Sarah Bullock is a professional interim HR consultant specialising in change and OD, talent management, leadership development, and diversity and inclusion. She has global, multi-sector experience and a track record of working with senior and frontline teams to deliver change in Energy, FMCG, Retail, Leisure, Financial Services and Transport/Logistics.
She is also a member of the HR Interim Networking LinkedIn Group, a community for people consultants, coaches and interims.
Here, we talk to her about her career to understand what it’s like being a professional interim consultant, how she got into it, and what lessons she has learnt over the years.
Sarah, tell us about your story. What prompted the move into working as a professional interim consultant?
The reasons for me were two-fold:
A growing recognition in myself that what I most relished about work was joining and learning about new organisations, building relationships fast, and working on programmes which required pace and delivered tangible results fast. I found, even in organisations where I was really happy and challenged, that I was getting ‘bored’ after 2-3 years.
Also, preparing to return to a full-on HR Director role after a year’s maternity leave, I had a hunch that it was going to be easier to have control over when, where and how I worked if I was an independent consultant. So flexibility was a big draw for me.
How did you first get into interim consulting?
It was actually a lucky break – a headhunter put my details forward speculatively for an interim assignment, and I was successful. This then led on to two other assignments in different organisations, through contacts that I’d made on that first assignment. This really underlined for me how important developing and maintaining your network is.
Why would an organisation typically engage with your services?
I like to think it’s due to breadth and depth of experience I have. I’ve covered both generalist and specialist roles in a range of sectors, which helps me flex my expertise to specifically what the client needs. This does make it a bit hard to ‘label’ me – but I love the variety of opportunity it creates. I’m conscious that many successful interims develop a real ‘spike’ or specialism in a particular area – so this is another option for potential interims to consider.
In your opinion, what are the differences between being a permanent employee and an interim consultant?
I think you need to comfortable with the inherent instability of having to go out and find your own work – rather than getting a regular salary and company benefits. The upside for me is the exhilaration I get from meeting new people, working on new projects and learning about new organisations.
- Time to make an impact – typically there is little or no induction, and often assignments can be shorter than most senior role induction programmes/100 day plans. You need to be really comfortable connecting with people fast, building relationships and asking questions so you can develop and implement your plans.
- Variety – I love the fact that my time with an organisation is finite, and that the chances are I will soon be moving on to work on another challenge.
- CV – your career path will look very different from the normal vertical trajectory, there’s no room for ego and you need to be prepared sometimes to get your hands dirty and take on roles which might on paper not look as ‘senior’ as in the permanent world.
How do you typically find your assignments?
I’ve been lucky that many of my assignments have come through word of mouth, and I’ve been in the right place at the right time. That said, having strong links with agencies is also really important so that you’re front of mind when opportunities come up.
What advice would you offer to new interims?
Let as many people in your personal network know that you’ve taken the step to becoming an interim.
LinkedIn can be a great source of support, knowledge and contacts – make sure you have a great profile, collecting testimonials as you go along.
Hold your nerve! Looking for the next assignment can feel daunting sometimes, but make sure you use your free time wisely – it hopefully won’t be long before you’re flat out again.
What one piece of advice would you offer to clients when hiring interim expertise?
Stay open minded about kind of experience/skill set you’re looking for – it’s tempting be quite specific about the skill set/sector you need to fill a particular niche. However, interims bring a wealth of experience and talent, and if you look a bit more broadly you might be pleasantly surprised!
Are you considering hiring an interim professional?
When hiring in HR, it’s important to choose what suits your company’s needs. Interim consultants provide niche expertise, as well as the skills required to drive forward change, at short notice.
Frazer Jones’ interim offering introduces you to consultants who are able to immediately support your business on project work, to cover staff sickness or parental leave, and to drive business critical change. Our global network of 12 international offices enables us to access top talent across all jurisdictions and play a key role in supporting our clients with their global transformations and recruitment strategies.