• Opinion: How interim roles can boost your HR career

  • 19 Jun 2017
  • Comments 1 comments

Helen Floor explains why HR professionals looking for a new challenge could benefit from taking on an interim position

While there is still high demand for skilled permanent professionals in some sectors, I know from experience that uncertainty in the markets has led to increasing numbers of people considering whether interim work could be for them. 

The interim lifestyle does not appeal to all, but for those wishing to take their career to the next level, considering a new role after redundancy or a career break, or who are simply tired of the grind of permanent work, interim work can be very rewarding. There are interim HR roles at a variety of levels, so there are plenty of opportunities to see if it’s for you.

Junior roles can provide an effective launch pad into a successful career in HR, while senior interims can provide great strategic value to organisations that are undergoing significant change or growth. In all cases, interim work can add significant value to a CV, because interims are often exposed to a broad set of tasks that can include anything from managing commercial relationships to employee relations and rights, hiring and talent planning, negotiating with unions, and interpreting and implementing legislation.

Interims have the opportunity to specialise in areas that particularly interest them, and can experience various roles and cultures at an accelerated rate. Exposure to a range of management teams and organisational structures means they gain soft skills such as adaptability, diplomacy and resilience, and undergo an intense learning curve. The payoff for the relatively low risk to a business of making an interim rather than a permanent hire is, of course, a significantly higher day rate – one that sees some interims working for only half the year because that is their chosen lifestyle. 

To earn their pay, interims need to be able to hit the ground running and are expected to be effective from their first day on assignment. Senior professionals are often hired during times of accelerated change when organisations need to restructure, and their ability to be objective and bring experience gained in other organisations can be really valuable. 

But interim professionals are not just ‘fixers’ parachuted into a business at times of extremis. Increasingly, they are deployed to help businesses take the long view on their talent strategies, and part of being a reputable HR interim is about creating a legacy that allows organisations to do that.

Professionals at the start of their career can be wary of interim roles, but they can boost your CV and it’s easier to find new opportunities if you’re already working. A portfolio of interim assignments demonstrates ambition and drive, and provides learning experiences and opportunities to network. Also, employers often create full-time roles for the best interims. 

One of the biggest selling points for interim work is that it provides good work-life balance, allowing you to choose when you go on holiday, and to fit hobbies, studies or caring responsibilities around work. 

The interim ‘lifers’ I know enjoy the flexibility of their work, and the opportunity to meet a wide range of people. They also know a lot about the market – which HR skills are in demand, and what the challenges of the future will be.

Successful interims know the value of a good recruitment agency that takes the time to understand what they can offer and, above all, what motivates them. If you’re considering interim work, you need to consider how you’ll set yourself up commercially – whether that’s through PAYE, as a limited company or as an umbrella company. It’s a good idea to seek advice from an accountant about this. 

Before diving into the interim world, ask yourself:

  • Am I looking for flexibility over when and how I work?

  • Am I comfortable with the idea that my work might get a bit lonely at times?

  • Can I challenge senior people and avoid office politics?

  • Am I comfortable (financially and otherwise) with potential ‘down time’ between assignments?

  • Does the idea of hitting the ground running appeal to me?  

If your answer to all these is ‘yes’, then interim work could be the right career move for you.

Helen Floor is managing director of 1-1 Recruitment Group

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  • While I agree with the article, and enjoy the lifestyle and flexibility being an interim offers, I think it is important to point out the downside to being an interim particularly in relation to trying to move from interim back into permanent roles as often you are seen as someone who won't stick around, would get bored easily and be off looking for the next challenge.  

    Additionally interims can get pigeon-holed through no fault of their own just because of the roles they have been working on for example I have undertaken two successive TUPE roles and I keep getting feedback about not being operational HR enough.  Perhaps this is a flaw in how my CV is structured but it's difficult to try to put into 2 pages the depth, breadth and level of knowledge gained whilst working as an interim.