Views from the top: Becoming a career interim

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7 months ago by Austin Mooney

Views from the top: Becoming a career interim

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My name is Austin, I manage the Social Housing Finance team at Goodman Masson. As part of our commitment to developing careers we will be talking with industry experts who have reached the top in social housing and want to give something back.

The social housing sector is evolving and to understand what this means this week I met with Ian Warner, to discuss the benefits of becoming an interim finance professional.

Ian Warner is a Chartered Accountant with over 35 years experience and has worked within social housing since 1995. Currently working within Director level roles, Ian has also worked in local and central government. Ian made the decision to become a career interim finance professional 13 years ago and has never looked back.

Why would someone consider becoming an interim worker?

I have been much happier since taking the decision to become a full time interim. I made the decision to switch for personal reasons, my daughter was 11 and I wanted to be more involved with her education so I tried it out and have never regretted it.

The benefit of being an interim is that I have had the freedom and been able to take time off in between roles when I did not want to work.

As an interim you also donít necessarily have to work five days a week. I myself currently work four days a week and with the daily rate earned, this should provide sufficient annual income.

How would someone know if interim work was right for them?

For anyone out there whoís thinking of becoming an interim finance professional, I would suggest taking on a few project based roles first. The reason I say that is there a big difference between being a permanent employee and an interim employee.

Is there anything you should be aware of before stepping into an interim role?

In my opinion there are two main things to be aware of:

  1. Your personal financial situation; you may have periods when you donít have work and are in between roles or you could potentially fall ill for a period of time. You will need to be financially secure in order to survive these periods when you may not be receiving an income.
  2. Your reputation is key; your reputation is always important but as a career interim it's more important than money! You will be working with more organisations and a higher turnover of colleagues than you would in permanent role. Your reputation can be built and subsequently damaged in a much smaller window of time.

What's it like stepping into an organisation on an interim basis?

In over half of my interim roles, I've had to step into an empty chair as the previous FD had left suddenly and you have to go in and pick up the pieces. This includes picking up the pieces with the Finance staff and more than likely also with the organisationís finance projects.

Sometimes you will have the benefit of a handover period. However you don't want that to last too long. One, maximum two weeks is sufficient.

What advice can you give someone who has decided to take an interim role?

  1. Quick Wins. When you go in as an interim, it's still a new job and although the client may expect you to hit the ground running, it may still take a little time to find your feet. In reality, you won't be very effective for the first six weeks. My advice is to latch on to something small a quick win. This will give you time to learn about the business.
  2. Time. Try and give yourself enough time to effect change or to achieve your objectives. I feel that the ideal contract length is around nine months. The longer you are in the role the more effective you will become and nine months has always been the sweet spot for me personally, long enough to achieve my goals but short enough so I won't get bored."
  3. Expectations. Make sure you and the client are both clear on what is expected of you and regular feedback is essential to see if those expectations are realistic. You need to be clear with clients in terms of their expectations and what you will be able to deliver over what will be a shorter period of time than you may have been used to.
  4. Add value. In housing, interims tend to be more expensive than a permanent hire so you need to add value. You will need to justify the added value of bringing in an interim, and this is where partnering with a good agency helps. I've had 15 interim roles which allow me to bring experience of working in many places in different situations and this gives me an advantage when dealing with challenging situations.
  5. Relationships. The personal relationships you can build over a short period of time are critical. Focus on your key relationships; other than with your line manager, the Executive Team, the wider Finance Team and look to build relationships with both the internal and external auditors, especially with the external auditors, I have found this particularly useful.
  6. Decision making. You may have to make tougher and quicker decisions that you will have been used to previously. If a difficult situation arises, you will have to deal with it quickly and effectively

Have you ever been offered the permanent post while working as an interim?

There have been several occasions where I have been offered the permanent role but have always rejected them. That is the highest compliment you can have as an interim finance professional. What did I get right to have been offered that role? I fitted in and I got things done. You need to be humble and to get your hands dirty when needed.

How do you win the respect and trust of your team when you are only there on short term basis?

  1. I've always approached my roles as if I was a permanent member of staff. You need to get the team to forget that you are an interim. Also as an interim, you will usually have a fixed length for your contract which on occasion has been more than some permanent hires have ( I had one Interim FD role that lasted for two years!!) This means that the team have assurance and continuity through this period.
  2. I am also very aware of how important a thorough handover is at the end of the contract. I don't leave any stone unturned and believe you have to be meticulous in the work that you do. As an interim you are in my view a consultant.
  3. Get involved with the team, make an effort to know your people. Listen to your staff, what are their problems, can you help?

For any CEOs exploring the possibility of bringing in an interim what should they do?

Know what you want and be clear about what you want to achieve through this time period. You need to be very honest and let the interim know what they are stepping in to.

How should you approach an interview for an interim role?

Anticipate the difficult questions. Any issues you might think will arise during an interview, make sure you clearly address them. Think about why this organisation is looking for an interim? Do your homework, go in there and tell them how you can help and what you can do for them. Remember it's usually a one stage interview! Be mindful of that, as you only have one opportunity to impress.

How do you actively promote yourself as a career interim worker?

Register your details with a good agency, promote yourself on LinkedIn. Tailor your CV for the projects you have been involved in and what you managed to achieve. Attend forums and network as much as you can. Talk to other interims where possible.

Final Word

My final piece of advice to anyone thinking about it...TRY it! And if you don't like it you can transition back in to permanent employment. It's a different way of working but it can be a very satisfying career choice.

If you would like more information on becoming an interim, hiring an interim employee, or would like information on working with Ian then please contact me on 0207 019 8819.