Setting up and Standing out as an Interim Professional: A Real Candidate Insight

Work Life BalanceWith the economy making a steady, but marked recovery over the last few years, it’s great to see this begin to translate into more job creation in the UK. A knock on effect of this stability to the market is the increase in companies embarking on periods of change; with mergers and acquisitions frequently making the headlines. This activity is providing more varied opportunities across the HR market, with companies needing assistance through such chaotic times, more often than not on a contract basis!

Mary Hope (Publisher and HR career coach) recently outlined that the increase in reliance on flexible contractors and agency workers is continuing throughout 2014, with statistics from a recent APSCo report showing a 10% increase in contractor placements.

Whether it is down to the current state of the market, or one of many other factors, some of you may be considering setting up as an interim professional. I started as a Researcher on the interim team here at Oasis HR, speaking to some great candidates that had successfully set up and gone on to reap the rewards of a career as an interim professional. To get a better understanding of why, how and what to expect when going though this process, I thought it best to ask a successful interim candidate in order to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth..

I caught up with Catherine Davies, Resourcing & Talent Manager at Coller Capital with over 8 years experience of contracting at some leading global blue-chips. Catherine kindly took the time to answer a few of my questions, giving some brilliant insights into the whole process and experience of setting up as an interim professional:

 1)     Why did you choose to set up as an interim professional?

 “After being HRD of an SME for a few years, and after working as a permanent full time employee for over 14 years, I took a year off work to go diving around the world. While I was away I considered what I wanted to do when I came home and was going to look for opportunities that would let me focus on the parts of all of my jobs that I had enjoyed the most. When I returned to the UK a number of small companies approached me to undertake project work so I set up my own limited company and was operating within a week. That was in 2005 and since 2007 I have been working as an interim on six to 18 month contracts for a wide variety of clients including FTSE 100 organisations. Through those contracts I have been able to focus on the aspects of previous permanent roles that I enjoyed the most and have managed to really build on and expand my experience.”

2)     What was the hardest thing you encountered when setting up as an interim, and then the hardest thing to maintain?

 “The hardest thing initially was being conscientious about keeping records and maintaining my income and expenditure accounts. Before I was an interim someone else had always paid me so I had never really thought about it but being meticulous and filing everything on time will mean you avoid hefty fines – I learned the hard way in my first year. I would advise anyone considering becoming an interim to have plenty of reserve funds so that you don’t “panic buy” an opportunity because you need the money. This can be difficult to maintain if you take significant gaps in between contracts so be cautious with how much you pay yourself, then you can take dividends when you have money in the bank and other work coming in. If stability of income is a key driver then interim work is not the right choice. You also need to build and maintain an excellent network – this can be time consuming but is absolutely critical. So, paperwork, network and reserve funds are the three key things.”  

 3)     From a candidate perspective, did you change the way you branded yourself and your CV?

 “Interim work differs from permanent in that within most permanent roles you can learn, develop and grow into the role. As an interim you are being hired because of what you already know so you need to ensure that your CV show cases what you can bring to a project / role / company that they can’t get from their permanent employees. It is not so much re-branding yourself but re-thinking about what you have to offer and why a company would want that and pay good money for it. An interim should be able to bring not just specific experience and skills but a whole host of other things of value to a company including contacts, suppliers, business partners and innovative approaches to established practices. An interim is lucky enough to see how lots of different companies do things so you can adopt and adapt those and add them to your own ideas and ways of doing things so that your clients benefit fully from all of your experience.”

 4)     What is your favourite aspect of being an interim candidate?

 “Everything. Seriously. I love doing a job / project / role to the best of my ability for the sake of the role rather than for the sake of being noticed for praise or promotion. I really enjoy the challenge of having to keep “starting over” and I have made good friends in all my interim roles so I never really miss a company when I have gone because I am still in touch with lots of people socially. I am not an interim because of the money. I get paid well but I spend on average a third of my time out of work (by choice!) as I have decided that different things are important at this stage of my life. When I am on assignment I often work and live away from home and I am totally immersed in the role and the company which I really enjoy. I have the same attitude when I am not working – I enjoy it immensely and I am lucky that I am able to have such a balance between the two. I wouldn’t enjoy my time off without the work and I wouldn’t enjoy the work without the time off!”

 5)     Do you think the market is favourable at the moment for setting up as an interim candidate?

 “I think the market is the same as it has been for the last few years in that if you have specific experience that is in demand by a client at the time that you are available then you will be hired. The hardest thing is to make sure you can find the opportunities that require your particular skills and experience; this is where your network helps. It also helps to be flexible – if you live on the Isle of Skye (you lucky thing!) and will only work on the Isle of Skye then your options will be much more limited than if you are willing to live and work away from home.”

 6)     What are your top three tips for someone looking to set up as an interim professional?

  • “Money should not be your motivating factor to become an interim as you are unlikely to maintain a consistent income. Make sure you are clear why you have chosen to be an interim and be able to articulate that to any prospective employers. Ensure you have sufficient funds behind you and in between contracts – I would advise at least six to eight months of income
  • “Build up and maintain your networks; go to as many conferences and seminars as possible not just to meet people but to see what is new and changing in your sector
  • “Employ professionals to help and advise you with your pay, accounts, etc and do not fall behind with your filing and administration. Don’t skimp, find a good accountant and pay them decent money and this will reap its own rewards as they will help you maximise the return on your income
  • “I know I was asked for three tips but this is the most important – really enjoy not working as much as working!”  
Andrew Waterhouse

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Andy joined Oasis HR as a Researcher in 2013 after graduating from Loughborough University in 2012. Before joining Oasis HR, Andy travelled from South America to New Zealand in a desperate attempt to ‘get it out of his system’ before starting work. Andy has progressed quickly up to Consultant here at Oasis and is focussing on HRBP and Senior Resourcing roles across all sectors. Outside of work Andy enjoys watching live music, playing sport and generally taking on pretty mad physical challenges, breaking a Guinness world record for the longest ever game of rugby union, and most recently cycling 500 miles across Europe, collectively raising over £10,000 for charity.

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