Go Part-Time or Hire Part-Time: A Guide
Tips on re-entering the workforce from women who know how to make flexibility pay
“If you don’t want to work hard, I can’t help you.”
That’s what Gwenn Rosener was told by one of Washington, D.C.’s, leading search-firm executives, 16 years after graduating with an advanced degree in engineering and with an MBA from Harvard University.
That comment was the catalyst for the co-founding, in 2010, of FlexProfessionals with partners Ellen Grealish (now 50) and Sheila Murphy (now 51). The D.C.- and Boston-based company helps those who have taken time off return to the workforce part-time or with greater than usual flexibility. Not surprisingly, 95 percent of their candidates are women.
Rosener, now 52, had taken off seven years to stay home with her children. In 2009, she wanted to reenter the workforce but also be available for important moments in her children’s lives, so she was looking for jobs with flexible hours. Her degrees and her work experience (nine years at Ernst & Young as a management consultant and six as an engineer with General Electric) didn’t seem to matter. Because, when she uttered the words “part time” and “flexibility,” all the headhunter seemed to hear was, “I want a job that I can ‘dabble about in’ where it won’t matter if my head’s in the game or not,” says Rosener.
“No one is going to hire you,” the headhunter told Rosener.
It’s not just about caring for children. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), more than 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to an aging adult family member. Not only are most of these caretakers women — 60 percent, reported NAC in 2015, and 49 years old, on average — but they are twice as likely as men to switch to part-time work or give up work entirely to take care of a parent.
CoveyClub sat down with Rosener and Grealish to discuss the experiences and transitions that led them to redefine what may just be the two scariest words in the business dictionary: “part time” and “flexible.”
CoveyClub: Why did you establish your firm?
Gwenn Rosener: We started FlexProfessionals because of our own struggles trying to find quality part-time work. We believe that full time should not be the only choice for people who want careers. Staying home should not be the other choice for people who opt out of full time due to family or other caregiving demands.
We each had a story of being rejected by our fields, our former bosses, our co-workers (including other women), because we took time off to raise our children. All three of us, Ellen, Sheila and I, stepped away from the workforce.
Ellen Grealish: Like a lot of women, we bonded over how our transitions were stagnating, our feelings of insecurity and our fears of being “outdated” even after stepping away for only a few years … We wanted to create a firm that at its core would give people … the choice to work part-time [in a career, not just a job]. It just didn’t exist. Most staffing agencies won’t touch [part-time] because there’s not enough money in it.
CC: Explain what your firm does?
EG: We match companies (the client) looking for seasoned part-time employees with professionals (the candidate) looking for meaningful part-time or flexible work. Even after eight years, it remains a challenge to get businesses to think about hiring in a different way despite [offering] candidates [with] advanced degrees from some of the nation’s top colleges and graduate schools. Currently, our focus is in the Boston area and the D.C. Metro area (District, Maryland, Virginia).
GR: We want to … change the attitude of corporate America. [To do that,] we set up a firm that [presents to businesses] part-time candidate[s who are] extremely bright, capable and productive. Our candidates must have 10+ years of professional work experience. They are paving the way for the next generation of career women [who will demand more flexibility].
CC: In setting up FlexProfessionals you received a lot of pushback (and still do) because “part-time” and “flexibility” are laced with such negative connotations. Why is that and why does this need to change?
GR: [There] are preconceived notions [that] part-time job seekers … “lack commitment,” are “dated” and “distracted.” The model is … a hard-sell for large companies [because it’s] not mainstream — it is a new way of thinking about staffing. [We tell them if they] want to attract and retain the growing numbers of college-educated women with children, flexibility in the workplace is a requirement.
EG: There’s a view that those who want to work part-time want to work half as hard. Not true. There’s also a concern among hiring managers that if you don’t need to work from a financial perspective, that you will walk away from the job you’ve been given once it becomes too challenging. Not true. And finally, there is a stereotype that the person who has stepped away from the workforce to take care of family members is automatically stale and has lost her sharpness and her edge. Not true.
Our candidates in this pool know that good part-time work is not easy to find, so when they find a quality position that offers flexibility, they stick. They are not seeking the position as a training ground for a path to a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Our candidates [have been called] “rock stars,” “life savers” and “gems.”
[The tight] labor market [with a 2%] unemployment rate for college-educated professionals [has been good for us because] even big companies are fighting over scarce talent and are looking for new sources. In just the last few months, for the first time, we’ve had several large businesses reach out asking us to help find [part-time] candidates for professional-level positions they haven’t been able to fill.
CC: Who is out there in terms of the talent pool?
EG: Of the 12,000+ candidates who are seeking part-time positions through FlexProfessionals in the D.C. area alone:
- 98% have bachelor’s degrees.
- More than half have a master’s degree or higher and/or advanced credentials such as CPAs, MBAs, PMPs and JDs.
- The majority have achieved a position of Manager, Director or higher during their careers.
- 90% are women ranging in age from 35 to 60.
- Over 40% are reentering the workforce after a career break.
- Over 10% are not-ready-to-retire professionals looking to stay in the workforce.
CC: What, on average, are these candidates seeking?
EG: What employers often don’t realize is that our candidates view flexibility as part of their compensation … There are 2.5 million women out there who think this way … Most are looking for under 32 hours/week and don’t need benefits — typically [they] have them through a spouse or retirement package — [and] the majority would ultimately like for their part-time work to [transition to] permanent. We also have candidates who will consider full-time flexible roles which we define as allowing them to work at least 8 hours per week virtually. It’s all about the flexibility — it could be 12 hours two times a week or five days a week for 6 hours a day.
CC: Five percent of your business is placing those who have retired and want to get back in, but only part-time. What’s this talent pool all about?
GR: For some retirees, it is [about the] money. But for others, what they tell us is they want to remain “relevant” to not feel “invisible.” On the other hand, they want some time to travel, explore, volunteer, and do the things that their full-time careers have not allowed. Part-time or seasonal work is a great way to integrate those dreams.
CC: How do you find the right candidates?
GR: There are definitely some candidates who come to us who are not ready to go back. They miss their work identities, but they haven’t thought of the impact going back will have on their lives — even part-time. They haven’t asked important questions like: Does my partner buy into this? How will I cover vacations and summer? What if my kid is sick? So, we’ve developed a set of time-tested questions that have helped weed out those ready and those who need additional time to strategize (which we help with through workshops we also offer). And, as we ask [our] questions, a lot of times candidates will self-select out and realize that having a part-time career is not what they want at that moment. Questions we ask include:
- Why are you looking to go back to work?
- Why part-time?
- What are your schedule constraints throughout the year?
- What would make you want to leave this job?
CC: What are some tips you can offer those wanting to get back in?
EG: It’s really important to underscore that the mistake is not taking time off to care for your family (whether an aging parent or children) and the mistake is not wanting a flexible work schedule when returning to your career. Instead, the mistake is not staying current; letting your network atrophy. So … hone in on what to do when stepping away to make the transition back in easier:
1) [Figure out what’s] most important to you: a job close to home, flexible hours, substance of work, title, compensation, work environment? Prioritize.
2) Stay current with technology: Outdated technology skills are a top concern of employers hiring reentry professionals.
3) Let people know your value and believe in your professional self: Don’t apologize for your career break or how long you took off. We need to stop doing that.
4) Network: LinkedIn is great, but make one-on-one personal connections. Keep in touch with former colleagues and bosses [and] reach out to them when you are ready to return.
5) Go public with your job search: Tap into the people you know.
6) Volunteer with purpose: Sharpen skills, grow your network, ignite a passion that [could] become a career.
CC: What kinds of other services do you provide?
EG: We offer quarterly workshops to candidates looking to return to work including:
- Strategies for reentering the workforce after a career break
- Developing a compelling resume and resume reviews
- Improve your interview skills and practice your pitch
- Take the work out of networking
CoveyClub: Can you give us an example of a part-time scenario or case study that shows the win/win for client and candidate?
Gwenn Rosener: There was a Boston-based start-up in the later stage of funding. They wanted to allocate most of their funds to R&D but also needed to start building out their back-office infrastructure to prove to investors their operational readiness. They hired:
- Senior Accountant for 20 hours per week. The candidate had 15 years of experience in senior-level accounting roles for both small and Fortune 500 companies. Had recently moved and was looking to scale back due to family.
- HR and Benefits Manager for 25 hours per week. First HR hire at the company. She had 15+ years of HR management experience but had taken a 10-year career break after kids. Her husband has extensive travel, so she wanted to keep hours part-time for family.
- Office Manager for 20 hours per week. Candidate was an Air Force veteran and had held financial and operations roles in the military and as a civilian for universities and a nonprofit organization. She needed part-time work to care for kids.