What’s the difference between a consultant, interim, contractor, fixed-term contractor & freelancer?

Corporate BS
Right…… starter for ten – in the good old University Challenge style – can you describe how each of the headline ‘roles’ differs – a contractor, an interim, a consultant, a fixed-term contract and a freelancer?

Word of warning: this is not as easy as you first think!

Anyone in the recruitment space or anyone using LinkedIn will have seen these job titles, and probably pay little attention to definitions etc. After all, if you are one of the above, does it matter what you call yourself anyway? Well thanks to the tax man it absolutely matters!

Interimity logoA good friend of mine and owner of the startup Interimity, who specialise in placing senior HR and recruitment interims, decided she needed to define the roles to help her candidates and clients understand what they actually are! The outcome is (for me) the definitive guide to what they all mean – including details of role description, time frames, location, payment, IR35, AWR etc.
So here is Julia Briggs’ shortened version of the Interimity Guide To Temporary Resource:



  • Provider of specialist knowledge, skill or service.
  • Work on their own account, providing their own equipment, insurance and services
  • Normally advise rather than deliver work
  • Highly knowledgeable, may be a guru or have academic background
  • Experience of technical methodologies
  • Unlikely to be in a management role

Use when:

  • Highly specific expertise is not available in-house or an external analysis needed
  • It is a discrete project with a measureable or defined outcome
  • Day to day presence is not required
  • Where new ideas or the latest thinking is needed
  • A critical project needs to be fast tracked


Likely to be outcome based with a deadline or a fixed number of days over a longer period; Likely to be fixed term appointment for duration of project.



  • Provider of senior managerial expertise
  • Normally used to deliver a strategic piece of work or to cover a senior post temporarily
  • Can offer advice and deliver (i.e.: move from ‘consultancy’ mode through to implementation)

 Use when:

  • Direct managerial experience is needed
  • A (senior) role is vacant and needs cover
  • A short to medium term senior role which is not Business as Usual needs to be done e.g.: Systems implementation
  • There are long term risks or issues which cannot be resolved in-house and external expertise and hands on delivery is needed e.g.: turnaround
  • Short-term access to top level management experience is needed e.g.: M&A


Likely to be at least 3 months and usually full time



  • Provider of specialist, skill or service
  • Generally provide a technical or practical skill or service
  • Hands on delivery of specific tasks
  • Normally responsible to manager within client organisation

 Use when:

  • Specific task or project needs to delivered and required expertise is not available in-house
  • Short term risks or issues to business which cannot be resolved in-house

NB – the main distinction between contractors and interims is that  ‘Contractor’ is a term more used in the IT sector for technical and/or project roles and is usually less senior than an interim role. 


Likely to be short term or a fixed number of days over the period of the project. 

Fixed-Term Contractor


  • An employment contract for a definite period or “fixed term”, agreed in advance, between a business and a worker
  • Covers all levels – including ‘interim’ roles above

 Use when:

  • There is a short-term need for a set period e.g. ‘seasonal’ or ‘casual’ staff taken on for a given number of months during a peak period
  • A specialist employee needs to be taken on for the duration of a project
  • Cover is needed during another employee’s leave e.g. maternity, sabbatical


Likely to be mid-term, i.e. between 3 months and 2 years and for a specified number of days per week/month often full-time.

Temporary or ‘Casual’ Worker


Temporary employees hired directly by the employer to meet business demands without permanently committing to the cost of an additional employee.

A temp may sometimes be hired through an agency instead with fees being paid to the agency.  If this is the case the agency will employ the temp directly.

A ‘temp’ often:

  • Works for a limited period where the job is expected by both sides to last for only a short time
  • Works at a junior level
  • Temporary workers may be employed directly by the employer but more usually by employment agencies.
    • Use when:
  • There is a temporary need for staff at a junior level
  • To cover unexpected short term absence or a temporary influx of work (e.g.: a preplanned event)
  • Following a period of business growth while determining level of long-term/permanent need
  • To cover seasonal variations
  • To cover short-term, clearly defined work

There are special rules covering agencies and their relationship with the end user which should be considered prior to appointing an agency worker.


Usually very short-term.  Will still have employment rights and benefits i.e. holiday entitlement, SSP.  Such benefits will need to be agreed with the agency through which you are hiring the temp or will have to be born by yourself if you are employment directly.  

This is an abbreviated version of Julia’s excellent document. You can download a free complete copy of this definitive Interimity Guide To Temporary Resource by visiting here website here. If you are involved in any form of recruitment, HR or other areas, then I would recommend you grab a copy of this.

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We consult, train, tweet, blog, text, post, speak, share, read, update, photograph, video and talk about recruitment. At Sirona Consulting we work with companies, recruitment agencies, RPO’s HR & recruitment technology vendors and conference / event organisers, helping them understand and integrate social media into their recruitment strategies. We have have been doing this now for twelve years, working with many companies along the way, from small independent recruiters right through to large international companies. We are honest, ethical and have experience of working across a range of different industry sectors delivering success in the UK, Europe, Middle East, APAC and the United States.

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