to broaden the mind and keep the individual fresh.
Once you have reached a certain point of your career, you may find the most satisfaction comes from delivering change or major projects. For those that thrive in such a situation, interim work serves this need well. It is to the clients benefit to use interims as assets in such situations, as their deep experience is often not available in-house.
Working as an interim leads to a lot of uncertainty. In the bull market that existed four years ago, well-qualified candidates could move from one assignment to the next at their own leisure, with little fear of a lengthy gap. The market downturn has led to a reduced demand for interims, as major projects and change programs have declined in popularity. Many redundancy victims have also marketed themselves as available for interim work, which has resulted in an increased supply. The knock-on effect is higher competition for each assignment, and in some cases, lower reward.
Interims are responsible for picking up the costs for their own training and development. It is important that a credible interim is well qualified and up to date on the latest legislation. They are financially responsible for ensuring that they are continually enhancing their skill set.
Unlike permanent employees, interims generally do not receive any assistance with their pension or retirement planning. It is therefore their responsibility to arrange for the day when they decide to stop taking assignments.
Interims are often victims of misconceptions due to a small minority who over-charge and under-perform. They are also sitting ducks to be used as scapegoats once they have left a client, as they are no longer able to defend themselves. Having a thick skin can be very useful when working as an interim manager.
Rate fluctuations mean that it is difficult to predict how much your next assignment will pay. Permanent employees typically experience an annual increase in their wages, interims can experience a large increase or decrease dependant on reasons such as demand, economic conditions, assignment continuity and many others.
Legislation is also another responsibility with which interims must comply. Interim managers tend to operate under the umbrella of a Ltd company. They are required to have appropriate insurance policies and be aware of the tax implications of operating in this way. Without good professional advice from their accountant, there is always a risk around IR35.
Permanent candidates who are considering making the change to become professional interims should carefully consider all of the factors, and speak with interims within their network to gain direct feedback. Clearly, there are many financial and lifestyle benefits on offer to interim managers, but these do not come without risk.