A Day in the Career of… Karen O’ Reilly, Employmum
Following a ‘meandering, random’ but highly successful career journey, Karen O’ Reilly found herself craving a new way of working. Employmum, her recruitment agency focused on flexible working, launched just two years ago, but is already poised for international expansion.
Karen speaks to The Daily Slog about reinvention, recognising opportunities – and why a G&T with a good friend is an unrivalled stress buster.
What time do you usually get up and how do you start your day?
I love my bed – my family often joke that if the house was on fire I wouldn’t bother to get out of it, so my alarm is set to the very last second that I can get away with to have the extra few minutes in the leaba in the mornings. Anything I can do the night before (lunches/clothes prep etc) is done to allow an extra precious few seconds under the duvet. My ideal quota for sleep would be at least 10 hours. I have started doing a half an hour of pilates in the morning though as my back is giving me trouble at the moment.
Take us on a jaunt through your career to date…
My career has taken a very meandering, random route so far – I started off as an accountant and trained with the firm BDO Simpson Xavier in Limerick. After studying for seven years to become an accountant, I realised it was not for me, but took advantage of the qualifications to travel the world, living in the UK, Luxembourg and Australia in various finance roles.
In 2002, I visited my sister in the South of France – she was setting up a new business as a property agency and with no kids or major commitments, I upped sticks and joined her. We ran a very successful bilingual agency in Perpignan where we became the largest English speaking agency in the South of France.
Ireland is a great country to start a business at the moment, particularly if you are a woman – there is fantastic support out there if you know where to look.
With the crash in 2008, the bottom fell out of the market and overnight, our clientele disappeared (our market was mostly English and Irish and the banks just stopped giving money for foreign properties).
So, with a great love and knowledge of the region and a desire to stay living in the South of France, we re-invented ourselves and started a Bespoke Tour Company, eventually specializing in Wine Tours.
We did this successfully for a number of years until 2013; when our children were 8 and 6 we decided we wanted them to be Irish and moved to Clonakilty.
How did you prepare for the initial launch of Employmum?
As I had been out of Ireland for nearly 20 years, I felt I needed some guidance as to how business worked here so I did a Start Your Own Business with the Clonakilty LEO. It was a great course and very practical.
I was also chosen to partake in the EXXCEL programme in CIT – an entrepreneurial programme for women with a background in STEM. This really pushed me to develop Employmum from a seed of an idea to a tangible business.
Employmum has been completely self funded so far although we are now seeking funding in order to grow the business into a cloud based platform to enable us to scale nationally and internationally.
I also took part in the Enterprise Ireland ‘Going for Growth’ programme this year – Ireland is a great country to start a business at the moment, particularly if you are a woman – there is fantastic support out there if you know where to look.
I found the ‘solopreneur’ experience quite lonely – it’s not as much fun and far more daunting running a business single handedly.
You took on your first staff member at Employmum last year. How did you find the ‘solopreneur’ experience?
Helen Walshe joined the Employmum team last year and is an invaluable addition to the team – I could not survive without her!
I found the ‘solopreneur’ experience quite lonely as I had always been in business with my sister and we would constantly be bouncing ideas off each other. It’s not as much fun and far more daunting running a business single handedly.
I was getting so busy that I really could not cope with the volume of work – I knew that the potential was there to grow the business but I couldn’t do everything – marketing / sales / PR / website / admin / social media / networking AND the actual business of recruitment so I knew it was either take on someone else or have a nervous breakdown!
In your experience, which industries are more open to flexible working and which structure is most appealing to employers ie. remote, part-time, job share etc?
There has been a massive shift in employers attitudes towards flexible work, even since we commenced 2 years ago – employers are realizing that to obtain and retain the best people in the war for talent, they need to offer flexibility.
Employers need to realise that part time may mean 33 – 34 hours a week
Employmum is seeing this even in more traditional industries like accountancy and banking – they are now coming to us and asking how they can implement more flexible work arrangements.
In a survey we recently undertook, part time was the most preferable flexible option by our candidate base. Employers need to realise that part time may mean 33 – 34 hours a week as well and that a motivated and experienced team member can be more productive than a full time slacker!
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve been given in your career?
When I took part in the EXXCEL incubator programme in CIT recently, one of our mentors, the fabulous Eleanor Lynch Kelly, started her presentation stating ‘we all have 1000 months’ – that’s all we have on average on the planet.
I went home and painted these words on the wall of my office opposite my desk and every time I look up it reminds me to make the most of every moment and to seize every opportunity, both professionally and personally. A very powerful message.
Do you have a mentor?
Susan Spence of Softco was my mentor on the Going for Growth programme and was brilliant – I would love to have a mentor at the moment if anyone wants to volunteer!
What are your goals for Employmum, and for yourself personally this year?
We have an office opening in Limerick in September and aim to have a Dublin office open by Christmas.
We are currently seeking funding to develop our business to a cloud based platform to enable us to scale internationally.
Personally, I’d like to find the time to travel a bit more – my husband works abroad all over the world and I should really try and get to see him when he is working in nice places – he is often in Italy for example.
How do you unwind & de-stress at the end of the day and during difficult periods?
I live in Clonakilty and feel like I have won the lottery having chosen here after moving back from France five years ago – Inchydoney beach is a short drive from us so I can be found there most days with our new addition to the family, Buddy, le dog. Nothing like a walk on the beach to clear the head.
Also, large glasses of G&T with my neighbour, Jenny of Red Balloon Cork who is on speed dial – she lives a couple of doors down and regularly pops down with pre made G&Ts for the two of us after a stressful day. If Carlsberg did neighbours…..