Value Added: They help out-of-work professionals suit up again

Thomas Heath
Reporter February 22

Who isn’t frightened by the idea of being out of work for significant time, voluntarily or not? You lose your mojo.

Constant work keeps you sharp, promotes good habits and provides a sense of well-being, not to mention that beloved paycheck.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade. View Archive

Gwenn Rosener and her two founding partners at Northern Virginia’s FlexProfessionals help you get that A-game back. Their four-year-old company finds part-time jobs for out-of-work professionals and then helps them suit up for professional work.

About 95 percent of Rosener’s candidate pool is professional women ages 35 to 55, many of whom left the workforce to raise a family. Many have at least 10 years of experience in areas such as accounting, human resources, marketing, sales or writing.

“We are our candidates,” said Rosener. “We’ve been there. We’ve stayed at home, and we understand who’s ready to get back into the workforce, and who is not. It’s our mission.”

Rosener, 49, is a mother of two with a graduate degree in systems engineering and a master of business administration from Harvard. She left the workforce in 2002 to raise her two children after a stint at General Electric and a well-paying consulting gig with Ernst & Young. She knows the drill.

While we were talking about her company, Rosener explained that slipping seamlessly back into the workforce after a multi-year hiatus is more complicated than simply showing up. FlexProfessionals job candidates must brush up on various hard and soft skills, from Microsoft Excel to having an up-to-date mobile phone. Are they savvy in social media? Are they up on the latest rules governing their industry?

“The changes you are confronted with in the office, like technology and trends, make you stay competitive,” Rosener said

Part of the solution for those out of work is to stay connected to their social network, which helps keeps them current. Job candidates also must have a commanding grasp of their résuméand the type of work they are pursuing.

“Articulate what you are looking for,” she said.

FlexProfessionals coaches many of the job candidates free of charge, but those who have been stale for five or 10 years can pay $849 for a 12-week session.

FlexProfessionals was formed in 2010 by Rosener and two other women, Ellen Grealish, 46, of Herndon, and Sheila Murphy, 47, of Vienna. The company does well. It grossed $1.4 million last year and delivered $84,000 in income to each of its three founders. That’s less than the $160,000 or so Rosener was making with Ernst & Young, but it’s not bad for the 20 hours a week she puts into the company.

Rosener made a stab at keeping her consulting job while her kids were growing up, taking them on work trips, finding babysitters in hotels and jumping through a million hoops. But she had the luxury of quitting in 2002 because her husband has a well-paying job.

“I wanted to be a very hands-on mother,” she said. “I wanted to know my kids inside out. I didn’t want to delegate.”

To stay sharp, she did a lot of volunteering. But that got less challenging. In spring 2009, after her kids were in the later grades of elementary school, she decided to reignite her career, hoping eventually to resume full-time work.

But her search soon fell flat. Her online hunting yielded things like lifeguarding and telemarketing. The low point came when she fielded an opportunity to become part of a fertility-research project.

“I was horrified,” she said.

She asked a headhunter who had found her the job at Ernst & Young, and his response was simple: “If you don’t want to work hard, I can’t help you,” he told her.

“That’s when I decided there had to be a better way to fill this void for professionals to find meaningful, part-time work.”

She told Murphy about her predicament and her idea for a staffing firm. They found Grealish, and the three of them grinded out a business plan over Murphy’s kitchen table in Vienna in 2010. They surveyed local business owners, many of whom were neighbors and friends, to test the idea.

“A lot of [business owners] said they would love to hire part-time, but didn’t know where to find good part-time employees. Companies didn’t know how to access. A lot of these were guys.”

They each put in $8,000 to cover legal, accounting, Web site and other professional expenses to launch the business. They found their first 300 job candidates by sending an e-mail chain to everyone they knew.

Their first job placement was in January 2010, when they filled an executive assistant’s slot at a lobbying firm in Georgetown.

They’ve stayed with their part-time niche, even though full-time placement is more lucrative. FlexProfessionals fills two types of jobs: direct hires and hourly hires.

For direct hires, they charge the employer a one-time placement fee of 15 percent of the annualized part-time salary, which can add up to thousands of dollars for one position. For hourly hires, they add a mark-up of 30 to 40 percent to the rate FlexProfessionals pays the candidate. The client is billed biweekly.

As the company has expanded, so has the revenue per placement, growing from $3,000 in 2011 to $8,000 currently, thanks to the filling of more high-paying posts such as accountants and managers in marketing and human resources.

The candidate pool now numbers more than 5,000.

Eighty percent of their clients are businesses — many of which are technology companies — with 50 or fewer employees. These are companies that are small and growing fast and need to be nimble in their staffing. The part-
timers are less expensive than a full-timer, are pre-trained and can be replaced quickly if they are not the perfect fit.

The three owners work the speaking and network circuit hard to find good recruits, including attending moms’ groups from Bethesda to Dulles to North Arlington and the District. They hit technology groups like 40+ Network of D.C. and D.C. Web Women as well as retiree groups like Retired Brains.

They are regulars at many Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and hold bagel breakfasts at shared executive office spaces such as Carr Workplaces and Regus. Clients get a bimonthly newsletter listing top job candidates.

FlexProfessionals hammers at its costs. For its office, it rents a desk and chair at George Mason University’s Enterprise Center for $560 a month. Four account executives work from home and get a small base salary plus commission. Two-thirds of the business comes from referrals and repeats, which saves dollars that might have gone to marketing.

And the founders, of course, are part-time.

“We are the best example of our model,” Rosener said.

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