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Episode Transcript

At some point in your career, you’ll have the chance to take an interim position. To act, temporarily, as a manager or some kind of engineering leader.

Should you take it? Well, that’s what we’ll talk about today. Let’s look at the pros and cons of interim positions for women engineers. 

Interim positions can come available for several reasons. Like,

There are also interim positions that only exist for a short time. Like committee or special project leaders. Once the project ends, the position goes away.

Potential Benefits of Interim Positions for Women Engineers

There are lots of benefits to taking an interim position. Not the least of which is to give you a chance to see what it’s like at a job that is next-level-up from what you’re doing now. It also:

Ideally, it’s an awesome opportunity for you. However…not all of these opportunities are ideal.

And it seems that women often fall into some of the traps of interim positions: It’s easy to be glad for the opportunity and trusting of the situation and not ask enough questions or advocate for yourself

And then, you’re simply taken advantage of in fulfilling a need for the organization.

How to Consider an Interim Engineering Position

Filling an interim position doesn’t follow the same process as hiring a new engineer. When interim positions are open, managers are anxious to fill them so that work can continue. 

Because of these things, you – as an interim candidate – want to be extra aware of what you’re getting into. Here are 4 things to watch out for:

  1. Make sure you’re not being used to fill a need without proper compensation. Don’t be over-willing to help out unless you get the same pay and benefits as anyone else would in this case (woman or man).  

If the position doesn’t come with a pay increase, make sure what you’re getting in return is worth your while. If it’s not pay, it might be new experiences, influential connections, a follow-on opportunity, or recognition.

  1. Get clear on all job responsibilities. Get clear on what’s expected so you can keep the job from spreading beyond its scope. Positions that are poorly defined often lead to this job spread.

Also make it clear that you’re stepping away from your current job. Depending on your situation, certain tasks may be negotiated. But you should not be asked to handle 2 jobs at once.

  1. Know the expected timeframe for your interim term. You should be kept in the loop if the term may be extended. But don’t accept a term that is undefined or open ended. 
  1. Understand what will happen after you complete the interim job. Find out if there’s a potential opportunity for you to continue in that role or take on another similar role permanently. Or if you’re simply expected to return to your previous job. 

Examples of Interim Engineering Positions – The Good and The Bad

It was common where I worked to give a few people the chance to work in a particular interim position before a permanent offer was made. 

There might have been 2 or 3 or 4 people that rotated that responsibility on a temporary basis. Then, most of the time, one of those people would be selected for the permanent role. It was a great way for people to get leadership experience.

I once had the opportunity to act as the manager of our section in metals processing at the lab while our leadership decided who they would put there permanently. 

By taking that interim position I learned a lot about management. And what the job was all about. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it until I tried it and realized it was something I enjoyed doing. 

It was worth it to me to gain that experience and exercise some of my other talents. In the end I was offered the job. And I accepted it.

I know of another situation, though, where a colleague of mine took an interim position as a high level leader of scientific research. The lab needed somebody to fill that role until they could find a replacement. 

It was a significant step up for her, but she was familiar with the job since she worked closely with the person who had it before her. So it seemed a great opportunity.

But her situation was troublesome because she was expected to continue with many of her previous responsibilities. The interim time period went way past the original plan. 

And she was never sufficiently compensated – or even recognized – for her work. It was just a bad situation all around. Consequently there was stress and resentment on her part. 

This is what you want to avoid.

How to Prevent a Bad Interim Engineering Job Experience

The best way to prevent these kinds of issues with an interim assignment is to have a thorough discussion beforehand with the person you’ll report to and get feedback from. Ask a lot of questions.

Ask about the 4 important things to consider that we just talked about: 

And continue good communication throughout your term, so you know when things are changing and what your options are.

If you’re considering an interim position and would like to gauge the pros and cons, sign up for a strategy session with me. We can dig deeper into your situation and brainstorm a way forward for you.

When you get the chance to take a challenging and exciting interim position, I hope you’ll pursue it. And use the guidance here to make it a positive and impactful experience that further enriches your engineering career.

Next time on Her Engineering Podcast, we’ll explore affirmation and the role it plays in upward mobility for women engineers. I hope you’ll join me for Episode 76