A Rosy Option for the Pink-Slipped Set
Stint as an Interim Exec Provides Chance to Regroup, Land a New Career
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Jun 01, 2001
News of downtrodden information technology businesses and their former employees are commonplace these days, as layoffs continue and some businesses shut their doors. But the employment outlook isn't all bad, according to staffing company executives who say that the recent economic malaise could be a boon for workers willing to take temporary assignments as interim executives.
A sluggish economy presents a perfect opportunity for employers and workers to regroup through relatively risk-free, short-term assignments, said Bob Senatore, executive vice president of Comforce Corp., a technology consulting and staffing company in Woodbury, N.Y. Comforce clients include systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. and software giant Microsoft Corp.
"It's the wave of the future. It's where companies need to go," Senatore said.
Employers save money by bringing on interim workers, who generally don't get health benefits and other perks. They also get an infusion of talent that can be used to turn around an ailing business unit, expand into new markets, replace an essential employee quickly or take on a time-sensitive task, such as preparing for an initial public offering.
An interim executive, who might be hired for three months to a year, is not the same as a temporary office worker or consultant.
Unlike the office temp, the interim executive is not replacing someone who is sick or on vacation, but is taking a position at a high management or skill level that could not be filled in-house. And unlike a consultant, who is often seen as an outside observer, the interim executive is considered a hands-on staff member who can get things done.
"The whole interim executive notion enables the organization to continue to operate as a going concern while figuring out where their business is going. In times of change, the concept is something companies are very eager to employ," said Paul Dinte, president of Dinte Resources Inc., an executive search firm in McLean, Va.
Dinte, for example, is looking for an interim executive to help a billion-dollar systems integrator move into the entertainment industry. The new hire will be asked to develop a business strategy and introduce his employer to contacts in the new market, Dinte said.
An interim executive assignment might be ideal for a former high-tech worker who got hefty stock payoffs and may not need or want to make a long-term commitment to a job, said Dave Tittle, managing director of the Paul Tittle Search Group, a recruiting firm in McLean.
Layoff victims may welcome the opportunity to explore new companies and lines of business while re-evaluating their skills and the kind of work environment they want. And although interim employees don't have the security of a long-term assignment, they often earn higher salaries than permanent employees doing similar work, Senatore said.
"Many pink-slipped people are looking very hard at this opportunity," he said.
Tittle's firm is placing a senior executive with a client in India, an easier task now that the economy has faltered, and because both parties agreed to an interim deal.
"Last year it would have been almost impossible to get an American to relocate for a couple of years," Tittle said. Now, he said, a candidate has warmed to the opportunity, and the two parties are signing a series of three-month contracts under which either one can opt out of the deal.
Sometimes, interim workers turn their temporary stints into full-time jobs.
Three years ago, Bob Friedenberg was hired to write a business plan at MRJ Technology Solutions in Fairfax, Va., which was later bought by Veridian Corp. of Arlington, Va. Friedenberg advanced steadily to become president of Equient, a Fairfax systems integration and e-business consulting company under Veridian's parent umbrella.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said.
Friedenberg's initial success came in part because he was an interim employee and not a consultant. Friedenberg was viewed as a staff member, whereas the consultant working on the same business plan was seen as an outsider. In fact, Friedenberg supervised the consultant.
"It made a significant difference in the way I was able to work with the company," he said. "[Company employees] felt I was more bonded to their interests. I could find out a lot more about the company to write a business plan that was more suitable to their culture and how they could realistically operate."
Curt Mason, a former interim sales executive, recommends the approach to the newly unemployed. In the mid-1990s, he turned a three-month stint at a media production company into a three-year tenure as vice president of sales and marketing. Now he works for a Big Five consulting firm.
An interim assignment, Mason said, "is something that I strongly recommend for those that are currently displaced, because it's not infrequent for an interim assignment to turn into a full-time job. I see it as a very viable option and one that they should consider, not just as an alternative path to a career, but as a way to make a much more informed [career] decision."
However, Mason warned that interim assignments are not for the insecure or risk averse.
"There is no honeymoon period," he said. "You really do have to perform from the minute you walk in the door. Assessment is immediate and it's intense, but it's refreshing because you know how you are doing right away."