So you want to be an interim executive?

Holdsway meeting image

When setting yourself up as an interim executive you won’t have taken the decision lightly. But now you’ve decided on a career of benefiting others with your business experience, it’s time to set yourself up.

1. Create the perfect CV

Know yourself
First and foremost, it’s important to know yourself and express that on a clear CV. This is the document which will get you into meetings to discuss assignments. If you’re unclear about your core areas of expertise - how you can help businesses cope with change - then either you won’t find work, or you’ll find assignments you aren’t suited to. 

Be impactful
Because the CV is the document which will get you in the door, give it impact. Success is getting readers to want to know more about you. One of the most important parts of the CV is the 'strapline' paragraph at the top – the 'what’s on the tin' statement. This is your chance to say in four or five lines, who you are, what you do, how you do it, and for whom. It’s really important you get this right.  This is the summary statement you bring to life when a prospective client asks who you are and what you do. If you are clear the client is more likely to hire you. But remember to cut out the meaningless bull. No-one warms to ‘business buzz-word bingo’. Be authentic about it – just be you, and engage with plenty of enthusiasm.

Make it a good read
CVs need to be read easily – most people either can’t or don’t want to wade through them. Keep your core CV clear and easy to read. Make sure it’s a chronological record of what you have done in your career.  A summary of your areas of competence is good, but the reader must be clear about what you have actually achieved. Bullet points are preferable to long prose.

Tell them what you've done
Whether your roles have been interim or permanent, the CV should tell us why you were hired, what you actually did and what you left in place.

Tell them about you
Include your formative experience and important achievements from your earlier career. It gives prospective clients a sense of your business ‘DNA’. Including what you do when not working gives your CV greater depth – after all, being an interim executive is all about engaging with people. Clients will be more interested in someone who is open with them about who they are as an individual.

Engage the reader
Finally, I am always asked what the ideal CV length is. The best advice is as long as it is clear who you are, what you can do and engages the reader from start to finish then it can be two pages or six pages.

Choosing to be an interim executive is choosing to liberate yourself from a routine career so you can do the work you want to do. The right CV will set you free! 

2. Create brand ‘you’

Once you’ve decided that being an interim executive is for you, it’s important to know what’s driving you. Who you are, what you do and how you do it is your own brand of professional service. As with all successful brands, be clear about your message, and make sure your target audience knows about you.

Know what motivates you to be an interim executive
This is one of the first things people will ask you – so it’s important to know why you’ve chosen to be an interim. It’s a narrative which will bring your interim career to life.

Why do executives become interims? They want to give others the benefit of their experience.  All interims love clear goals and deadlines, most just have a very low boredom threshold. Steady state is not for these ‘change junkies’. They want to do great work, leave capability in place and move on. For many, this is freedom from a routine job, getting back control over their career.

Be clear and memorable
It’s important to communicate often – but with a compelling message: how you can help with your experience. Being more memorable than others is essential in today’s ‘attention economy’.  When we are deluged with communications from all channels it’s important to find ways to get your message across and stay ‘front of mind’ when businesses need your help.

Build a simple, clear, eye-catching website for your company – it keeps your business message pure and keeps clients away from your Facebook page!  Website building software available today is impressive.  Wix or Squarespace are available free or pay a little more for extra functionality. Equally important is finding a domain name that matches your company name or what you do.  Produce thought-provoking content and opinion pieces on LinkedIn or Google Blogger – it’ll get you noticed and win you more business.

Get networking
Once you’ve got a CV which matches your public profile on social media channels and website, get out there and talk to people. Networking is really just getting to know those you meet and finding ways to help or collaborate with them.  If you don’t like the idea of networking, reframe it as a way of making interesting friends, for the long term. Create a ‘wish list’ of people you’d like to connect with — a senior colleague, a thought leader in your field perhaps. Aim high, you might surprise yourself and get a response.

Be you, be accessible
Deciding to be an interim executive is a liberating stage in your career. You can go out and help others with the skills and experience built up over the last 20 years. You are free to use all or some of your experience, even in different markets and countries, each time you take on an assignment.  The only limit is how free you feel.

Aim to establish rapport, find ways to connect with others, and just be yourself. But remember, this is your business now. Be available to help others and, above all, go for it – you chose this path.

Be confident
Having confidence in yourself, knowing you can deliver a brief, will help you reassure potential clients as soon as you meet them.  That moment when the smiles of relief break out in the room - then someone says to you, “thank goodness you’re here”, that’s when you know you’ve made the right impact. You can get on with the assignment full of self-belief.

On the practical side
You will be providing a ‘business to business’ service and will need to set up a limited company. Find a company name which you are happy with and which is either relatively neutral or reflects you and your services. Nothing ‘cheesy’, overly personal or even political – it could put clients off.

This is a time when interim executives with a record of managing change and uncertainty will be in demand as the global economy resets and rebuilds. Market yourself and make sure business benefits from your experience!  

3. Managing an assignment

Agree the brief
The preparation stage is critical to the success of an interim assignment. If you don’t know what’s really going on in an organisation you can’t prepare for it. Forget standard job descriptions; ask what five or six things need to be delivered or dealt with in the next six months. Agree and sign off a schedule of work with the client summarising what you are there to do, what success looks like, deadlines, who is sponsoring you and importantly the fees. Make sure you have agreed a fair and reasonable daily rate for your services plus any business-related expenses.

Each assignment brief should be clear. Clients and interims should be able to answer the question in words of few syllables - “Why is the interim being hired?”  You should know how to manage an assignment, know what stage you are at and be able to plan your exit.

Once you’ve agreed the schedule of work and the fees, make sure you know everything else you haven’t yet been told. Don’t be afraid to ask just that: “What don’t I know?” Make sure you know where the objections might be too. For example, your sponsor might tell you most of the leadership are against the initiative you are managing. Get to know as much as you can before you start so you have a chance of deploying the right competencies to be successful. Then get on with it.

How do I work out my daily rate?
Once you get into your stride as an interim you will have a better idea on your market value. If you are new to the interim market, focus on getting the right level of assignment – good rates, and reputation will follow.

As a rough guide, if a permanently employed executive earned £150,000 in cash last year (salary and bonus) divide by 180-200 days of utilisation, which gives you £750-£850 per day. You then look at the brief, see how interested you are: Is it a good fit? Where is it based? Will it involve ‘hardship’ or travel? And how keen is the client on hiring you specifically? Then negotiate a price. An interim agency will be able to help if needed.

Managing an effective interim assignment
Woods et al., 2019, described in their ground-breaking paper the optimal way to structure and manage an interim assignment.  With four stages, preparation, entry, delivery and exit, the model keeps interims and clients on track, enabling performance management by results and deadlines. Without a structure which all parties can understand, assignment ‘drift’ usually follows.

Think about your next assignment - get references and case studies
On completing an assignment, get those references. While it’s clear in people’s minds what you’ve just been through to improve their business and their working lives, get them to write your reference. A brief email is fine – just as long as it’s authentic.

A case study sets you apart.  Holdsway publishes some too.  This is an excellent way to differentiate yourself - not many interims produce them. It shows confidence in your ability to deliver.

Above all, interims are providing a service. Do all you can to make it a professional service.

Useful links and resources
Institute of Interim Management (IIM) – the UK’s professional body for independent professionals operating as interims.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) - the voice of the UK’s self-employed population.

HMRC: Understanding off-payroll working

Setting up a limited company:

Companies House:

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