The board of consultant Atkins is hoping to appoint a chief executive by July.
Mike Jeffries, chairman and acting chief executive, is believed to have written to non-executive directors recommending that the six applicants who have been interviewed should be whittled down to two or three as a matter of urgency. Jeffries declined to comment.

Atkins is aiming for the July deadline so that an appointment coincides with its preliminary year-end results.

A source close to Atkins said it might be difficult to prise the chosen candidate from their post. The source said: "At the end of the day there is no guarantee that someone will leave a perfectly good job."

Jeffries has combined the chief executive and chairman roles since the departure of chief executive Robin Southwell in October.

Atkins did select a successor to Southwell earlier this year but the candidate turned down the post.