Incorporating interim professionals into talent management strategies

A new Korn Ferry Institute study offers insights into the psychology of interim talent and how HR (Human Resources) and functional leaders can leverage them to create a more dynamic workforce.

In the current market, organizations draw talent from two general tracks. The first involves traditional, full-time talent who represents the core of most businesses. The second track, from its emergence in the 1940’s, has evolved into contingent, part-time, or short-term interim talent. From seasonal efforts, special project support, and backfilling critical roles when permanent employees go out on leave, interim talent represents a broad range of skills, credentials, educational backgrounds, and experiences.

In comparing permanent and interim talent tracks, controlling for management levels, we found many similarities in their work psychology. But we also found critical differences, which may explain the existence of both tracks, and why some individuals tend to pursue specific types of roles. As CHROs and business leaders build talent management strategies, understanding and leveraging these crucial differences can positively impact their existing teams and add value to the overall organization.


To better understand the attributes and motivations of interim professionals, Korn Ferry conducted a study using psychological data, job nature data, and demographics from nearly 340 US-employed professionals working as interims today. The data included varying management levels and job sizes, as well as psychological measures from Korn Ferry's leadership assessment. To strengthen and better characterize our findings, we compared this data to a sample of over 12,200 non-interim professionals from a larger US-employed calibration database, which had the same measures.

While interim and full-time roles have clear differences in scope and structure, our study found that interim and non-interim professionals share many tendencies. They tend to be similarly agile, adaptable, tolerant of ambiguity, and risk oriented. Interims are also just as oriented toward social conflict management as full-time counterparts.

Within the differences, our analysis found that interim professionals did tend to possess unique strengths and differences—in terms of the nature of their work, social tendencies, work-related motives, accountability, and curiosity and innovation—compared to their non-interim counterparts.

Interim professionals and job natures

Understanding the nature of the jobs interim professionals handle is crucial to seeing them in a holistic context. Two points in the job natures data stand out:

  1. At all levels, interim professionals are more often called upon to serve as experts. Interim professionals often come into established teams and workplaces to do specific tasks or deliver clearly defined outcomes. Interim roles are defined by their temporary nature: a short-term need for skills, experience, or guidance. For example: backfilling a role when a full-time team lead or employee is out for parental leave, standing up a new business function, or implementing a new software platform.
  2. Interim professionals are more typically called upon to “improve and change,” increasingly so at higher management levels. Organizational change is never easy or simple. For permanent, full-time employees motivated to keep the peace, maintain long-term relationships, and preserve the status quo, it can be challenging to reconfigure teams, alter systems or transform workflows. This means it can be difficult for a full-time talent to question how work happens.

An interim professional has completely different stakes in this situation. Interims come into a new situation without the office politics or social expectations that often govern the behavior of full-time employees. Our findings suggest that interims are not oriented to offering the more expected, traditional response, making them much more comfortable when it comes to proposing and implementing substantial changes, leaving the permanent employees to sustain and maintain after the transformation occurs.

Interim professionals and social orientation

Unsurprisingly, our study data revealed that interim professionals may have greater capacity to challenge the status quo. Their social orientation scores are associated with strong character, a principled nature, and a willingness to challenge group thinking. In other words, interim professionals may be more willing to stand out and address consequential problems instead of prioritizing harmony by offering an outside, objective perspective for leaders and teams.

Further, this data is also associated with increased attentiveness to detail and problem-solving, which can be valuable assets in an organization experiencing crisis, unexpected change, or market reversals. Having an interim professional provide a set of fresh eyes to look at a problem or work toward a solution allows existing teams to maintain their established relationships in a way that is sustainable and not damaging trust.

Additionally, interims tend to be more solitary having less preference for being in charge. Compared with full-time employees, interims are just as strong when it comes to balancing stakeholders, suggesting their social efforts are more concentrated and focused on immediately actionable outcomes.

For leaders, this may mean that interim talent could be valuable in instances that call for a self-directed individual who can start driving work forward right away without needing intense supervision and training.

Interim professionals and accountability

Scoring for interim professionals indicates that they are more motivated by structure and independence, suggesting that the constrained scope of an interim engagement suits their psychological make-up. When it comes to work-related motives, interim professionals typically see themselves as being effective at planning, directing work, and optimizing processes. This could be related to constraints or caps of their schedules and billable hours, as well as predetermined deadlines or go-live dates.

This combination of motives and attributes may lead some people to seek interim employment, as it allows them to focus on specific projects while maintaining a sense of autonomy. What’s more, interim professionals are generally motivated by outcomes they can deliver on their own terms, in the given time, preferring criteria for success with a narrower scope of responsibility. They tend to be less motivated by competition and challenge, which may make them more interested in taking interim assignments that maximize their established strengths.

Interim professionals and curiosity and innovation

Compared to their full-time counterparts, interim professionals consistently exhibit higher curiosity and structure scores and are more likely to see themselves as strategists and big picture thinkers, while displaying a greater detail orientation.

This powerful combination, along with a preference for clarity in work objectives, could explain why interim professionals tend toward "improve and change" job assignments. Their tendency to seek novelty and innovation, combined with detail orientation, could be advantageous in these situations where transformation and “outside the box” thinking is critical.

Interims also have a stronger tendency to “tinker” and pursue depth in understanding. Curiosity is associated with being imaginative and welcoming the unfamiliar, as well as making fresh connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. These tendencies likely complement and serve interim workers well in many cases, given that a typical interim role requires dropping into a new situation, with new colleagues, new systems, and new expectations.

In addition, as interims are more likely to be strategic, highly curious, and thorough, they may see success in persuading others through logic, excelling in fields like information technology, business analysis, healthcare, and other sciences. While these relative strengths are not certain among all interim professionals, our findings do suggest they more typically have a unique set of skills that could help create a more diverse and effective workforce for companies.

4 ways leaders can weave interim into their talent strategy

Leaders from all areas of an organization can benefit with the strategic use of interim talent.

From our analysis, we found that given a clear scope and support, interim professionals can play a key role in offering solutions and insights organizations need in times of transformation, change, and stress.

Interim professionals can bring a fresh perspective, detail orientation, and curiosity to the table, making them valuable assets in contexts that require innovative thinking and problem-solving. They can be a facilitative leader, and autonomous, independent workers who are unafraid to ask questions and challenge the status quo. However, it’s crucial to offer clear guidance from the start to ensure effective collaboration and communication within existing teams.

To successfully integrate interim professionals into an organization, leaders should:

  1. Clearly define the scope of work and objectives for interim professionals, ensuring that expectations are well communicated and aligned with their strengths and preferences.
  2. Provide opportunities for interim professionals to collaborate with non-interim colleagues in a way that leverages their respective strengths and expertise.
  3. Foster a culture that values and appreciates the unique contributions of interim professionals, while being aware of their elevated likelihood of emphasizing strategic thinking, curiosity, and detail orientation.
  4. Regularly check in with interim professionals, providing constructive feedback, and adjusting assignments or responsibilities as needed to ensure success.


Incorporating interim executives and professionals into an organization's talent strategy can provide significant benefits in terms of adaptability, innovation, and strategic thinking. When leaders understand differences in traits and motivators between the interim and non-interim talent tracks, they can create a more dynamic and effective workforce capable of tackling complex challenges and driving organizational success.

For more information, read about Korn Ferry’s Interim capabilities.