Interim vs Executive Search – Is there really a difference?

Interim vs Executive Search – Is there really a difference?

So what is the difference between Executive Search and Interim Management? After all, they are both all about delivering top talent to organisations typically at Board level. Is it the candidates, the process or the fees?

In my view it is mostly around the process and the candidate base. If we take the latter, we now live in a world where there is an established Interim Management community of c.10,000 managers and executives who actively avoid permanent employment.

The majority are highly capable and are not as some people have suggested ‘cast offs’ unable to build their careers internally. They thrive off moving from one challenge to the next delivering their own brand of excellence at pace to the enlightened organisation that hired them. “Guns for hire” was what I called them back in the 90’s! They are either available or engaged and are not put out when occasionally they end up on the bench for a few months as it’s all part of the rub. This ignores an interesting group of “transients”. Those executives who are between roles, often fired or restructured away from businesses and occasionally just in the wrong line of fire. Within this group lurks real potential as far as future Interim Executives but the vast majority will return to the corporate duvet by way of a permanent role.

So essentially the candidate base for Interim Management is totally different to that that a Head-Hunter would seek to identify apart from the transient element.

The biggest difference is the process. We do in days (c.15) what Executive Search can only do in weeks (c.12-24 weeks). We have to know where the good interims are at all times where as Search begins a process each time to identify the best potential talent (that can grow) sitting in any number of organisations often internationally. Interim is about best of breed, often overqualified and available within days.

That’s why Executive Search companies should avoid trying to deliver Interim services and Interim Management firms are in no position to deliver Executive Search. It’s why barbers were finally prevented from carrying out surgery in the late 1700’s. Cutting off hair is a very different skill to cutting off limbs!

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Nick has built a reputation over 15 years as a leading protagonist in the Interim Management industry. He has started, bought, rebranded and sold interim management businesses. He is now focusing his attention exclusively at Board and Head of Function level.


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