Independent Talent Trends for 2024, Revealed

April 9, 2024 Eric Knox

High-end independent talent offer a flexible source of the expert strategic thinking, hands-on execution, interim leadership, and cutting-edge, in-demand skills companies need to tackle their greatest opportunities and challenges. 

Every year, Business Talent Group analyzes our proprietary data to reveal the most important independent talent trends that business leaders should know. What emerges from the data is a vivid picture of how leading companies, private equity firms, and nonprofit organizations rely on independent consultants, interim executives, subject matter experts, and project managers to fill critical skill, expertise, and leadership gaps. 

This year's results are summarized in our 2024 High-End Independent Talent Report.

2024 Independent Talent Trends

The 2024 High-End Independent Talent Report offers insight into how companies are navigating a landscape marked by rapid technological advancements, evolving customer behaviors, and continuous market shifts that compel organizations to fundamentally reassess their talent acquisition and engagement strategies. Embracing a paradigm shift in how businesses access leadership, skills, and expertise is no longer simply an option—it’s a strategic imperative for companies aiming to remain competitive and agile.  

“The current talent landscape has fundamentally shifted as companies can no longer rely solely on traditional full-time hiring to access the capabilities they need,” said Sunny Ackerman, Global Managing Partner, On-Demand Talent at Heidrick & Struggles. “Strategic, forward-looking leaders are embracing on-demand talent as a core workforce strategy to inject leadership bandwidth, specialized skills, and organizational agility exactly when and where it's needed.” 

Key insights for 2024 include: 

  • Leaders foresee continuing skill, capacity, and expertise gaps ahead: 95% of executives anticipate difficulties securing the ideal combination of skills, capacity, and expertise within their teams over the next three to five years
  • The skills shortage stifles innovation: More than 1/3 of executives anticipate expertise limitations in data and analytics; compliance, reporting, and risk management; and process improvement and business transformation
  • Organizations are embracing interim leadership: BTG’s data shows a 23% increase YOY and 170% increase since 2022 in the need for experienced and capable interim leaders. This pattern mirrors broader market data, which shows a 117% increase since 2022 in the use of interim executives in the C-suite across Fortune 1000 companies
  • Increased needs in the office of the CFO: Requests for interim CFOs rose 46% YOY and demand for SVP and VP-level finance talent such as Controllers and heads of FP&A surged 114%. Requests for talent skilled in financial controls, accounting, and audit increased 33%, and financial planning, analysis and modeling needs increased 28%
  • Widespread desire to advance big (data) picture thinking: The analysis found a 47% YOY increase in demand for data, digital, and IT interim leaders at all levels and a 67% increase in CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs as organizations race to adopt AI and address cybersecurity threats
  • On-demand talent are driving business change: Independent talent are stepping in to fill gaps, de-risk initiatives, and fully execute workstreams in integrations, carveouts, spin-outs, and transformations. Notably, leaders are seeking talent to assist with change management (+26% YOY) and post-merger integration (+26%) projects, as well as those skilled in divestitures (+300%), agile transformation (+150%), strategic partnerships (+117%), and turnarounds (+100%)

Read the report for more exclusive findings. 

2023 Independent Talent Trends

The 2023 High-End Independent Talent Report showed how companies continued to navigate uncertainty—with added economic pressure—and increasingly turned to on-demand talent for flexibility and optionality in 2023.  

Key insights for 2023 included: 

  • Soaring demand for interim executives at all levels and functions with a 116% increase YOY and an especially acute need for interim leadership and skills in the office of the CFO 
  • Continuing need for business process projects—the #2 most in-demand project—and talent skilled in process optimization and transformation—the #4 most in-demand skill 
  • IT and tech transformations abound with spiking demand for talent skilled in tech and systems implementation 

2022 Independent Talent Trends

Our 2022 report showed how companies were fiercely competing to secure top talent for traditional, full-time employment—with US CEOs ranking labor shortages as the number one external threat to their businesses, and 58% of leaders reporting that closing skill gaps within their workforces had become a higher priority since the pandemic began. 

Key insights for 2022 included: 

  • On-demand talent is on the CXO agenda with more than 70% of all requests coming from VPs and above, including 40% of on-demand project needs requested by C-level executives
  • Interim leadership continued to permeate the organization with the number of requests to fill leadership-level roles below the C-suite increasing by 189% YOY and overall requests for interim leadership leaping 137% YOY
  • There was consistent demand for strategic expertise and hands-on execution to drive growth strategies, market landscapes and research, project management, and marketing and sales initiatives across all industries and business functions  

2021 Independent Talent Trends

At the time of our 2021 report, companies were emerging from the unprecedented conditions of 2020, planning for a post-pandemic future, seeking to capture market share, and blazing paths to renewed growth. 

Key insights for 2021 included: 

  • The use of independent talent increased at senior levels with nearly 69% of all requests from VPs and above, including 30% of independent talent needs from C-level executives
  • The use of interim leaders took an increasingly prominent role up and down the org chart, as shown by a 70% increase YOY in interim engagements below the C-suite. Overall, interim leadership comprised 8% of all project requests
  • Companies re-focused on growth with 57% of projects falling into the broad bucket of strategy
  • They also sought to optimize the organization, with 35% of projects focused on organization, operations, and transformation needs
  • Remote-only project requests increased 335% YOY across all industries and business functions

2020 Independent Talent Trends

In our 2020 report, marketing and sales projects topped the list of most in-demand projects—a trend that continued throughout the year with independent experts assisting on everything from highly specialized pharmaceutical product launches to initiatives aimed helping marketers understand rapidly changing customer preferences. Project management was the most-requested skill. 

Key insights for 2020 included: 

  • Rising demand for process-related projects as companies transform their operations to grapple with radical shifts in the business landscape 
  • Increased reliance on independent talent for advanced analytics and other digital skills difficult to source in the full-time market 
  • More requests for talent skilled in digital transformations and tech and systems implementations as companies accelerated long-planned efforts amid increased remote working and changing customer behavior 
  • A changing role for interim leaders—no longer confined to stopgap positions during executive searches—who now pilot initiatives, advise permanent execs, and address skills gaps in hard-to-hire areas from the C-suite to Director levels 

In addition to the project and skill trends above, we also noted a more than 2x increase in usage of independent talent by HR leaders, CEOs, and business unit presidents year over year, a reflection of just how valuable embedded independent talent have become across the enterprise. 

The Independent Talent Market Is Constantly Evolving 

Each of BTG’s High-End Independent Talent Reports are based on an analysis of 12 months of client needs, with the goal of understanding how these professionals continue to help large companies get work done. 

To view all of our annual reports on independent talent trends, visit our High-End Independent Talent Report content stream

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