HR Directors: Learn to Tell the Difference Between Effective Fractional Executives and ‘Tourists’

Before trying to secure an executive’s services, learn to weed out the many candidates who will not make good interims

As tech giants and smaller startups alike shed workers, businesses in many other segments are trying to fill empty desks. And as HR teams know only too well, hiring looks very different today than it did even five years ago. 

The “work-from-anywhere” phenomenon has taken root and sprouted thanks to the pandemic and its economic aftermath. Many job-seeking professionals want to work on-demand for multiple businesses instead of full time for one. 

It’s a different hiring landscape for HR today, and it is taking shape at a time when inflation, supply-chain complications, and other challenges are eating away at the bottom lines of many businesses. Many companies today are simply not in a position to fill vacant executive positions with full-time hires. 

Fortunately for them, more professionals today with executive-level skills are looking to take on fractional roles, working as interims to either solve specific problems or take on more broad leadership roles. 

There is no shortage of managers looking to work as interim executives, and HR teams will probably interview more of them for vacant C-suite positions this year than they have ever done in the past. 

But before trying to secure an executive’s services, learn to weed out the many candidates who will not make good interims. Unfortunately, most interviewees will simply not be cut out for the job. 

Finding an effective fractional executive begins with spotting the five types of executives who—while they might make excellent full timers—won’t get the job done as an interim.


Some executives decide to give interim a try after a stellar corporate career. They are used to people listening when they speak and then carrying out their orders. But interim executives specialize in listening, especially to the people who know the nuts and bolts of the business, and who often have great solutions. Believe it or not, a great interim seeks to make himself or herself obsolete by empowering others in the organization.


Many interim candidates spent years within a corporate hierarchy. They operated in maintenance mode to keep things chugging along, and—more than anything—to keep their job. And they are unfortunately stuck in that mindset. These candidates can’t make the tough decisions to help companies transform. You can usually spot the play-it-safe candidate because their resumes tend to be very light on quantifiable, measurable results.


Some consultants compare themselves to interims because they give advice, perform analyses, and put together slick-looking reports. But they have never stepped into a decision-making role where they were asked to hire, fire, execute on plans, and then answer for the results. The eternal consultant has never embraced this level of risk and operational prowess. Execution is anathema to a consultant, but is the lifeblood for true interims.


Interims deal in hard deliverables. They make plans, achieve goals, implement and execute on ideas with the team, and then move on to do it again somewhere else. Interims are always hired to speak the truth, even if it means delivering hard news and taking tough actions. It’s never been a popularity contest. If a candidate tells you whatever you want to hear, it’s a clear sign that he or she won’t have the backbone to make necessary changes at your company.


Pretending to be interim while seeking permanent employment shows lack of commitment or honesty. The secret job seeker uses “interim” to fill the gap while they look for a permanent position, which offers the safety and security they are used to. This means they are likely to leave you in the lurch if a full-time opportunity comes through. Great interims are those who are committed to being interims, solving difficult problems for companies today.

Interim executives offer something that permanent executives cannot: They are objective third parties that listen and then calmly go about putting out fires. They have no attachment to the status quo, and nothing to gain from keeping up appearances or telling people what they want to hear.

Interims are in the business of radical change, and they are hooked on it. They enjoy problem-solving so much that they don’t enjoy the peace that comes after resolving an intractable difficulty. They just go looking for the next problem to solve.

True interims make a career of it, and these are the people who can bring positive change to your company. All others—including the five types listed above—are tourists in the interim business. Learn to weed them out, and your business can thrive with interim leadership.

Robert Jordan is the CEO of InterimExecs, which matches top executives with companies around the world.