Interim Must Never Be A Pale Imitation Of Executive Search

by Trevor Moulton

Interim consultants by definition occupy short term roles. Yet the nature of such roles, which tend to involve transformation or turnaround, is very demanding for candidates and critical for clients.  The search process, therefore, must never be a compromise. The calibre and fit of candidates are at least as important for interim roles as they are for permanent ones.

Finding top talent

Premium interim consultants are often not available on the open market.  Finding them requires an experienced interim search firm that adopts the same approach as permanent C-level search.

Some executive search firms have an interim arm that is integrated into the business and is governed by the same operating principles. Such firms typically go to great lengths to understand their client’s business, culture and hiring requirements and to represent their brand in the market.

They tend to have extensive cross-industry and cross-geography market intelligence and a global network of referenced and vetted candidates. When sourcing candidates, they put great emphasis on quality, proven track record and cultural fit. Once a match has been identified, they follow the same process as they do in their sister executive search businesses, from in-depth assessment to shortlisting and assimilation of the selected candidate into the client’s organisation.    

Evaluating interims

Finding game-changing talent demands acute insight garnered from sophisticated assessment techniques. Assessing hard skills is not enough. Being a digital native, a transformer and an authentic leader are as important as demonstrating hard skills that relate to a specific role. But the key attributes to assess are values, agility, drive-through, strategic intelligence, organizational adaptability, cultural maturity, emotional intelligence and consensus building.

An experienced interviewer is important, someone who knows the client well and can appreciate the nuances of personality in relation to the client’s culture and team. The best interim search firms add a scientific dimension, using established cognitive, behavioural and personality tools or applying their own proprietary assessment methods. 

The value of partnerships

Companies that use high-end interims often have a long-standing relationship with a search partner who knows their organisation well and can hit the ground running when a new brief comes in. A handful of clients that rely on interim expertise now have a more sophisticated, pro-active arrangement whereby a retained search firm builds and maintains a high performance interim talent pool designed around their required competencies and experience profiles. Candidates are assessed in advance, categorized according to skillset and ranked to help pinpoint ‘best in class athletes’.  Availability is constantly monitored, ensuring that each category has depth and breadth at any moment in time.    

The onus is on readiness to provide the right talent quickly in response to rapidly evolving requirements. Properly managed, such partnership programmes mitigate the risk of delays due to the absence of appropriate expertise or failure due to unqualified or inexperienced interims being hired through ‘quick fix’ routes.

RPO goes against the grain

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) is well suited to contract recruitment, yet some RPO service providers apply the same cost-based model to high end interim roles. It is important that clients going down the RPO route differentiate between volume suppliers of contractors and search firms providing interims. It is the job of an interim provider to understand the client, the culture and the requirements, to represent the brand and to match the right interim to the role. RPOs tend to lack the expertise and are not programmed to operate at senior executive level. Scripts have their place but, as with sourcing permanent C-suite talent, they are not the right medium for interim search.

By driving down price, RPOs also drive down quality, suffocating the client’s ability to access top interim talent. Interim search firms working direct with the client on higher margins place better qualified and suited candidates. The interim search firm’s fee level has to reflect the experience of the interim, the size and complexity of the task and the quality of the service provided, including proper candidate assessment, selection and onboarding.

Preserving quality delivers results

The model used by the best interim providers is no different from that used by leading executive search firms. Rather than transactional search delivery, results derive from deep-seated, transformational partnerships where the search firm has ‘skin in the game’. By investing time, effort and expertise on a par with executive search firms, interim search firms are far more likely to deliver candidates who bring value and leave a lasting legacy.