Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog
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Sara Sutton Fell is the founder and CEO of FlexJobs. In 1995, while attending the University of California, Berkeley, she started JobDirect, a company that assisted college students in finding internships. She even took a few years off from school to help build and grow the company. And grow it did! The company grew quickly and sold 5 years later for $30 million to Korn/Ferry. In 2006, she became a mother but was anxious to get back working. Looking for flexibility and work/life balance, led her to starting FlexJobs.
FlexJobs.com is a service to help people find job opportunities with flexibility. It’s a subscription based service for telecommuting and freelance job listings. The job listings are screened to eliminate any scams and produce a high quality list of opportunities that can be trusted.
You were a successful entrepreneur with the launch and eventual sale of JobDirect. What made you decide to start another business just as you were starting a family?
When I was pregnant with my first son I wanted to find work that was flexible. Work is an important part of my identity and I didn’t want to give that up, but it was really important to me that I have a job that would make it possible for me to be an involved and available parent. In my search for a job that offered scheduling flexibility, I ran into roadblocks. It was hard to uncover jobs with flexible and telecommuting options and most of the job listings I found online looked like scams. I kept looking for an online resource I could use to quickly find relevant job listings and sort out the scams. Since I couldn’t find it, I decided to create that resource by starting FlexJobs. I never expected to start a company while I was starting my family. The idea for FlexJobs was fueled by my passion for telecommuting, being green, and work life balance. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without giving it a try.
FlexJobs is unique in that it provides legitimate listings specifically for telecommuting and freelance jobs. What specific steps do you take to ensure that job listings are not deceptive in any way?
We have a series of steps we use to screen jobs. For example, we never post anonymous job listings – we must know who the employer is so that we can research them for legitimacy. We’ve been screening jobs for several years now, so we’ve developed a reliable internal system for uncovering scams and for uncovering great job opportunities as well.
Are the jobs listed on the site mostly part-time work and short term projects or can someone actually find a job that turns into their career?
Both! We find that job listings vary from day to day and from season to season. We do have listings for professional full-time jobs with benefits, and many part-time and freelance listings are professional work that have specific educational and prior work experience requirements. While some jobs don’t require experience or degrees, most of the jobs listed on FlexJobs do require both experience and a degree. Which makes sense because flexible and telecommuting jobs generally require a certain amount of discipline and knowledge to be able to do them well. If you aren’t working on-site with a supervisor or colleagues, you need to be at a certain skill-level so that you can do the job independently.
Obviously there are benefits to employees that utilize telecommuting and other means of flexibility. What benefits exist for the employers? Why are they offering these flexible roles? Is it a cost reduction factor?
Employers benefit from offering telecommuting in a number of ways. It’s great for any company – and especially startups – to be able to access highly skilled talent that they don’t need full-time or could not afford to hire for a full-time position. What’s more, telecommuting broadens the talent pool to an employer – no matter where they are located they can find the best employee in the country (or world). It reduces the amount of office space and parking they need to provide for employees. Research has shown that telecommuters tend to be more productive and more satisfied with their work, which in turn reduces turnover. Overall, we’re finding that a broader and growing range of companies are really embracing virtual staffing and employee flexibility in their business models.
My wife stays at home with our 4 children and often craves adult interaction after spending so much time with the kids. While I know telecommuting and workplace flexibility is embrace by men and women alike, do you have a feel for how many of your subscribers are working mothers? Aside from economic reasons, is this another reason people turn to your site?
When I first started FlexJobs three years ago, I expected most of the users to be mothers who wanted to keep working. But our audience is much broader than that. We have about 40% male and 60% female users, with a huge range of ages. And they run the gamut from college students with irregular schedules to employed people looking to earn a little extra on the side to experienced executives who want to be able to work from their vacation homes during certain seasons of the year. We do have many stay-at-home parents that use our service to find work that keeps their foot in the door of the work world – either because they are gearing up to go back into the full-time workforce or because they just want to do something separate from their parenting work.
How do you balance the demands of being a mom and a successful entrepreneur? Which do you find more demanding?
It’s a precarious balance made easier because I love being a mom and an entrepreneur. They are both exhilarating in different ways. Four of the ways I maintain balance are that:
1) I work from a home office. Not only do I not experience the exhausting and aggravating experience of commuting – but I get to use the time to work or spend it with my family.
2) I manage my time carefully and keep very detailed personal and work calendars so that nothing falls through the cracks.
3) I hire competent staff that I trust implicitly.
4) I arrange childcare and activities for my children while I am working. I know they are in good hands and keeping busy while I am working; but, a huge bonus is that I – and they – know I’m always here if they need me.
As for which I find more demanding… depends on the day :)
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