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Interim Executive Jobs a Viable Option for Some


WASHINGTON — To industry veterans fed up with the same old, same old of the corporate lifestyle, there's another, riskier option emerging amid the economic uncertainty of the last several months.

It's short-term, high-stakes executive assignments. Essentially, a person with a decade or more of experience parachutes into a company for 30, 60 or 90 days--often with the option of extending the gig for months.

Companies that need help right away after the departure of a chief financial officer or a vice president of sales like the idea because it can get someone in place much faster than the usual executive recruiting process.

Pierre Escandar, who now sits on the board of directors of two Washington-area technology companies, used four interim workers to round out the executive ranks of Service Financial Corp. a few years back. The company later became a subsidiary of Wells Fargo.

"We needed to hit the ground running," Escandar recalled. "It provided for an immediate injection of management talent without the risk of being stuck with any one individual if it didn't work out."

Escandar said the time is ripe for short-term executives because many experienced people are in the job market due to the dot-com shakeout and layoffs throughout the high-tech industry. Many businesses, in turn, are loath to make permanent hiring decisions, so finding a quick fix for specific problems becomes more attractive.

Interim workers, like consultants, often pay for their own health coverage and other benefits. They can arrange compensation directly with the client or through a recruitment agency, which bills their services on an hourly, weekly or per-project basis, said Paul Dinte, a McLean, Va., recruiter who places temporary executives with businesses.

Dinte said the market is broader than any one specialty. He has worked with personnel directors, information systems experts and marketing types, matching about 50 of these folks in the last year.

"These are people who have been in functional roles and who can step in at a moment's notice," Dinte said.

Curt Mason, 55, has been working in and around high-tech sales since earning his MBA in the mid-1970s. After stints at large companies and doing consulting work on his own, in 1997 he found a short-term position with a publishing firm looking to go electronic.

"It's almost like a 'try-before-you-buy approach,' " said Mason, who was hired full time after three months of interim work.

Mason left the media services company after two years, but he says the experience was an invaluable, and unexpected, way of learning how a new industry operates. Today he serves as a high-tech consultant at one of the Big Five firms, but says he would consider the right interim opportunity if one appeared.

His advice to others considering the change of pace? It's not a career choice for the faint of heart.

"You do need to view each of these assignments as interim," Mason said. "There are certainly no assurances that they're going to become permanent. Don't get lethargic."

Indeed, interim executives are often evaluated weekly, if not daily, so they must show results immediately, said Bernardine Dunn, a human resources specialist with 25 years of experience in the field.

Dunn runs her own consulting business in suburban Springfield, Va., and sometimes takes short-term executive assignments through recruiting agencies. She turned to the practice to get more control over the kind of work she does. She's been able to snag enough work so far, but said people must be cautious about down periods.

"You don't know where that next assignment will be," Dunn said. "It could be 20 miles away or around the corner. You have to be prepared in the event that projects don't come back to back and manage accordingly."

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