Communications professionals are increasingly considering interim positions as a way of introducing flexibility into their working lives, finds Charlotte Beugge
Charlotte Beugge is a journalist on the Daily Mail.
Fewer hours, more holidays, lots of variety, good money and no need to get involved in office politics...these are some of the compelling reasons why more top corporate communicators are giving up the daily grind and instead opting to become interim managers.
But this isn't a role for just anyone. It takes a very special type of corporate communications expert to succeed at being an interim: it is not simply a temping job. There is no job security and unless candidates have the ability to network well, there could be long gaps between posts.
But for corporate communicators with plenty of experience - though probably not all with the same employer - an interim manager position might be an ideal solution, particularly for those who want to do something other than working all year round in an office.
An interim management post allows candidates the chance to work for a few months then take time off, perhaps to travel or indulge a hobby, before the next contract. Corporate communications interim managers are brought in by companies to oversee particular projects. It might be a role to communicate changes, implement new strategies or simply just maternity cover.
Turning into a profession
Interim management has taken off over the past ten years and now is seen as a profession of its own. Interim managers set themselves up as limited companies, appoint accountants and bookkeepers and then sell their services to companies.
Search consultancy group VMA claims that the typical placement will be at least three months, although 90 per cent of the time this is extended; on average, an interim will work for a client for nine months.
Interim managers tend to work for around 220 days a year and obviously only get paid for the days they work. But they set their own salaries. VMA claims that interim managers typically work on a daily rate calculated as 30 per cent on top of their usual salary, divided by 220.
Vicki Jay, VMA's head of interim communications practice, says: 'Most of the interims registered with us would say what rate they would be willing to work for. If someone says they won't get out of bed for less than £500 a day then I'm not going to talk to them about working for £400 but I might suggest them for roles paying £700.' However, it is fair to say that the recession has shaken up the sector and, in some cases, rates are falling.
Jay adds: 'For us, it's about managing expectations from both sides. Two years ago, a really strong public sector interim could get £700 to £800 a day. That's not going to happen today.'
But the recession has also afforded an increase in interim posts. Companies with recruitment freezes can take on interims on contract. From the companies' point of view, there are no expensive costs associated with taking on staff - such as pensions and insurance.
Energy and initiative required
And, of course, there is the need to communicate the companies' reaction to the recession. Handling the messaging around cutting staff is just the kind of corporate communications challenge that an interim might be taken on to handle.
Indeed, some companies without in-house departments use interims for issues such as getting across their reasons for making staff redundant or closing down parts of their business.
So, what makes a good interim manager? Many interim managers are, on paper, over-qualified for the role; they might have previously been the head of a corporate communications department but, as an interim, may be expected to defer to someone less experienced and qualified.
A successful interim will not be a wallflower. They will need to be self-assured and full of initiative - they will not just sit at their desks waiting to be told what to do. They must be confident enough to approach the company's directors directly without having to ask for help from others.
Age is not a factor - there are interims in their early thirties - but most interims are in their forties or older and have a long track record in corporate communications. They will have worked for several employers or, if they have been loyal to one company, held a number of roles.
Most interims view this as a career rather than a stop-gap although the recession means that some of those communicators made redundant are turning their hand to interim roles. But it does also offer an opportunity for reinvention: former public sector corporate communicators can transfer successfully to being interims in the private sector.
However, few interim placements turn into permanent jobs. Not only is it the nature of the role - being brought in for special projects with a finite length - but interims do not want to return to their old way of working.
And it is the lifestyle that is particularly attractive. Jay says: 'I've got one interim manager who spends six months working in the UK and then goes to Australia for six months. I've got others who have their own businesses and want to work only part of the year - one has a garden landscaping business.'
Others like the idea they can work flat out and earn good money for a few months and then take time off. 'They are taking control of their lives,' says Jay.
Jane Vincent became an interim last year after being made redundant from a corporate communications role at a leading train leasing company. After a career in broadcast journalism followed by a range of PR jobs in the rail industry, she was approached by a number of headhunters suggesting she consider becoming an interim.
Her first role was as head of media relations with Detica, part of BAE Systems where she was originally taken on for three months, which was extended to five. That was followed by a maternity cover role at the General Medical Council (GMC). Since that role finished in November, she's been renovating a house in the country and is currently looking for new roles.
Vincent, who has her own company, Positive Story, says what she really likes about being an interim is that it has enabled her to move into different sectors. 'I didn't want to be pigeon-holed into just one industry. I've now been able to experience different sectors; Detica gave me the chance to work in defence and technology and the GMC to work in health. Interim work has helped open up new opportunities for me.'
She says that being a good interim corporate communicator comes down to the skills that those at the top of their profession will have well-honed. 'You need to be a self-starter and confident of your skills. You've got to be good with building rapport and relationships - and you also need to network to get work,' she says.
Jennifer Duffy has been working as an interim corporate communications director at Balfour Beatty Services. She works three days a week and on the other days, works for other clients and indulges her love of writing: she's written a few screenplays. Living in the Kent countryside also means she can have the time to get involved in the local community: she did the PR for the Tunbridge Wells music festival.
She started as an interim after a career mainly in agencies. Her first role was at Lloyds TSB followed by maternity cover at Visa - which turned into four years. Duffy values the variety. 'I like a challenge,' she says. 'Moving to different companies and industries makes the work interesting.'
Diplomacy and sensitivity
To be a successful interim, Duffy says that it is necessary to finesse diplomatic skills. 'When you take on a new role, you need to be sensitive to the needs of those you're working for. You've got to demonstrate how you can help and show what you do will add value to the business. You need to be a good listener and learn about the business you're working for quickly. People can be slightly wary about outsiders coming in: you have to be aware of their concerns and react accordingly.'
From the employer's point of view, interims can work well too. Ros Kindersley, managing director of JFL Search & Selection, says that in the current economic climate, employers are not always keen to take on permanent staff with all the associated costs. And they also can use interim roles as a way of seeing if someone will fit a permanent role.
She adds: 'We have seen an increase in the number of interim roles over the last 18 months to two years and some do turn into permanent roles.' Changes to government legislation lengthening the paid maternity leave to one month have also led to more interim roles, Kindersley adds.
Taking someone on for three or six months also enables employers to test them out on a 'suck it and see' basis, says Kindersley. As interim jobs are filled quickly - instead of going through a lengthy interview process, interims are likely to see the company one week and join the next - that also suits many employers' situations.
However, taking the plunge and leaving a permanent job to become an interim is a big step to take. As Kindersley explains, the nature of interim jobs means that a company will need to appoint someone quickly: so unless you're on a very short notice period at your current job you will have to give up work and then risk your chances to get an interim post.
But experts advise that those entering the interim market will need to have savings to provide an income while awaiting their first post. And there's fierce competition for places. VMA says that typically there are six people chasing each interim post. But if you're prepared for a life-changing experience which could mean more money and less work, being an interim could be the answer.