6 Tips To Bring Interim Professionals Into the Fold

By Paul McDonald

Whereas engaging interim financial professionals may once have been viewed as a solution for short-term gaps in an organization’s workforce — an unexpected resignation, a key staff member on extended leave, lack of a specialized skill set – many employers today complement their core team with a mix of temporary professionals and consultants as part of a formal staffing management plan. The goal is to help the business maintain a strong, flexible and nimble workforce year-round.
In fact, according to the latest Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report from Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), temporary or project professionals now represent about 7 percent (median) of the accounting and finance workforce at U.S. companies.
What is prompting employers to embrace flexible staffing by including interim professionals as a part of their overall staffing management strategy? Three reasons are likely at the root of this decision for many firms.
Rapid Change and Sound Hiring Practices
From emerging technologies to evolving regulations, the pace of change in business is so rapid today that it just makes sense for many companies to maintain a flexible staffing management plan. This environment has made more executives realize not every job needs to be filled by a full-time employee. To keep pace with rising workloads, access specialized expertise and support key initiatives, they now supplement their teams with consultants and temporary professionals routinely.
Second, even when an employer is keen to hire, it can be very challenging to find highly skilled talent in today’s market. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes 5.64 million jobs sat open in June of 2016. Looking specifically at current trends in the accounting and finance field, a Robert Half survey of CFOs shows it takes employers an average of four weeks to fill an open staff-level financial position — and even longer to secure candidates for management roles. While these positions remain unfilled, organizations still need help keeping projects and daily productivity on track.
The third reason: Companies want to be able to add staff but avoid overhiring. Companies have a clear need for help: job openings outnumbered hires by nearly half a million more than 200,000 in June, according to the BLS research. A flexible staffing strategy allows businesses to ramp up personnel levels to tackle key projects and workload spikes, and commit to full-time hiring when there is an ongoing need.
A Potential Path to a Full-Time Hire
Another benefit of engaging temporary professionals is these arrangements can sometimes lead to a business identifying a candidate whose skills and temperament match an open full-time role. That’s because they provide a “working interview” opportunity that allows managers to evaluate interim professionals firsthand on the job, in the firm’s unique work environment.
In a separate Robert Half survey, CFOs said having candidates work on a temporary basis initially provides the greatest insight into whether they will be a good fit with the company culture, and be more likely to stay for the long term. This approach to candidate evaluation can help the company avoid costly hiring mistakes.
However, employers need to remember that interim staffing arrangements are also a way for potential full-time hires to evaluate them. In today’s highly competitive hiring market, businesses of all sizes need to work hard to convince in-demand accounting and finance professionals to join their team. And even if a consultant or temporary professional isn’t interested in becoming a full-time employee, that person may know of other skilled candidates who would like to work for the company.
That is why it is so important for employers who include interim professionals in their staffing management plan to invest the time and effort to build solid relationships with these workers from the outset. They could be future employees — and could also help to connect the organization with other potential hires.
Frankly, temporary professionals and consultants should be made to feel like part of the team from day one regardless of the firm’s long-term staffing management goals. When employers make it a priority to bring interim professionals into the fold, even if it’s only for a limited time, those workers will be more motivated to deliver their best work to the organization and build stronger bonds with full-time staff. They also will be more willing to support the firm on future projects, if needed.
Maximizing Interim Professionals’ Contributions
Following are six staffing management tips that can help a business form productive and positive working relationships with its interim staff.
1. Make time for an onboarding process. Even though interim professionals are accustomed to changing work environments often, and ramping up quickly, they still benefit from an onboarding process. This can be especially beneficial if the consultant or temporary professional will be engaged by the organization for several weeks or longer. On the interim professional’s first day on the job, provide a welcome that is similar to how the business would greet a full-time hire. For example, managers should:
• Make sure the individual is met warmly at reception, and escorted personally to his or her workstation by a team member. (Preferably, a manager will do this.)
• Give the interim professional a tour of the office and introduce him or her to other employees.
• Review basics about the company, such as the organization’s mission statement and values, goals and strategic objectives.
• Provide an organizational chart and a list of names, email addresses and phone numbers for key contacts in the accounting and finance department, and elsewhere in the firm.
• Offer insight into the company’s culture. For instance, let the interim employee know about volunteer activities and company-wide events that may be taking place during their engagement they could take part in.
Managers should also follow up with consultants and temporary professionals regularly throughout their engagement to answer questions they may have and to confirm they have access to the resources they need to be successful. These check-ins also provide an opportunity for managers to offer feedback on interim professionals’ performance.
2. Be clear about expectations. As with full-time employees, interim staff members need adequate direction to do their jobs well. Therefore, during the onboarding process, be sure to outline project details, deadlines and other relevant information — such as employee communication preferences and company norms— that can help consultants and temporary professionals meet organizational expectations.
In short, managers should do what they can to help these workers understand what success looks like for the project and at the firm. This can prove valuable if the organization ultimately decides to offer an interim professional a full-time position because that person will likely have an easier time visualizing his or her future at the company.
3. Provide challenging work. Many talented accounting and finance professionals specifically choose to work on an interim basis because they enjoy the diversity of work this career path can provide. These workers typically thrive on new experiences, have an entrepreneurial spirit and are committed to ongoing learning.
For specialized consultants, in particular, the ability to work on challenging projects and solve business problems is essential to job satisfaction, so the organization must take care to provide stimulating assignments for these professionals. Offering interim employees projects of varying difficulty, and encouraging them to team up with other staff members on those initiatives, is a good way to assess their abilities and potential longer-term fit for the organization.
4. Emphasize — and help to promote — collaboration. Successful collaboration is a fundamental element of any team project. When employees trust each other, there are fewer barriers to success. As a result, it’s important for managers to help consultants and temporary professionals establish a comfortable role within the group from the outset of any initiative. Successful tactics include inviting them to the same meetings and including them on the same email correspondence that core staff attend and receive.
At the same time, in-house accounting and finance staff need to do their part to encourage this type of collaboration and show they recognize and appreciate the contributions of interim colleagues. However, for that to happen, management also needs to explain to their full-time employees why the firm is engaging temporary professionals as part of its overall staffing management plan. Team members need to understand how interim staff can help the firm achieve its strategic goals — and even more important, how these professionals can potentially enable them to be more productive and efficient in their own jobs.
5. Underscore why their contributions matter. When people know their work makes a difference, they are likely to feel valued. They also may be inclined to work even harder, which benefits the business, of course. But many managers fail to communicate exactly how their employees’ efforts impact the bottom line: A recent survey by Robert Half found 53 percent of workers across all generations in today’s workforce want more insight into how their contributions make a difference.
If managers are falling short in helping their in-house staff make the connection between their day-to-day duties and the firm’s success, it’s unlikely they are having that conversation with the consultants and temporary professionals they work with. A conscious effort is required to promote this type of discussion through staff meetings and regular check-ins with both full-time and interim team members.
6. Acknowledge their success. There is no better way to inspire employees than to offer sincere gratitude for their efforts. And that includes interim professionals. When consultants and temporary staff accomplish an important task, whether it’s an assignment they handled solo or a project they worked on as part of a team, managers should acknowledge their achievement.

Public kudos — for example, mentioning an interim professional’s achievement in a finance department meeting or an all-company email — can be meaningful and powerful recognition.
Depending on the accomplishment, management also may want to consider taking the temporary employee out to lunch or including that person in a team celebration.
Reaping the Rewards
The staffing management strategies outlined above are designed to help managers bring consultants and temporary professionals into the fold and are similar to those used to motivate and retain full-time accounting and finance employees. It just makes sense to make every worker feel like he or she is part of the team. After all, project professionals are brought in specifically because the business requires their support and expertise.
As interim professionals become an increasingly important part of a year-round staffing management strategy for many accounting and finance departments, managers need to consider how they can get the most value from these arrangements — and ensure they are mutually beneficial for the company and their interim workers.
Making the effort to bring temporary professionals into the fold from day one of an engagement offers accounting and finance executives multiple benefits. They can build enduring relationships with talented workers who they may want to engage on a recurring basis or perhaps take on a full-time role at the organization. They can inspire these professionals to encourage talented contacts in their network to consider applying for employment at the firm when opportunities arise. And they can earn a reputation as an employer that values the contributions of all staff members, which can help them to become a magnet for top accounting and finance talent.

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career-management topics.