In the IM market, getting the next job requires more than sitting at home
waiting for the phone to ring. By Sally O’Reilly
Networking is essential in any profession, but interim managers rely on
contacts more than most. Figures on where interims get their assignments vary,
but the Institute of Interim Management estimates that interims get around 50
per cent through providers, and 50 per cent through their own informal
grapevine. So interims coming to the end of an assignment have a difficult
balancing act to pull off – they must operate as highly effective full-time
employees until their last day, but use their non-work time to network their
way into the next job.
Good organisation is key, according to Charles Russam, chairman of Russam
GMS. He advises the 5,000 interims on his company database to see themselves as
"serious small businesses", working on their business plan, product
and marketing strategy. "Networking is obviously an important part of this,"
he says. "But a lot of interims tend to push it down the list."
Russam GMS runs a range of training and development programmes, including
twilight workshops, with speakers on issues like tax, IR35 or preparing a CV.
But it is still up to interims to sell themselves, says Russam. "You need
to build up a database of 500 people, then write letters, email, send CVs, and
telephone the people on your list," he says. "If you work on this,
and keep at it, you will have a network for the rest of your life."
Providers should be only part of that network. "Thirty to 40 of those
500 names will be agencies. They can only hand out work if they have it, and if
you are the person best suited to that role," Russam insists.
Sticking to the rules is essential – networking can only go on after work
hours. "Taking long lunches or spending half the afternoon on the phone
finding your next assignment is not feasible," says Basil Lansdale, who
has worked as an HR interim for 12 years, has 25 years’ experience as a
full-time HR manager and frequently works on assignments found by Global
Executives. "IMs have to behave like model citizens," he says.
Jackie Hammond, an HR interim working mainly in professional services
companies, agrees. "All the work has to go on in the evenings or at
weekends, and if there is a particular event which is a networking opportunity,
I might take a day out from my contract," she says. "So it can be
expensive if you have to lose a day’s pay and then pay to attend a conference
Mixing informal and formal networking events is useful, says Hammond, who is
currently working on an assignment with the Medicines Control Agency at the
Department of Health. "I keep in regular touch with providers, either
calling them or going out for a glass of wine with the ones I know well,"
she says. "I also socialise with HR managers I have worked with in the
past, and go to some organised networking events."
It is a challenging business, but professional organisations can be useful.
Both the CIPD and the Institute of Management run workshops, seminars and
meetings which could be valuable networking opportunities. The CIPD also runs
around 16 forums per year that are open to interims.
And interims themselves are now taking the initiative. Last year saw the
launch of the Institute of Interim Management, which aims to help interims with
training and professional development, as well as offering the chance to
network. The IIM’s first evening event was held in January, and monthly
meetings will take place all over the country. Communications manager Paul
Vousden believes networking between posts is important, helping IMs form better
links with providers. "If you sign up with an agency, you may only get put
on their long list, and your name will come up only in response to certain key
words," he warns.
"There are so many people signing up with interim agencies now that
they cannot see everyone face-to-face. There is no substitute for meeting
people – so members will have the chance to talk to providers at our
Mike Measures, an interim from an accountancy background, is also trying to
make networking easier. He has set up Interim Connect, a website and virtual
notice board, which 500 interims are now using to advertise their skills.
"Interims do get assignments through the site," says Measures.
"Providers come to us when they have gaps on their databases – and so do
management consultancies." But a virtual contact point is not enough:
Measures also organises face-to-face meetings and networking events at the
Institute of Directors in London and Guildford
Taking the initiative like this can help relieve some of the stress of life
as an interim – sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring isn’t good for
Richard Humphries, who has worked as an interim specialising in supply chain
management for 11 years knows this from bitter experience. "I had
virtually back-to-back assignments until last year, and now I haven’t worked
since last August," he says. "I have signed up with 11 agencies, but
they have come up with very little." Humphries is sceptical about the
value of networking with fellow interims. "I don’t think networking is
particularly useful. Other interims are protective of what they have got. They
are looking for their own opportunities," he says.
Humphries may feel isolated, but Sharon Hingley, director of research and
resourcing at Executives on Assignment, says he has a lot in common with his
fellow interims. Although her firm has 3,500 interims on its database, only 80
turned up to a special conference 18 months ago.
"We asked them what they wanted, and they said ‘networking’," says
Hingley. "But the fact that so few people came along is indicative of how
the majority of interims on our books see networking. Some are very cagey about
it, and think other interims will take work away from them."
Executives on Assignment is setting up networking clubs in the Midlands and
the South in the spring, which aim to help interims get new assignments and
keep up with new developments by meeting their peers.
"We can set up networking clubs, find a hotel and provide food and
drink – but we can’t make people turn up," says Hingley. "We will
just have to see what happens."
Paul Botting, principal of interim practice at Odgers Ray & Berndtston,
agrees the onus is on interims to keep their networks alive. But he thinks
providers should be proactive too, particularly at the end of an assignment.
"We talk to interims, get feedback about their current assignment and
update their CV, highlighting the skills and achievements they have picked up
in the post," says Botting.
From an HR manager’s perspective, it is easier to help an interim with
networking when they start an assignment than when they leave.
Jane Pakalski, head of resourcing at retailer TK Maxx, which has 7,000
employees in the UK, currently employs three interims. "It is the
responsibility of the employer to make sure interims have a route map of the
organisation," she says. "But IMs always need to be proactive about
networking. If they haven’t got the right information, they need to ask for
When it comes to finding the next placement, she expects them to show
"The best interims are people whose networks are so strong that they
can source a new placement without taking lots of time off from their current
assignment," she says. "And the most effective networkers have the
intuition to know who the key players are, and the energy to follow it
Energy and intuition are clearly vital – but so is forward planning, says
Vousden of the Institute of Interim Managers. More than simply going to events,
interims have to be on the case when they are there.
"Very simple things are important – like making sure you have plenty of
business cards," he says. "It is surprising how many people have to
scribble their contact details down on bits of paper." Vousden also
suggests that interims should have a mini CV to give people, in leaflet form,
with up-to-date information about their experience.
But above all, interims need to talk to each other, Vousden believes. "Asking people ‘how can I help you?’ is
a good start," he says. "Networking is a two-way street. Yes, people
can help you – but you can also be useful to them. People tend to forget
Odgers Ray & Berndtston 020-7529 1025
Macmillan Davis Hodes 020-7534 2519
Executives on Assignment 01675 430 330
Global Executives 01276 671535
Russam GMS 01582 666970
Interim Connect 01428 714367
Institute of Interim Management 01536 207307
CIPD 020-8263 3256
Institute of Management
(see ‘Branches’ section for list of events throughout the UK)