The benefits and drawbacks of working interim

With one in seven people in the UK workforce now working as a contractor rather than permanent employee, what are the pros and cons of working interim? Can you successfully have a career which includes both types of working, or if you’ve chosen to work in interim roles is there no way back to permanent ones?

The pros of working in interim roles

There are lots of benefits to working interim or as a contractor. These include:

  • The flexibility to choose the type of work you do
  • Variety and the chance to experience different work cultures
  • The opportunity to broaden your career across different industries
  • The option to deepen your expertise as a subject matter expert or specialist
  • Chance to expand your professional network
  • The opportunity to work for sustained periods of time but then have chunks of time off
  • Pay tends to be higher than for a salaried role of the same seniority
  • Not being involved in office politics
  • The satisfaction of making a real difference to an organisation

Being your own boss can be liberating and if you’re in the privileged position of being able to pick and choose the assignments you undertake it can also be very rewarding.

Many people make the choice to only work on interim or contract assignments instead of having a permanent job. Years ago recruiters had a mindset that a person was either an interim or a permanent candidate, but attitudes have shifted recently as the UK work culture has gone through changes, with recruiters now reporting that, as long as a person appears to be genuinely committed to a permanent role, having worked interim doesn’t hold them back.

Amy Stephenson, managing director of Human, a specialist HR recruitment agency, says: “From a client’s perspective I don’t see any cons of employing an interim professional on a permanent basis. Interim professionals aren’t another breed, they’re human too. They want challenge and variety and reward just like anyone else.

“Our role as recruiters is to understand the value added to the candidate by an interim opportunity and convey that to a client. That value could be the ability to work across a diverse range of sectors, to quickly understand an industry or business, to be able to parachute in and problem solve, engage stakeholders quickly or just being confident enough to apply their previous experience to a whole new set of rules and structures.”

The drawbacks of working in interim roles

Despite all of the positives, working in interim, by their nature short-term roles can also be very challenging. The difficulties reported by people working interim include:

  • Gaps in employment – and therefore in finances
  • The pressure to deliver and make a tangible difference in a short amount of time
  • Less understanding of the key influencers and relationships within an organisation
  • Fewer benefits than if you were employed – no sick or holiday pay and no company pension contribution
  • The potential to have to work away from home and live out of a suitcase, away from friends and family
  • Depending on whether you work via a limited company, umbrella company or directly for the company, possible taxation issues linked to IR35

If you’re working as an interim manager in any profession, it’s highly likely the organisation has identified an urgent need for someone with a specialist skillset, meaning you will be expected to make a real difference swiftly.

Interim roles can also crop up to cover long-term sickness or maternity leave, or perhaps while an organisation decides whether to permanently establish a post or secure long term budget for a role. Whatever the reason, as interim work attracts a rate over and above the salary you might expect for a similar role, there is always a pressure to perform. While some people thrive in this kind of environment, others may find the expectations a bit much.

Living with insecurity also takes a certain mindset as interim roles can come to an end quickly meaning you always have to be on the look-out for a new role, while simultaneously delivering brilliantly on your current assignment. It takes a lot of resilience to be able to juggle both of those imperatives, which is one of the major reasons that working interim isn’t for everyone.

Interim work and your CV

If you have chosen to do interim work, whether as a long-term career choice or after holding permanent roles, what implications could this have when recruiters look at your CV?

Amy has advice on just this topic: “If you are trying to decide whether to accept an interim post its important you are clear about your reasons and ensure that you gather evidence throughout your contract. So if your remit is to deliver a project, make a note the project’s benefits – how much money you saved the company, who you trained, what problems you solved – so that when you add that role to your CV you can demonstrate the impact of and your learning from that opportunity.”

It’s likely that you will have gaps on your CV created by one assignment ending and your next one not starting immediately. Perhaps you chose to take a break at the end of a particularly high-pressure role or to have some time at home with your family after a period working away. All of those are valid reasons for gaps in employment, but you need to make sure that you explain them on your CV.

Explaining your motivation for working interim – and for wanting to move back into the permanent workforce if that’s the case – is really important too. It’s increasingly common for people to move between interim and permanent roles, but employers will want the security of knowing you won’t ditch your next interim role for a permanent one, or vice versa.

Finally, make sure you highlight the benefits of having experience working in interim roles. These include:

  • The ability to rapidly adapt to new environments and work cultures
  • Experience in quickly establishing rapport and developing relationships
  • Influence and ability to engage others and establish the credibility of your experience/expertise
  • Flexibility and adaptability to a changing landscape and deliverables.
  • A focus on creating results
  • Change management experience

If you’re considering a change in your career, whether you’re just looking for your next role or want to explore whether working interim or going into a permanent role will work for you, having an expert on your side can help. Give me a call on 07 765 894040 to book your free chemistry session.

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