When to hire fractional, advisory, interim, or full-time executives

Published on
Aug 4, 2023
Written by
Jake Butler
Read time
4 min read

Understanding the continuum of executive engagements can help you make the best staffing decision in the moment and for the future.

Advanced technology, skyrocketing consumer expectations, and generative artificial intelligence push companies today to move at lightning speed. Startups must be early to market. Disruptors have a small window of opportunity. Industry leaders need to be nimble to keep up with innovators. 

That ecosystem demands that businesses hire the right level executive engagement at the right time. The problem in today’s buyer’s market is that a traditional executive search can take upwards of 6 months and will cost you big bucks. And while you’re searching for the perfect candidate, your open executive role is sitting unfulfilled. What many companies forget is the ability to leverage a fractional, interim or consultative executive, and what we’ve heard in speaking to many founders is that they don’t know what type of engagement to leverage. 

In this post, we’re breaking down the distinctions in each type of engagement and how to select the best option for your company’s stage of growth.

Definitions and Distinctions

  • Advisors typically have an ongoing relationship with an organization or specific executives to provide strategic guidance, recommendations and advice for their organization. 
  • Fractional Executives are often brought in part-time to provide specialized expertise to help determine next steps, address specific needs or build strategic foundations for growth.
  • Interim Executives are full-time, temporary leaders who fill a gap in the leadership team or a sudden unexpected vacancy to manage day-to-day operations until a permanent replacement is found.
  • Full-Time Executives are fully invested, long-term engagements fulfilling a leadership role currently vacant.

When an Advisory Partnership is Needed

Every organization goes through various stages and milestones. Maybe you just reached another level of growth that is going to require new hires and better processes. If your executive team members have never operated at such a level before, they might not fully grasp what it takes to navigate a time like this effectively. 

Or maybe you’re considering making an acquisition, drastically changing your go-to-market approach or launching a brand-new product. Do you and your leadership team have expertise and experience in these specific areas? With any major business change or opportunity, both are critical. 

These use cases are perfect examples of when an advisory partnership can make all the difference. Your executive team will still be leading the company, but they can tap into the rich wisdom and functional guidance from someone who has been there and done that in a similar situation and juncture. It can save you significant time, money and headaches, as well as enable you to emerge even stronger. 

When an Interim Partnership is Needed

Even if you have a strong leadership team in place, there are no guarantees that it will remain this way indefinitely. In fact, many organizations experience unexpected executive departures. It could be that someone in the C-suite is suddenly fired or decides to resign, or a key leader might need to go on parental leave. Whatever the reason, such events can leave you blindsided, unsure of how to keep operations moving forward while simultaneously trying to fill that critical role. 

These scenarios illustrate when an interim partnership can save the day. When you engage an interim partner, you get a seasoned, highly vetted executive to take the reins immediately, preventing delays and operational hiccups. As they work in tandem with the rest of your executive team, this partner can also help you find and hire the right permanent replacement for the position (if needed). 

Instead of leaving a key role vacant, or panicking and hastily hiring the wrong person, consider an interim partnership. Such a decision can keep your company on the rails and position you toward greater growth. 

When a Project Partnership is Needed

While most organizations build out their executive teams with great care, it’s not realistic to have internal experts on every aspect of the business. Practically speaking, there will be times when you need specialized expertise that you simply don’t have in-house. 

For example, you might be working toward a large-scale research & development project that’s unlike anything your business has done before. Or maybe you need to upskill a certain group of your employees, but don’t know how to start. 

In such situations, a project partnership can unlock your success. Instead of force-fitting your current leadership team into an area that is outside of their expertise, you can engage an experienced executive on a fractional basis for a single project. This helps you save time and money, while giving you access to specialists in a given field. 

When it comes to high stakes projects, the cost of settling is too high. Instead, explore working with a third-party partner so you can enjoy strategic guidance and maximized outcomes.

When a Full-Time Hire is Needed

In some scenarios, there’s no replacement for a full-time executive. You need an in-house leader who will invest in your company for the long-term. As you embark on this hiring journey, ensure you’ve done the work to calibrate on the candidate profile, and you take the time to vet your candidates. The cost of a bad full-time hire is more than just money.


Understanding the differences between executive engagement options is the first step to selecting the right one for your organization. Once you’ve determined what you need at the present moment, reach out today. Continuum is the premier executive talent marketplace connecting high-growth companies with executives for full-time, fractional or advisory roles. We listen to your specific challenges, match you with vetted experts and help you meet your goals so you can see results quickly.