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The Difference Between Contingent Workforce and Interim Talent: Navigating the On-Demand Labor Landscape

October 25, 2023
By Cara ChatellierOctober 25, 2023

Two men stack boxes as part of a company’s on-demand labor strategy.

Today's complicated and volatile business environment often means your labor needs fluctuate and change over time. For many companies, on-demand labor has become vital to staying afloat without spending more than you need. Bringing people on as needed through on-demand labor helps both you and them by supporting your changing business needs without promising permanent jobs that then become temporary.

Two of the most prominent categories within on-demand labor are contingent workforce and interim talent. Let's explore both.

Defining Contingent Workforce

The contingent workforce consists of anyone you hire as contractors on an on-demand basis. This might range from a freelance writer to work on your blog to extra delivery people in December. These workers are independent contractors and may be used either to fulfill seasonal surges in demand or to handle specific projects. They are not employees and stay only as long as their contract says, although in some cases you may keep a contingent worker on long term to handle ongoing needs.

You can hire contingent workers through vendor management software, a staffing agency or consulting form, or by contracting with them directly. These result in varied contractual arrangements, but they give you flexible access to talent to handle specific tasks.

Understanding Interim Talent

Contingent workers vary in skills and levels, and thus cost. Interim talent is another matter. These are highly skilled professionals who are brought in to fulfill leadership or highly specialized roles.

The typical reasons for hiring interim talent are:

  • To fill the role of a C-suite executive while you find the right permanent hire. This process can take months and then months more to fully onboard the new person. Interim talent are trained to jump in and start right away.
  • To handle a specific project, such as a merger or acquisition, expansion into a new geographic area, fix issues with logistics, etc.

They are not quite the same thing as consultants, who are paid for their time and advice. Interim talent focuses on getting results, the same as key employees.

Interim Talent vs. Contingent Workforce

Here are some key differences between the two:

Contingent Workforce

  • Typically very short-term or project-based, such as a web designer doing a website revamp. Most contingent workers work for a few weeks before moving on.
  • Lower-level talent, ranging from gig workers with few skills to specialists in things such as graphic design, writing, etc.
  • Used to handle surges in demand or support a project.

Interim Talent

  • Typically somewhat longer duration, three to 12 months depending on the project or need.
  • High-level leadership and/or expertise, filling in for C-suite level individuals.
  • Used to fill the gap between permanent appointees or to oversee a complicated situation needing extra skills.

Use Cases and Scenarios

Some ways in which you might want to use the two include:

Contingent Workforce

You have a business selling soap through the mail, and you get extremely busy right before Christmas. You might go to a staffing agency to hire people to help you package and ship the soap. Through most of the year, you can handle your own soap packaging needs.

Your business' website looks like it was made on Geocities. You hire a designer to build a new website. Once the website is finished and tested, you move to maintaining it yourself.

Interim Talent

Your chief financial officer was forced to retire unexpectedly due to poor health. You have no succession plan. You hire an interim CFO to take over the job until you find the right new hire.

Alternatively, you are expanding into another country. You hire interim talent in that country to help with the complicated transition, onboarding employees, etc.

Benefits and Challenges of On-Demand Labor

Both have certain benefits and challenges that you need to keep in mind.

Contingent Workforce Benefits:

  • Flexibility. Increase and decrease labor as needed.
  • Cost-effectiveness.
  • Scalability. Bring on new people quickly.

Contingent Workforce Challenges:

  • Time consuming. The time needed to onboard contractors for a short period of time may not be worth it.
  • Alignment. Contractors work for themselves, not you, so they may not be aligned with your values.
  • Turnover. Many contingent workers are looking for full-time employment and may quit rapidly if they find it.

Interim Talent Benefits:

  • Access to skills. Get expertise that might otherwise take months or years to find.
  • No downtime. You'll get immediate impact from having somebody used to hitting the ground running.
  • Stability. Get additional stability to your leadership team by not having positions open.

Interim Talent Challenges:

  • Higher costs. Interim executives deserve and expect high compensation for what they do.
  • Availability. It can be hard to find just the right person.

Legal and Compliance Considerations

Ten to 30 percent of employers are guilty of misclassifying employees as contractors. When you hire contingent workers, be careful not to force them to work set hours. You should focus on results and not exercise too much control. Contingent workers should be running their own businesses and/or working for an agency. Make sure not to misclassify anyone by accident.

Interim executives are also contractors, but their expertise means they are less likely to be misclassified. Make sure to talk to an employment lawyer.

The Evolving On-Demand Landscape

The gig economy has become a growing trend. Unfortunately, some employers are exploiting gig workers through misclassification, and politicians are fighting back. Many people, however, are choosing to work as contractors so they can work remotely and not have to live in expensive cities or move further from their families. Remote work is certainly here to stay, and that means some of the best talent is available only as contingent workers or interim talent.

Strategic Workforce Planning

Making the best use of both kinds of on-demand labor requires planning. Strategic workforce planning helps you identify needs ahead of time and put the right employees in place. Sometimes this might mean leveraging the quick impact of interim talent. It might also mean ramping up workers at certain times. Above all, labor strategies must match your business goals and provide the mix of talent needed to support objectives.

The goal is never to have a position be unfilled or incorrectly filled, and interim talent can help with that.


Today's volatile environment means companies have to be flexible in their labor strategy. Both contingent workers and interim talent help with this, and you need a blend of both. Contingent workers support your projects or seasonal demand. Interim talent steps in when you have a high-level problem such as a sudden departure or a project that your leadership team lacks the specific skills for.

As the labor landscape continues to change, on-demand labor will only become more and more important across all verticals. Let the team at MetaExperts help you meet your on-demand labor needs. 


About Cara Chatellier

Cara Chatellier is a digital marketing strategist & content writer. She lives in the Boston area and has worked with MetaExperts since October 2018. She loves travel, wine tastings, and podcasts.

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