Winning ways

Newcomers to interim management can
find it hard to adjust to the business of winning assignments, but learning how
to work well with a good agency will prove invaluable from the very beginning,
By Rob McLuhan

Interim work can be highly
rewarding but it does involve more or less perpetual job-seeking. While those
seeking permanent employment will thankfully put the rigmarole of CVs and
interviews behind them when they join a new company, the interim manager must
treat the business of winning assignments as a skill in itself.

Much of the
aggravation is taken out of this by a good agency, which will identify suitable
projects and make the first contacts. So an ability to maintain a good
relationship with the agency is itself essential. Interim managers must not
only impress potential clients; they need to ensure that someone is actively
keeping an eye open for future opportunities.

For managers who have
established a career in interim work all this soon becomes second nature but
for beginners the routine can seem unfamiliar. That is especially the case for
top executives who may be embarking on a new career as an interim after having
retired from a long-term post.

"Quite often it
is the more senior managers who need the most guidance," comments Sheila
Chalker, partner at Interim Management Services. "They have had staff to
do their office work so when it comes to organising their own CV and
administration it can seem quite foreign."

Write
a good CV

Many of the rules for
an interim manager’s CV are the same as for a permanent position, and all
agencies emphasise the need for clarity, conciseness and relevance. Treat it as
a marketing tool for your professional expertise and achievements, they say,
and be prepared to tailor it to specific assignments.

Experts have always
been divided about how long a CV should be, with some urging brevity as a means
of creating impact while others prefer to err on the side of too much detail.
David Bradford, managing director of Impact Executives, says, "You don’t
have to restrict it to two pages, although more than four is probably too much.
But stick to the key facts, rather than going on about how wonderful you are,
or including irrelevant information such as hobbies or the ages of your
children."

The agency can be a
useful source of advice but may not want to tamper too much. "If there are
obvious problems we would discuss it with the manager and ask them to
re-submit. But your CV normally says something about yourself so we would avoid
altering as far as possible," Bradford says.

When it comes to
content and presentation there are a few key points to bear in mind: Include
information about all the key managerial roles you have held. These should be
specific about job titles, the size of organisation and budgetary
responsibilities. Posts held as long ago as 10 years are still worth mentioning
if they show evidence of relevant skills and experience.

Use an electronic
format. Searches are increasingly done automatically, which means the CV will
need to be presented as a readily accessible file document. Be aware too that
potential clients will be using key words to perform searches – phrases such as
"demerger" and "organisational development" will alert
clients to the qualities that meet their needs.

Don’t include your
salary requirements. The rate will most likely be subject to negotiation, with
the agency including its cut. Interim work is normally charged by the day and
does not usually correlate to annual salaries, especially when travel and
accommodation expenses and the lack of benefits are taken into account.

Leave out your name
and address. Most agencies will not want to include this when they contact the
client and their deleting it could make the front of the CV look odd.

Include language
skills. Malcolm Browne, head of Penna Interim, recalls having difficulty
finding French speakers for temporary HR posts in Paris. He eventually found
two individuals who spoke excellent French but had forgotten to mention this on
their CV.

Winning
the assignment

The objective is not
to be a candidate but to be a winner – at the very least you want to ensure you
are shortlisted for an interview. You can improve your chances by drawing the
client’s attention to key achievements and highlighting the benefits you have
bought to an organisation.

Nor is it necessary to
have experience of the company’s specific activity. "A client looks for
two things," says Penna Interim’s Browne. "Professional expertise is
an absolute, so for a financial post they will be looking for someone with
experience as a finance director. However when it comes to experience in their
sector they may be more flexible."

Surprisingly, HR
professionals are not always good at marketing their skills, even though they
spend much of their time handling other people’s CVs, according to Paul Clarke,
consultancy services director at Academy (HR) Services Group. "They need
to show they have a firm understanding of HR practices as well as how their
policies impact on the performance of the business," he says.

Many clients ask
candidates to give a presentation, so check with the agency on the required
format. There is nothing worse than the candidate turning up with floppy disk
for a laptop when there is only an overhead projector, but it does
happen," Penna Interim’s Browne says. "And don’t leave it until the
last minute. We have had calls from candidates on the evening before saying
their printer doesn’t work and asking what they should do."

A willingness to
negotiate is a major asset when it comes to salary, hours and travel. That is
not always easy, particularly on the matter of location. Many assignments are
offered a long way from home, which means taking temporary accommodation or
being resigned to a long daily journey. But the fewer obstacles the candidate
raises the more likely they are to win the assignment.

Even though the
assignment may involve considerable expense in terms of accommodation and
travel it is wise not to insist that the client foots the bill. This can make
them think twice and is in any case often unnecessary, as the extra amount
needed can often be quietly factored in when you are negotiating the fee.

When it comes to the
weekly schedule there is increasing room for manoeuvre. "Companies are
becoming very flexible, and interims need to be as well," comments
Caroline Battson, interim team leader for Macmillan Davies Hodes. "For new
mothers going back to work, clients often allow a schedule of four days a week
or a 10am-4pm working day. But then interims need to be willing to reciprocate,
perhaps working at weekends occasionally to fit in with the client’s business
needs."

Working
with your chosen agency

Getting on well with
the agency is the best way to ensure a regular flow of congenial, well-paid
assignments, so it is important to be sensitive to its needs.

"Building up a
relationship based on honesty and trust is beneficial for everybody," says
Battson. "The agency knows the person can carry out a particular role
because they have done it before, while the interim can go to jobs knowing they
are relevant to their previous experience."

The consultant you
deal with at the agency will write up an initial report based on an interview
and references. This forms the basis of what it passes on to clients. So it is
important to treat them exactly as you would an employer, taking care how you
present yourself. "Make it clear that you are looking for a proper career
and not just treating interim work as a stop gap. That means they can expect to
get repeat business," says Impact Executives’ Bradford.

Good communications is
a must – agencies like to keep in close touch with the managers on their books
and be able to contact them easily. That is especially important between jobs,
as they may need to establish your availability for an assignment very quickly.
A home phone number is not enough – have e-mail and a mobile phone as well and
check them regularly for messages.

Be sure to let the
agency know when you expect to complete an assignment so it can start looking
for the next. "It’s nice to be rung mid-term to let us know how things are
going," says Penna Interim’s Browne.

He adds that he likes
to network with candidates, so be prepared to suggest the names of people who
might be able to fill other posts – you can expect them to return the favour.

Undertaking
and completing the assignment

Assuming the agency
has successfully matched your qualifications to the job, there should be no
learning curve to negotiate. In fact, senior professionals are overqualified
for many of the assignments they take on, and enjoy dazzling the company by
completing it ahead of schedule and above expectations.

A key to success is to
maintain excellent communications. In the initial phase the assignment brief
should be reviewed and clarifications and modifications sought if necessary. In
some cases the assignment may have arisen through some instability in the
company, in which case tact may be necessary to ensure everything proceeds
smoothly.

Regular contacts with
colleagues on the client side can be helpful, especially if they are not on the
site where the assignment is being carried out. That is often the case at
senior level, where the managing director and group managing director may be in
different locations.

Keep the agency
informed about progress. "You will get hiccups from time to time, and it
is important to bring a consultant into the picture so we can help when
necessary," says Impact Executives" Bradford. "The brief may
turn out not quite as expected and we can help in that."

And don’t get involved
in company politics. "That’s the great benefit of being on a temporary
assignment, as the regular staff should not see the interim as a threat to
their positions," says Bradford. "You can just get on with the job
and let the local politicians sort themselves out."

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