Wanted: Opportunities for Part-Timers

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

Professionals seeking part-time opportunities generally look in vain for meaningful, well-paid positions. Jobs advertised as flexible tend to be scut work, entry level or work-at-home scams.

Take it from Jennifer Pultz: "The part-time jobs are not really career oriented."

An environmental educator from Portland, Ore., Pultz left the work force when her sons were toddlers, figuring to return part time when they were in kindergarten. She's been actively job hunting since hitting that milestone two years ago. "It's so frustrating," she says.

Enter the Internet. Several new Web sites all launched since August are matching talent with stimulating part-time, seasonal or project-based employment. The sites hope to serve older professionals who aren't ready to fully retire, parents scaling back or returning to work, and even young singles who want time to pursue a hobby or entrepreneurial venture.

"There are so many qualified people out there that want to work but need the flexibility," said Ilyse Shapiro of Wynnewood, Pa., who began MyPartTimePRO.com in February. Shapiro cites a June Gallup Poll finding that 51 percent of Americans would like to work part time before completely retiring.

More than start-ups, the businesses are crusades. Their founders are trying to change a labor market in which most part-time professionals started full time and then negotiated a lighter schedule.

"You have to pay your dues and establish yourself, and then they're very willing to work with you on flexibility," said Judy Kim, co-founder of workmomwork.com, a flexible-options job board unveiled in August. "Coming from the outside, it's still extremely difficult."

Not only are employers reluctant to chance hiring a new part-time worker, they don't want to pay recruiters or established sites such as monster.com for less than a full-time position, Shapiro said.

"The honest answer is we're still not there yet," said Jessica DeGroot, founder of ThirdPath Institute, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit focused on work-life balance. "Most organizations haven't started thinking about how they can do jobs in a non-traditional way."

The difficulty of retaining talented lawyers, especially women, has prompted some law firms to be more open to flexible schedules.

This month, Emily Won, of Newark, N.J., became a partner at K&L Gates after 10 years working part time. She initially found a job as a part-time attorney in 1997 when her mother was battling cancer, and continued on a reduced schedule once she became a mom herself.

"I have two little kids and I want to be available to do their activities," Won said. "When my work allows it, I seize that moment."

Software maker Bentley Systems Inc. is taking the leap, said Mark Hagerty, global vice president for human resources in Bentley's Exton, Pa., headquarters.

"We believe there are talented, motivated, educated and hard-working people out there that we haven't tapped into because they're not available full time," he said.

Shapiro's site will give Bentley the flexibility to ramp up and slow down its work flow as needed. "We expect some pretty significant spikes in the work we're doing and that a lot of the work will be on a project basis," Hagerty said.

Similarly, accounting firms can staff up for tax season and hospitals can look for nurses and doctors for weekend and evening shifts, Shapiro said.

Jack Valancy, a Cleveland-based career adviser for physicians, sees increasing numbers of medical professionals looking for better work-life balance.

Stacia Dearmin works on average three days a week, for about 120 hours a month, as an emergency room pediatrician for hospitals in Medina and Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She's paid by the hour and buys health care insurance on her own, but considers it a good trade for the extra time with her family.

"It took a leap of faith to believe that the work would be stable and the hours would be stable," Dearmin said. "I feel like things are in proper order. My work and my husband's are financing living, rather than our living having to be squeezed in around our work."

Cheryl Graziose, a pharmacist in Clearwater, Fla., started jobshareconnection.com in November to match people who want to split a single full-time job.

"I got a lot of responses from senior citizens. They want benefits still, but they want to be able to be semi-retired," she said. "We got a lot of moms that are staying home that realize, `I can go back to work part time if I find somebody to share it with."'

Graziose connects potential job-share partners and lets them work out the details.

At the other end of the spectrum is Career Partners, a firm that works with employers and candidates to recruit, place and support executive job-share teams.

"The only way this is going to work is if the employer gets more," said said founder Kelly Watson, who is based in Los Angeles and recruits candidates at thecareerpartners.com. "The employer really gets two heads for the price of one, plus the built-in backup of having somebody always there."

Career Partners uses personality tests to match partners by values and skills, and focuses only on positions paying more than $100,000. Each member of a job-share team commits to paying for ongoing coaching.

Similarly, Flexperience Staffing in San Francisco reaches candidates through flexperiencestaffing.com, then works with companies and executives to ensure a good fit of culture and skills, said Sally Thornton, president.

Flexperience acts as the employer, handling payroll and taxes, while placing managers at companies for flexible and project-based positions such as filling in for someone on maternity leave. The company accepts only job seekers with 10 years' or more professional experience.

(Katherine Reynolds Lewis can be contacted at katherine.lewis(at)newhouse.com)

This story was originally published Wednesday, March 14, 2007.