Betwixt and Between

Aside from liking the word “betwixt,” I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the experience of being appointed as an “interim” to a position.  It is an odd place to be.  You are betwixt and between.  Neither fish nor fowl.  I am currently in my second interim position.  The first was a few years ago. I knew at the time of the appointment that it wasn’t a position that I did not intend to apply for the permanent position.

This time it’s different.  The provost appointed me to be interim director of a program earlier this fall.  And I love this job.  And I want to apply for the permanent position.  So, what are some guidelines for and potential pitfalls of being an interim?

First, you need to make the decision I described above.  Is this a job you want to keep?  Will you be applying for the permanent position?  If the answer is “yes,” then here are some things to ponder:

* Your job just became an audition.  Even if no one year knows that you intend to be an applicant, this is the time to be particularly attentive to your interactions with colleagues, your tone in emails, your attendance at events.  These little things will matter once you become an acknowledged candidate and your colleagues are weighing your suitability for the position.

* You already have the job, so clever projects that you initiate and accomplishments that you achieve reflect well on you.  It is tempting, while an interim, to fall into the trap of not wanting to be too bold.  You’re a placeholder and there’s no guarantee you’ll be in the position a year from now.  But if you really want the permanent position, resist the temptation to be cautious.  Take advantage of your insider status–no other applicant will have it–and set some goals for things you want to accomplish that you can then discuss in your letter of application and (fingers crossed) your interview.

Even if you don’t want the permanent position, you have some interesting things to ponder.

Is it possible that holding this interim post is a potential stepping stone to something else that you want?  If it is, what are the things you can do while you are interim that would enhance your application for that other position? Is this a chance to demonstrate your ability to supervise a staff, manage a large budget, initiate curricular innovations, any of which would, in turn, make you a stronger candidate for a different position?

Maybe you are “just” a placeholder, stepping up to fill a post until someone else is hired and afterwards you’ll go back to what you were doing before.  You shouldn’t let this limit you.  And you should avoid the trap of thinking that you are merely a babysitter.  That will only result in boredom for you and low morale for your staff and faculty.  It’s like we tell our students: you’ll be more satisfied and do better work if you’re researching a topic/identifying a project/pursuing an internship that really interests you.  Assess your new, albeit temporary, work environment.  Is there a contribution you could make to the smooth functioning of this office?  Is there a project or initiative housed in this office that you could really sink your teeth into and leave knowing you’d accomplished something constructive?  And nothing is more demoralizing to the people you’re working with than the attitude of someone merely acting as a placeholder.  Find a way to do the job with integrity so that the rest of the office can do the same.

Betwixt and between is an undeniably odd place to be. But there are ways to embrace and own it, regardless of your endpoint. I’ll keep you posted on my own campaign to land the permanent position.

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3 thoughts on “Betwixt and Between

  1. Just to add, sometimes an interim has to do some spring cleaning. An interim who doesn’t want the job can do are things that are necessary but either unpopular or difficult. These may be new policies, or personnel issues, for instance. But an interim who addresses them has done her successor a great favor.

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