Career progression as an interim

Posted on: 25/01/2019

I asked my network if they thought interim professionals could focus on their own development or if they were dictated by what was out there on the market and got a number of thoughts and opinions back…

A concern of many individuals in permanent employment is the perceived lack of career progression as a contractor. Some think that if you move into interim employment, you stay in that one position for the rest of your working life.

Sarah Cowley, Executive Coach, said, “Managing one’s career takes courage, and the confidence to say no… A successful career is dependent on personal growth which in turn results from spending time and money on learning.”

A key difference of the employment status of an interim (becoming a LTD company) is the mentality of not just being one individual carrying out an assignment (or a job) but actually thinking and behaving like a business. Just as any other successful business might do, you need to innovate and develop.

Steve Lungley, Interim Transformation Director, commented, “We will have had to (and continue to) define our services, identify the markets, sectors and environments in which we want to operate, develop marketing and channel strategies, sell our services and deliver them (brilliantly of course because our reputation depends on it) and manage all those other things like accounting, tax, VAT etc.”

Like any business understanding your routes to market is absolutely pivotal and developing both your personal and employer brand are key to finding that next assignment. Developing broader business management skills such as finance, sales and marketing are necessary to having a successful interim management business.

Barry Flack, Interim HR Director, said, “We have to supplement the assignment with a need to hone true business development capability – and personally – given that your proposition is everything. Then it requires a constant need to learn, adapt and stay relevant.”

To continuously develop your brand, you have to get your name out there through delivering successful assignments, communicating with key decisions makers and staying front of mind through social media channels (such as blogging, as well speaking and attending seminars in the relevant subjects and sectors).

Of course, all these activities take time and in the life of an interim this may be at the weekend, evenings or may even require you to take unpaid leave – so it’s not all plain sailing.

Although the activities outlined above certainly require additional time on top of the day job, they can bring increased opportunities.

Paul Powell, Interim Head of Resourcing, provides his insight, “Some of my moves have been intentional, gaining functional or sector knowledge and have involved calculated risk. It’s often meant stepping outside of the confines of my comfort zone. As a result, I have gained some good experience and a portfolio of skills, plus it has allowed me to share some pretty powerful insights with some clients.”

The interim market provides a wealth of opportunities and challenges, short-term problems to fix, ideas to come up with and to deliver quickly. It can, therefore, be an exciting place for the right people.

Sheryl Miller, Finance Transformation Expert, commented, “My hunch is that there is potentially more opportunity for career development as an interim, due to the variety of projects and challenges.”

If one has the desire to push themselves out of their comfort zone, the opportunities to put into practice your ideas and previous experience are plentiful.

Hayley Proctor, Interim Head of Resourcing, supports this, “Being the interim allows you the freedom to be bold and disruptive with your ideas to drive positive change…you are also expected to be the master of your ideas so learning and experimenting become the norm, whilst you’re given far more freedom and autonomy than your permanent counterparts.”

As an interim, there is no forced structure to your development as there is in permanent employment. You are expected to provide your own advice and guidance in this respect, to take responsibility for your own career and your own development.

Sharon Green, Interim OD and Change Expert, added, “I set aside a budget each year for CPD, ask clients for feedback and want to keep developing my business”.

Regardless of whether an individual is a permanent employee or an interim, if that person wishes to continuously develop their capabilities, they will progress.

I had a recent conversation with a senior HR director, who has just been offered a year’s extension. (And turned it down for the right reasons!) The CEO couldn’t believe that they were leaving, to go to nothing…who in their right mind would do this in permanent employment?

I think the feedback is overwhelmingly positive regarding interim careers – however, this is very different from being a permanent employee and won’t be for everyone!

So in summary:

-Interims are often thrown in the deep end and need to learn new skills.

-Interims need to be responsible for their own development and need to ensure that they make it happen.

-Interims think of themselves as a business – building a proposition and delivering against it.

-Interims are adaptable and learning broader skills (rather than developing their career vertically).

To discuss further, you can email me on

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.