At one time, the role of the comms interim was to plug the occasional maternity leave, provide cover for long-term sickness or simply act as an extra pair of hands at times of heavy workload. Equally, many interims regarded contracting as merely a fleeting stopgap in their search for a permanent career move.
However, there has been a major shift in attitude towards interim roles in the past ten years, both from a client and candidate point of view. Last year alone, the number of interim placements grew by more than 40 per cent at VMA Group, which points to a sea-change – not only in client expectations but also in candidate aspirations.
Vicki Jay, head of practice, interim comms, at VMA Group says: "Clients’ assumptions of what an interim can and should achieve have changed dramatically during the past decade.
Today, our clients are more than likely to call upon the services of an interim manager where there is a specific organisational need. The demand is for individuals who have the right mix of strategic and tactical skills to take the bull by the horns and turn things around, often with little or no guidance from a line manager and no formal handover or induction."
A typical example of where an interim may be called upon to lend their expertise is when an organisation is faced with a reputational issue, where crisis-management skills are highly sought after. Similarly, internal comms specialists are often required to drive culture change, managing restructuring programmes after mergers and acquisitions or communicating change-management initiatives involving new technology or premises.
However, recent figures show that demand for interims is not limited to issues and internal comms – interim roles have increased across the board in all comms disciplines.
Meanwhile, the interim market has evolved in the eyes of candidates too – today, interim management is seen as a deliberate, rewarding and long-term career choice. As a result, a new breed of career interim has emerged, carving a niche for themselves in the comms jobs market. This new breed thrives on the buzz of having an immediate impact and relishes the challenge of solving a particular problem. Moreover, they are motivated by the idea of leaving a lasting legacy that comes hand in hand with the accomplishment of a successful project.
Jay comments: "The types of individuals who are attracted to this career path are flexible and comfortable with ambiguity and being autonomous. There tends to be no honeymoon period with an interim role, so the most successful individuals are self-starters who don’t expect a lengthy induction on their first day and can hit the ground running with little input from others. The best interims are politically aware as well. They soon work out who the key stakeholders are within an organisation and have the savvy to get these people on their side."
Those who possess this unique skill set can expect to be snapped up quickly, and the changing mindset of employers and increase in demand has led to a skills shortage. Jay concludes: "Not everyone has the endurance and resilience required of an interim, but for those who do, it’s a highly rewarding and challenging career path to choose."