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Hiring an Interim Executive: Three Common Mistakes

Organizations struggling with serious systemic or unexpected leadership problems often need the support of an interim executive, or a C-level corporate pro who can step in, attack the problem, and move on after corralling the major components of an issue that threatens the organization. Interim executives also sometimes serve as temporary stand-ins when current leaders depart suddenly on a permanent or short-term basis. Too often, long-term C-level employees accumulate immeasurable volumes of institutional knowledge that can’t be easily transferred to a successor, especially if the departing executive leaves with little or no notice.

As a result of these and other common obstacles, decision makers tend to rush the hiring process, which can lead to a few common mistakes. Keep these in mind before you launch your interim executive search process.

Hiring a Generalist

No matter how extensive the track record of your incoming executive, a lack of highly specific and relevant skills can lead to a poor match. Industry experience doesn’t mean much if the candidate in question hasn’t solved problems or gained experience that can help you resolve the unique set of issues you happen to be facing. Some agencies may offer a full bench of essentially interchangeable executives, but before you accept this option, consider the nature of your problem and the general solutions you’ve already tried.


Look for a candidate with a few years of life and corporate experience under his or her belt. Since your problems (and opportunities) may have highly nuanced components, a textbook or one-size-fits all solution may be not be the answer, and senior executives often have the flexibility to recognize what works, what doesn’t, and when it’s time to change course. While you search for a seasoned pro, make sure you offer a rate that appeals to a candidate at this level. Don’t expect to pay the amount you would shell out for a mid-level consultant or career counselor.

Waiting for a Cultural Match

Don’t treat an interim position like a marriage or a permanent commitment. At least not yet. When you hire a transitional executive, you’re looking for a short-term problem solver, not a sustainable cultural fit. Think of this relationship as a test drive and recognize that a cultural mismatch can be addressed down the road when and if the problem arises. For now, focus on the issue at hand. Don’t worry about personality clashes that may arise in two years; go ahead and roll the dice. If the match works, you can extend the contract indefinitely. If not, you’re under no obligation to live with this decision over the long term.

For more on how to handle an interim executive hire without hitting common – and expensive – roadblocks, reach out to the team at Cordia.