The use of both words is so prevalent in today's business world that job seekers must prepare to explain the circumstances.
When writing a résumé, there are some words that can always help you, such as “completed,” “managed” and “achieved,” which let the employer know you’ve accomplished something concrete and measurable. Then, there are the words that de-emphasize actions, such as “helped” or “assisted,” which should be avoided or used sparingly.
Then there are the terms on which no one can really agree, namely the adjectival forms of acting and interim when used in job titles. Neither of them is desirable, since they both connote impermanence and a slight taint of upheaval — both “yellow flags” for recruiters. But the use of both words is so prevalent in today’s business world that job seekers must prepare to explain the circumstances that led to such terminology.
So which one looks better in the eyes of hiring managers?
First of all, if you had an actual title that used the term “interim” or “acting,” there’s no real debate — you have to use your official title. It’s never a good idea to change “acting manager” to “interim manager,” or vice-versa, to make it sound better. The question is more about which term you are saddled with, which one puts you at more of a disadvantage and what you can do to overcome it.
When in doubt about such parsing needs, I usually turn to my old buddy, Noah Webster, for elucidation. Here’s what I found on the Merriam-Webster site:
in-ter-im (adj): done, made, appointed or occurring for an intervening time
Hmmm, not much help there. It points out that something is occurring between points of time, but the definition is a bit too open-ended to be satisfying. Let’s look at the other side:
act-ing (adj): holding a temporary rank or position; performing services temporarily
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. This definition suggests that an acting position exists for a predefined period of time. An “acting manager,” therefore, is a manager with a built-in expiration date. Meanwhile, an “interim manager” may last indefinitely, but it is still a stop-gap maneuver.
Armed with such knowledge, you might think, “That’s easy, I see a clear difference.” But spend a little time trying to nail down universal definitions and you begin to resemble a dog chasing its tail.
“Acting manager” may seem like the lesser of the two, since it implies that you’re merely holding down the fort until someone else returns, whereas “interim manager” means you are a full-fledged executive who is put in charge for an indefinite period. But that begs the question, “Why aren’t you a permanent manager?” If you have the interim label, there must be a reason your boss is looking for someone else. Perhaps “acting manager” is best because it is often used when the full-time manager goes on a leave of absence. This gives the impression that the acting manager is just as qualified and trustworthy as the previous manager. But, if that’s the case, why are you being sent back to the minors when the full-time manager returns? Maybe the interim label isn’t so bad after all…
…And so on until insanity sets in.
Fortunately, the conundrum itself can end up helping you in the end. Because most people don’t really know the subtle differences between the two adjectives, “acting” and “interim” are almost interchangeable. Ask a 10 recruiters which one looks better on arésumé and you’ll likely get 10 different responses.
Like most debates like this over split hairs like this, there’s no real right answer. It’s better to focus not on the words “acting” or “interim,” but on what follows them. If your official title was “interim manager,” you want to emphasize what you accomplished under your tenure. If you had a stint as “acting vice president,” discuss how you ran your department and helped the business become profitable.
So go with results first — there’s always time later to explain the interim or acting modifiers. If your story is good, interviewers will care less about your temporary status and will be much more interested in having you repeat your success for them on a permanent basis.