I spend a lot of time writing about career paths I’d prefer to my own. The NED lifestyle, for example. Or the CEO of Liverpool Football Club (still waiting). So this month might as well be no different. This time, it’s professional interim.
Most people understand and appreciate the life of a professional executive. A business needs someone who can cover for a day, week, or short-term project. They will hire a specific skill for a specific period. The people that often did them, in the finance world, were from New Zealand, Australia or South Africa. They would take on a three-month assignment, work incredibly hard and then travel for a month before returning and repeating. And then in the words of one person from New Zealand (this will date me) ‘l go home, buy a farm for cash and hire a manager to run it for me while I watch rugby’.
Clearly this was an enviable lifestyle but it was never one I could aspire to. The exchange rate didn’t work for me and my mother would have been very disappointed if I’d been that itinerant. Well – for two years-plus anyway.
But a third, very attractive option has opened up over the last 20 years: professional interim. As businesses have started to look more carefully at significant change programmes, or maternity cover, or gaps left by people leaving or any number of other long-term but not permanent solutions, they have needed a different solution. Someone who is used to taking a permanent view; who is going to think about the long-term consequences of decisions; someone who can take on senior leadership roles and deliver swiftly and efficiently. No learning curve. No hand holding. A heavyweight, experienced solution to a specific issue where you don’t have time to wait.
At the same time there has been a growing number of people approaching the latter phases of their career who have been less motivated by remuneration or career building than by flexibility and interest in what they are doing. Each provided a perfect solution to the other. A group of people that wanted to take on six- to 18-month projects with a clear and well defined end date. And businesses that were looking for a community of people that could come in and do a job they could do well, and relatively easily, but with zero expectation of a full-time role at the end of it.
As a result I have spent more time than I want to with people who look a lot less stressed than I do, a lot more tanned than I do, who work nine months and not three and who really, really enjoy what they do. Which means they are three up on me. Which, after the hundredth person, is almost as irritating as I’ve been to Arsenal fans recently.