It’s a lifestyle not a job – what it is like to work as an interim manager

To the outsider, the life of an interim manager is one characterised by whistlestop tours of needy companies and by hourly fees that would make Donald Trump blush. Recent research by the Praxis interim management agency found that top interims were earning up to £3,000 a day in 2005.

Surely this is the main reason to become an interim manager? Not so, according to Peter Gregory, an HR interim manager specialising in learning & development and talent management.

“The pay has its plusses and its minuses,” he says. “You have to bear in mind you aren’t going to get it 12 months a year, and you don’t get paid holidays – every day you take off is a day’s lost income. My first holiday as an interim was the most expensive of my life.”

This leads to his central piece of advice to anyone considering moving into interim management: this is more than a career change – it is a lifestyle choice.

“Think about it in terms of where it sits with your personal life and career plans,” Gregory says. “Don’t do it because you are attracted by the rates. Only do it if it’s consistent with the way you want your life to be.”

And those aren’t the only warnings. Interim life isn’t the jet-setting existence that some would have you believe.

Gregory warns that interim managers constantly have to deal with the uncertainty of where the next assignment might come from. Moreover, finding the next job is largely up to you, which can be a shock to the system from those new to the lifestyle.

“When you work outside an organisation, you need to convince people that you have what it takes and that you can deliver,” he says. “I had never had to sell myself in that way. You suddenly have to ask: how do I market myself? How do I use my network? How do I set up and run a company?”

Believing in your own brand is central to success, Gregory says. “Be confident you can put together a case for why people would want to buy your talents. Ask yourself whether you are good enough at selling yourself as a unique sales proposition.”

So what made Gregory pursue this path?

“Almost all my career I worked in two large organisations – the time was right to do more of the work I was interested in, but in a broader context,” he says.

“Since working independently, I have worked in utilities, central government and publishing. I began to do more of what I am interested in. After 30 years in large organisations, to step outside and sell myself was daunting – but it was also stimulating.

When starting out, your network will prove invaluable, says Gregory, adding that you can’t be picky about what jobs your contacts produce.

“Agencies want people on their books with proven track records,” he says. “Once you get that then you are up and running because you can demonstrate you are a credible manager.”

He also recommends spreading yourself as widely as possible.

“We have to work very hard at networking and with the agencies – it is a very disparate supplier market,” he says. “There aren’t three or four major agencies to go to as is the case when recruiting for permanent positions. You need to spread your reputation wider.”

Is all the hard work worth it? Gregory seems in no doubt.

“It gives me variety and more control of my destiny,” he says. “It also gives me more detachment, as my career isn’t dependent on being successful in one job. I can be more open and straight with people. I can tell them exactly what I think instead of having to toe the line, which you have to do in some companies. It has increased my personal confidence by 100%.”

Peter Gregory’s tips for the successful interim manager:

  • Make sure you are always learning – if you are back in the market every few months you need to be on top of your knowledge
  • Never assume a thing that works in one organisation will work in another
  • Use your skills to add value quickly
  • You need to be able to cope with the ambiguity of being in a temporary position all the time

Peter Gregory’s CV

Interim posts:

  • Sept 2005-May 2006 Talent director, Centrica
  • June-September 2005 Talent consultant, Department for Work and Pensions
  • December 2004-May 2005 Training consultant, Fitch Ratings,
  • April-October 2004 Talent director, Centrica
  • January-March 2004 Learning & development consultant, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Permanent positions:

  • 1992-2003 Barclays
    Roles included: head of talent programmes, change project director and head of graduate development
  • 1990-1992 News Corporation
    Director of organisation development, News International
  • 1978-1990 Ford Motor Company
    Roles included: head of learning & development and manager of organisation & personnel development

For more on interim management go to:

The right person for the job – when is the right time to employ an interim?

Try before you buy – how four HR directors use interim managers

Interim management market overview: Demand is anything but temporary

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