Organizations driving change,managing through crisis, or holding course during a vacancy will often turn to the agility and expertise of an interim executive. It’s a career for the bold professional with deep skill and experience.
BlueSteps is the executive career management service of the AESC. Glenda Brown, Managing Director of BlueSteps and Kathy Simmons, Executive Director of BlueSteps Career Services provide clarity, counsel and resources for BlueSteps members considering an interim executive career
DEFINING THE INTERIM EXECUTIVE
Just what is an interim executive? It’s a C-level professional who takes on a high-level mission in an organization and upon completion, moves to the next mission. “Think of the career as a serial executive,” Simmons says.
Interim executives can have specialized strengths—turnarounds, mergers, launches, crisis management, diagnostics. They can take over leadership of a vacant role—a business unit, function or team—with little to no learning curve, while an organization completes a search for a permanent hire. “When there is upheaval in an organization it is imperative that the organization have superior talent to lead through its challenges,” Brown explains. “Often the solution for those types of situations is an interim executive who has the agility and ability to come in, boots on the ground, and manage an organization through either change or crisis, whichever the case may be.”
Unlike a consultant, Simmons says, “Interim executives get parachuted in to take over, do the turnaround, and then hand it off. Consultants come in and advise. They may advise the CEO on the next steps, but an interim executive is the CEO during that period.”
According to Brown, “Interims thrive on uncertainty. Whereas most of us would say, ‘Hey, whoa, that company is a nightmare. I’m not taking that job!’ An interim executive says ‘I love nightmares! Bring me in, let me fix it, then I’ll move on.’”
Brown and Simmons advise candidates interested in becoming interim C-level executives.
SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Transitioning to an interim executive career may require a different way of thinking. Simmons says she is an advocate for the idea of portfolio careers. What does that look like? “Let’s say you have tremendous strategic skills. Well, that could point to board opportunities. If you’re a top line revenue producer, a company may not be in a position to hire a new chief revenue officer, but they will bring in someone for an interim role,” Simmons says.
When you’re looking at interim roles, you really have to see yourself as a solution to a problem.
“Look for the work, don’t look for the job. And by that, I mean look for the work that you want to be doing,” Simmons explains. “Part of the concept around interim is understanding internally who you are, and what kind of problems you want to solve. When you’re looking at interim roles, you really have to see yourself as a solution to a problem, the solution that the company needs at that particular moment in time.”
BlueSteps Career Services helps members identify and market their strengths; both motivational strengths and acquired strengths. “The motivational ones are the ones that get you up in the morning. They’re the ones that you look forward to going to work to do. The acquired skills and strengths, they’re the ones that you’ve had to learn in order to get the job done, but they don’t particularly inspire you,” Simmons explains.
She describes helping members identify their skills and drive, and brand around that. “It’s part of discovering the lens that you need to use to look at your career. And as you do that, some people are very surprised what they find out and what really is their passion. It’s the idea of taking their job search as a product launch. You need to understand what you’re bringing to market and what your value is and how you can make a difference. Once you understand that, it helps you understand who your market is and what your branding needs to be. From a coaching perspective, it’s coming from the inside out, discovering that, and then distilling it and articulating it in a way that’s going to resonate with your target audience,” Simmons says.
AN ENVIRONMENT FOR INTERIM
In the COVID era many organizations are facing restructuring, digital transformation, supply chain issues, and more. Those organizations need specialized leadership. During heightened uncertainty they may need to act quickly, yet face reluctance, or various internal or external obstacles to filling a high-level position on a permanent basis. According to Brown, “BlueSteps sees COVID-19 as a crisis that has created upheaval across numerous industries and organizations. And this in turn has created needs in many cases for superior interim executives.”
Interims thrive on uncertainty. Whereas most of us would say, ‘Hey, whoa, that company is a nightmare. I’m not taking that job!’ An interim executive says ‘I love nightmares! Bring me in, let me fix it, then I’ll move on.’
For example, she says, “You could have a hurricane going on in your company, whether that’s because that company is being acquired, you’re a consumer goods company and you’ve had a product recall, you’ve had something really bad happen from a PR perspective, or perhaps your organization is seeing that their lack of strategic supply chain management is going to put them out of business—suddenly a C-level executive to oversee supply chain becomes job one. There could be numerous reasons that companies suddenly are in a crisis. Often that crisis will create a need for an interim executive.”
Simmons recalls a BlueSteps Career Services client. “He was a turnaround guy.” She describes “working with him to really get in touch with what was exciting about turnarounds for him. He had been called in to sort out the problems for several country operations for a global company in Europe. And then he came back to the US and did the same kind of thing with one of their subsidiaries. And he was at a point where he recognized that yes, he could stay in a sustaining role with that company, but he would not be doing the kind of work where he felt he really contributed and really came alive.”
For this client, becoming an interim executive could be the path that both leveraged his skills and “fed his soul.”
RESOURCES FOR CANDIDATES
As the candidate care and career management service of the AESC, BlueSteps provides abundant resources to help executives position themselves for an interim executive career. According to Brown, “This includes our extensive and growing webinar and virtual workshop experiences with renowned thought leaders from AESC member firms, career coaching, our expertise in personal branding, developing executive career documents such as resumes and bios, et cetera.”
BlueSteps hosted two recent webinars on positioning for interim careers, published a guide, and released additional, meaningful content to members. “It’s a big theme for us right now,” Brown says. “And we’ve seen a tremendous appetite and response from executives who are investing in our services and benefiting from them; executives who are interested in interim roles.
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