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The Highs and Lows of Being an Interim

We launched our Executive HR Interim Practice in February this year. What a year to start!! As with the financial crash in 2008/2009 there are a number of excellent HR professionals available on the market at the moment and organisations have a lot of choice, maybe too much choice! I think what is key currently is to ensure, as a candidate you are applying, and putting yourself forward for the right work. Not all HR Directors suit being an interim, it really isn't for everyone.

To bring this to life I thought I would interview a super Oakleaf friend @Keith Robson who has worked as a career interim for a number of years. Keith has completed 5 interim assignments in the past 4 years; Chief People Officer at FutureLearn, Director, Talent, Development, Learning and Diversity & Inclusion at M&G Investments; Director, People & Organisation Development at NATS; HR Director, Talent and Leadership Development at Rolls Royce and Group Talent & OD Director with Aviva; these roles were followed a wonderful 5 month career break!

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I am sure you are asked this a lot, why did you decided to become a 'Career Interim'?

"It was a case of 'push' and 'pull'. The 'push' - I turned 52, had experienced loss in my life, and ebay (employer at the time) had decided to split out the organisation giving me the opportunity to create change. The 'Pull' - I had decided when I reached my 40th birthday to put together my personal 20 year career framework with a view to shifting my focus from permanent, big company roles, to Interim.

In relation to the why, from a professional perspective my skillset I felt played well into the interim world, I am a fixer, I like to make things happen quickly, make an impact, I really enjoy having to hit the ground running with no real time to get established, the pressure. I also knew that my network and exposure would allow me to quickly establish myself whilst also in time allowing me to diversify my experience and sector exposure.

From a personal perspective, I had always worked in big companies and was looking for more balance between working and living. The one thing we can't buy more of is time. This does not necessarily mean hours worked, but can mean time off between assignments. As I continued down my interim career I have been able to strike a good balance".

So, how did you know that Interim would work for you?

"Well, firstly I embarked on a mini project of research to build out a landscape of the interim world. I had to ensure should I make the move that I did with my eyes open. I reached out to people I had worked with in the past who were career interims and asked them to be very honest, in fact I remember one person being very brutal with me, she really painted a tough picture to help me ensure I was committed. She wanted to ensure I wasn't using this, as many do, as a stop gap. Being an interim has to be a career choice".

All this flexibility and exciting pacey work, is there a downside?

"There is, it is certainly not for everyone. You have to be prepared for a fallow period financially and mentally. You must be comfortable living with uncertainty and ambiguity. Once you have committed to an assignment, you cant just leave when the perfect permanent job comes in, at the executive level, you are there because you need to be, its a business priority. Being an interim requires long-term thinking and planning. As an interim you don't get involved in the politics, now this sounds like an upside, and it is if you are a true interim, but some people naturally want to be more embedded and involved, if so, interim is not for you. You also need to be very good at sticking to the deliverables, you are there to do a job, and if you get project creep, you need to be comfortable managing this with your client".

What are your handy hints to anyone thinking of becoming an interim?

"Really think about your network, this is key. 4 out of the 5 assignments I have done have been secured in this way. Be prepared to invest in your network and networking. I am an active member of the London HR Connection who meet regularly, previously in person but obviously virtually currently and are well attended with like minded people. If I am honest, if you don't enjoy networking maybe interim is not for you? As I said before, research, talk to people you know have been an interim for a while, get advice, find out about the financial side, talk to an Accountant. Being an executive level interim definitely has its challenges, and its quirks, but I have not looked back, I love the variety, the challenge, and the experiences".


Thank you so much Keith Robson for sharing your thoughts, your experiences and your advice.

We hope you have found this useful. If you would like to talk to me, or any of my colleagues about becoming an HR Interim, as always, we are here to help.

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