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Interim executives increasingly sought after

Finding the right talent when you need it is one of the biggest headaches for any manager. There are countless recruiters ready to help out but this takes time and money. And, if your requirements are very specific, you may find that you need the resources of a national or even global search. Unless you strike the right agency the result can be a frustrating collection of vaguely qualified CVs taken from the agency database. Fortunately, these days there are other options. Daniel Sheahan, CEO Elect of ComOps looks at the latest tools available when you need to find interim, contracting or project talent fast.

There are many reasons why an organisation may decide to seek interim talent. Sometimes it’s to cover an absence such as long service or maternity leave. Other examples include assistance for a particular project, overseeing the introduction of a new business initiative, or providing the organisation with specialist expertise and an outsider’s point of view. There are also occasions when experienced interim executives are called upon to provide mentoring, helping to bring a new management recruit up to speed. All of these tend to be planned events.

Then there are impromptu or unplanned reasons such as the need to oversee an unexpected tender response, a surprise contact win that demands immediate attention, a key executive being diagnosed with a serious illness, or an urgent legal or financial matter.  An interim executive is a hands-on addition to the business that avoids head count restrictions and the cost overhead associated with a full time employee.

Interim contracts can vary from three to twelve months. They can be an efficient and flexible way for an organisation to avail itself of the very specific talent required for a particular task, but it does require the ability to access the talent as and when the need arises.

Accessing the interim executive

Most companies today have a practised ease when it comes to finding and appointing contract IT, secretarial or administrative staff. They’ve been doing it for decades. Indeed, many have a preferred temp agency or IT contractor agency that knows their needs and can supply the required talent within 24 hours or less.

Locating an interim executive however, is different. At this level the recruit is going to be entrusted to a senior, responsible, decision-making position. They’ll need to get on with other management, work well with staff and it’s essential that they understand the organisation and the task.  This requires finding not only the necessary skills, knowledge and experience but also the right cultural fit.

Advertising in a business newspaper is a fairly common strategy when recruiting a permanent executive.  For an interim role it may ensure your need is seen by the right potential candidates but it’s a very expensive and lengthy approach. If your requirements demand that the search extends to multiple geographies and therefore multiple publications the cost will probably be prohibitive.  And it’s going to take substantial time before you find and appoint the right person.

Some organisations choose to build and maintain their own talent database based on an assessment of required skills and expertise. This is not an overnight solution but it can be very targeted. By tapping into the knowledge of key staff most organisations will find they can create a rough starter list of useful contacts relatively quickly with additional names added over time. To ensure a breadth of experience and to gain from the benefit of cross-industry fertilisation of ideas and practices, it’s a good idea to try to ensure that the focus doesn’t remain solely on contacts from within your own industry.

As with any database, planning and maintenance are essential. There’s no point investing in the development if someone isn’t assigned responsibility for noting executive and key personnel movements within the industry, and keeping the contact records up to date. This means that an internally developed database is probably most suited to larger organisations where demand for interim executives is particularly high, causing the database to be continually reviewed and renewed, or where the organisation operates within a very specific, clearly identified niche.

Looking online

Traditional job boards (such as seek.com.au or careerone.com.au) are a popular tool for job seekers but they aren’t necessarily a great solution for HR. First there’s the problem of identifying which of the many sites hold details for the kind of person you need. Then there’s the time it takes to whittle down the list of job seekers to hopefully identify suitable candidates willing to take an interim position. To make it more difficult, many truly senior executives avoid job boards believing they aren’t the most appropriate vehicle to represent their expertise. These people know that their skills are in demand and they don’t want to be treated like a commodity.

This has led to the development of a number of specialist online interim executive sites (such as www.executivesonline.com.au). Designed as global high-level talent banks the sites contain details of thousands of executives available to fill short or medium term senior management functions right up to CEO or managing director.

Unlike consultants, the executives on offer take a hands-on role, working with their employer’s goals in mind, often open to the idea of results-linked remuneration. They are used to quickly jumping in and assessing new situations. Usually available to start in a matter of days, their hire involves minimum recruitment and termination formalities. They bring a tremendous depth and variety of experience along with new skills and contacts that will benefit not only the role but also the entire organisation.

The idea of interim or contract executives is still relatively new, but it’s a flexible and extremely successful way of filling a senior management gap when a permanent employee is not an option or can’t be found quickly enough.

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