The Myth of the “True” Interim Executive

In the interim management industry there’s a common line of thinking that interim managers have a critical inflection point in their careers, before which they were regular employees, and afterwards they are interim managers forever – “true” interim managers. Observed deviations from this are described as mistakes: The executive found they were mistaken about being an interim manager and went back to being a permanent employee, where they belonged.

Our data at Executives Online shows that this line of thinking is mistaken. Of course there are people who are only interested in one type of role or the other, but the proportions of executives interested in both interim and permanent, and who switch back and forth between the two types of roles are huge.

Based on the past 10 years of data we have at Executives Online we see that executives seeking a new role are open to multiple possibilities.

  • 50% of candidates registered for interim roles, but only 14% registered only for interim roles
  • 85% of candidates registered for perm roles, but only 49% registered only for perm roles
  • 36% of candidates registered for both interim and permanent roles

Of course, one could argue that it’s only the 14% of candidates who registered for only interim roles who are the true interim managers, and that the 36% who registered for both interim and permanent roles were really just looking for a permanent role but would in desperation take an interim role. But this argument falls apart when one considers what roles the candidates actually take.

  • 60% of interim placements and 53% of perm placements were of candidates who indicated openness to both types of roles – despite candidates registering for both being in the minority at 36% of registrations
  • 16% of perm placements were of candidates who said at registration they were interested only in interim roles
  • 9% of interim placements were of candidates who said at registration they were interested only in perm roles

Contrary to the idea of there being “true” interim managers out there, and that these are the candidates that are most suitable for interim roles, both the candidates and the clients act otherwise. Clients are more likely to offer an interim assignment to a candidate willing to work in either an interim or permanent capacity than they are to offer the assignment to a candidate who specialises only in interim. On top of that, a substantial proportion of interim roles go to candidates who initially thought they weren’t interested in interim.

Even the “true” interims don’t stick to their guns. When actually offered a permanent role they’re nearly as likely to accept it as an executive who is exclusively looking for a permanent assignment.

As one may infer from this data, Executives Online does not restrict the communication of roles to candidates based on the type they said they want. We have always believed that the opportunity is more important to candidates than its term, and that to clients, relevant experience and skills are more important than the candidates’ self-classification as an interim manager or permanent employee.

It’s also useful to note that some roles defy categorisation as interim or permanent. For example, many roles classified as permanent are actually about specific, time-limited missions, such as taking a company public in two years. These permanent roles share many attributes with interim assignments. Mirroring this, often roles that are structured contractually as interim may look and feel a lot like a permanent job. This can happen in interim roles that bridge a gap in a management team due to an executive who is temporarily unavailable due to maternity or illness or other reasons, or in roles that the client would like to hire permanently but can't, because of a hiring freeze or (for example in the public sector) concern over incurring pension, lifetime employment and other obligations.

This myth of the “true” interim does everyone a great disservice. It causes job-seekers to blind themselves to great opportunities, and employers to fail to consider the very best candidates available. 

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