Career Quandry: Should You Take the “Interim” Job?

Your boss has been hired to take another job and will be leaving the company. Or perhaps your boss has been whacked and that’s the reason the job is now vacant.

Either way that box in the organization chart that used have a name is empty.

Do you raise your hand and volunteer to take the job on an interim basis, or do you wait to see if you get tapped – and decide then if you want “interim” next to your name?

That’s the position a client holds – and it’s the same dynamic that has played out at Yahoo, where EVP Ross Levinshohn was named to be the interim CEO while the firm looked for their 3rd CEO in just a few years after former CEO Scott Thompson was fired.

How is it playing out for Levinsohn?

Sort of mixed. After being publicly suggested in so many words that the job was his, Yahoo’s board ended up stealing away the very talented Marissa Mayer from Google to be Yahoo’s new CEO. Early press indicated Levinsohn would be leaving though Kara Swisher reported Tuesday that the issue was still unsettled.

It is the second time Levinsohn’s been passed over for a top role, and at some point pride and pragmatics kick in. Does he want to play loyal #2 for a role that he probably thinks he should have, or does he try to cut some separation deal and leave giving him time to look for his next landing spot?

And for my client, who is working for a firm and people I like and respect? What advice would I give him?

  • Volunteer to help out in any way. No one has ever complained about an extra set of hands.
  • If he’s offered the interim role, take it. Realize you may not get the permanent job, but it’s also a chance to potentially show people what you can do.
  • Avoid starting a job search but it’s probably a smart move to connect with people you trust and know in the search business to find out a) what’s the job market like for the role, b) what’s compensation look like for that role, and c) an honest assessment of how your skills and abilities stack against what the likely job specification will be for the bigger job.
  • Sometimes being a strong #2 (paging Sheryl Sandberg, and formerly, Tim Cook) is not all that bad. The job might have less clout, but likely fewer headaches as well. And if you’re working for someone you (pick one or many) admire, like, respect or tolerate, the role can be a good spot before you move to your next gig.
  • Sometimes, though, be a runner-up too often (paging Ed Zander) causes you to either jump too quickly at a role you should avoid because it’s your real chance to have the job you always wanted. That move, by the way, is not usually a smart one, but it’s the one that often presents itself when your brand has dimmed by being perceived as not quite good enough.

Cut to the chase?  It depends. It doesn’t hurt to get good advice from multiple people you know and trust. And to remember that there’s seldom a sure thing.

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better. Over the past 25 years as a senior business executive, J. Mike has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as Genentech, AT&T, and Visa. You can learn more about J. Mike at Life Back West.

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