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What is an Interim HR Consultant? Duties, Benefits, and Alternatives

Updated: Jun 24

Companies are constantly in a state of flux. Many will grow, and others will stay level but experience turnover as employees leave for personal reasons, greener pastures, or better roles elsewhere. There are several reasons why your HR department might have an opening.

You have an open role to fill, but the hiring process takes time. You need to develop a job posting, put out job listings, analyze your candidate pool, schedule and conduct interviews, and all the rest. This process can take weeks or months, or potentially even longer if you have a high-level position that needs to be filled with only the most skilled candidate.

What do you do in the meantime?

  1. You can leave the role unfilled. Depending on the position, this might mean your other HR team members have a lot of extra work to do, or it might mean your overall HR strategy enters a holding pattern with no one to guide it.

  2. You can rush to hire someone. This process still takes time and can leave you with a sub-par person in the role. You keep them on to do the work until you get a better candidate on deck, then fire them and replace them. This strategy is often expensive and inconvenient.

  3. You hire an interim HR consultant until you can recruit a more permanent candidate.

One of these options is better than the others.

Hint: it’s the one we didn’t expound upon because we’re spending the rest of this article discussing it. 

What is an Interim HR Consultant?

Before we get into the specifics of interim HR consultants, let’s dissect and define them:

  1. Your consultant is an HR specialist who knows their way around the industry, has years of experience working with companies in HR roles, and can achieve any HR task from the lowest filing to the highest levels of strategy.

  2. The dictionary defines Interim as “provisional or temporary.” Interim HR consultants work with your company as long as you need them, which might be days, weeks, months, or even years in some cases, but they are still on a temporary contract. They are not employees, and they are not permanent.

  3. They work for a consulting company that you contract to fill your interim role. They are skilled and experienced, and they sell those skills and experiences to companies that need them.

To quote Smart HR:

“Interim HR professionals have years of HR training and experience. No HR project is too large or complicated for these talented specialists. An example of the kind of projects they can handle for your business is stepping into any senior HR management position after the absence or departure of the company’s manager or director. The interim HR executive will serve with the same commitment to the company as a full-time executive.”

Most of the time, an interim HR consultant will be a high-level manager, executive, or C-level equivalent. After all, it’s not usually worth the money to hire someone as an HR consultant when all they’re doing is filing papers, handling data entry, or managing HR admin work.

What is it that an interim HR consultant can do for your company?

What Are The Duties of an Interim HR Consultant?

The specific duties of an interim HR consultant depend on the level of the role you’re hiring them to perform and the size of your company.

A small business might hire an interim HR consultant to analyze their business and devise an overall HR strategy that they can implement for the coming years. Essentially, the interim HR consultant steps in to be a temporary C-level or Director of Human Resources, creating an overall strategy in conjunction with the CEO and any other executives the company has.

The company then releases the contract and follows the usual process until the business grows enough to end up out of alignment. At this point, they may either hire a staff HR director or hire a new interim HR consultant to repeat the process.

A larger business might hire an interim HR consultant to fill the shoes of a manager, director, or executive who left the company for some reason. The interim HR consultant can step in and fill the role for however long it takes to find an acceptable replacement through traditional hiring processes.

As skilled, experienced HR professionals, interim HR consultants can generally do anything required of them at varying levels of role within a company. They rarely sign on as basic HR staff; instead, they perform mid-level and high-level duties. Duties might include:

 Executive Search. Interim HR consultants can step in to a business and analyze it from outside and inside perspectives. They can then determine the scope, scale, and needs of the role. These consultants often have large networks of connections throughout the industry and can find an appropriate replacement to fill the position permanently.

 Restructuring and Transitioning. Companies grow, companies shrink, companies merge and are acquired. Any time there’s a significant shift in the company in a short amount of time, the company may require restructuring. On-staff HR management might not be objective enough (or may leave the company if they don’t like where it’s headed), so an interim HR consultant can step in and help guide the restructuring. They don’t have personal ties or an agenda skewing their recommendations. They can help with downsizing, hiring, and overall restructuring during a change in company outline.

 Training and Development. Interim HR consultants can also take on an advisory or training role. They can step in and offer guidance and training to existing managers and directors, informing them on both HR best practices and applicable laws.

“Use interim HR support professionals to help your business create and implement employee leadership and management development programs for the organization. These programs are designed to teach your managers and rising managers the HR laws and good HR skills. The courses will ensure that every company manager knows the current HR laws governing performance management, employee disciplinary matters, performance problems, managing through organizational change, family-friendly policies, and similar HR laws.” – SmartHR.

 Audits and Improvements. Over time, a company can become ossified, stuck in its ways. It can be challenging to get buy-in for changes, whether they are policy changes or changes in infrastructure or software. An interim HR manager can step in from outside and demonstrate the benefits of a change in policy or software, increasing buy-in from management and teams affected by the change.

 Supplemental Coverage. Sometimes, the reason an HR manager leaves is temporary. Medical leave, maternity leave, or other temporary leaves of absence don’t warrant a complete replacement but require someone to keep the department running while they’re gone. An interim HR consultant can step in and carry the torch until the original employee returns.

What are the Benefits of Hiring an Interim HR Consultant?

There are many benefits to hiring an interim HR consultant to handle your HR work.

They bring talent and experience to the table. Often, an interim HR consultant will have more skill and expertise than a company can usually afford. By hiring them on a temporary consultant basis, a company can gain access to that experience without paying the total costs of a salary and benefits package. This strategy allows smaller companies to compete with larger companies by accessing a higher degree of skill than they usually could. This method does require intelligent use of the limited time a consultant will work with the company, but it can be extremely valuable.

 Smaller companies can pay for only what they need. To quote InterimHR:

“Through consultation partnerships, a small company can pay only for the services they need, rather than making a costly long-term investment with a full-time hire. Additionally, by hiring interim consultants, companies can also avoid the unfortunate cost of hiring lackluster employees. Essentially, a bad hire costs at least 30% of that employee’s first-year salary, but you can avoid this cost with the flexibility of consultation roles.”

This strategy allows you to hire a consultant on as flexible a basis as you need. Do you want them around for a part-time position? Do you need them for specific tasks and a little more? Do you want them to perform an audit and give advice? They can do all of this, as much or as little as necessary.

Interim HR consultants can also be specialists in certain areas, like benefits or legal issues. An interim HR consultant can act as a legal advisor if your company has a lawsuit or an audit regarding labor policies and can help clean up after an audit as well.

 They can recommend upgrades and changes your employees and directors might not have considered. Interim HR consultants tend to have a broad experience base with large and small companies across many industries. They can look at problems from angles you might not have thought of and can offer solutions that you would never have considered.

They can also provide evidence to back up suggestions you may be skeptical about. For example, an interim HR consultant might be able to recommend a particular form of a benefits package that makes your business competitive without breaking the bank. They may be able to recommend a specific HR platform with its pros and cons versus what you’re already using and convince you to upgrade for the company’s benefit.

 Interim consulting support can scale. If your company needs more than what you have, you can hire more consultants. If a larger team is inefficient, too expensive, or doesn’t justify the costs, you can reduce it. Consultant contracts are highly adjustable, and working with a consulting company gives you plenty of options.

Are There Good Alternatives to Interim HR Consultants?

Hiring an interim HR consultant can be a great idea. Still, it can also be expensive and occasionally even overkill for some situations, such as a short leave of absence or a small business.

Are there alternatives that are worth pursuing? There are several options.

  1. Traditional Hiring. Hiring a new HR employee to take on the duties required can be the best option in many situations. However, it’s slow, often expensive, and can leave you with sub-par results if there’s an issue with your hiring or interview process.

  2. Hire a Freelance Consultant. Freelance consultants can be just as good or better than consultants working through agencies. However, since no overhead company directs them, you have less recourse if they don’t work out. They have a high risk and a high reward, but many companies prefer to work with an agency that provides guarantees or insurance against poor consultants or a poor relationship.

  3. Work with a Temp Agency. Temp agencies can help fill staffing needs in HR and other departments, but they tend to work with lower-level employees. In contrast, interim HR consulting firms usually specialize in higher-level roles.

Each of these options has pros and cons. Picking the one that works best for your situation is key to the best business outcomes.

To ensure you’re getting the best interim HR consultants for your business, it pays to examine what you truly need. Do you need a director to guide your strategy? Do you need someone to audit your processes and find areas to improve? Do you need an examination of your current systems and infrastructure, with recommendations for upgrades? Do you need someone to fill the shoes of an existing employee on leave or fill a role while you find a replacement to hire? These are valid options that you can fill with an interim consultant from an HR consulting firm.

Finding the right consulting firm to work with your business can be a daunting task. There are hundreds of agencies providing these services, with specialties in various industries or scales of operation. Thankfully, due to the nature of these companies and the relationships they have with businesses, the process is more straightforward than it seems. If you have HR needs a consultant can fill, there’s no better time to do it than now.

Do you have any questions for me on interim HR consultants? Please drop me a message in the comments section! I’d love to hear from you and get a conversation started.

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