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Inside the close-knit expat community of the spouses of American diplomats lies a lot of smart talent, and American citizens eager to further their careers—if only someone would hire them.
Marcelle Yeager was one such spouse. She struggled to find work after moving overseas with her husband, who worked for the U.S. Department of State. In her struggles, and her peers', she saw a business idea.
What if, she thought, she could match these talented folks with firms back home, either for telework, or as staff on the ground?
ServingTalent, the recruitment firm Yeager founded with Maggie Varona, does just that. The pair met while their spouses were posted in Santiago, Chile. Now back in Virginia, they continue to work with the spouses of U.S government staff overseas.
1. Why did you start your business?
I am the spouse of a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer, and my co-founder Maggie Varona is a U.S. Navy spouse. Maggie worked remotely for 10 years as a finance director for a U.S. consulting firm but when her employer was sold, she was suddenly out of work. I worked as a communications consultant, but when my husband joined the Department of State, I had to seek other options. I started to meet so many women and men like me who felt frustrated and isolated, unable to find work because employers don't understand our lifestyle and employment gaps.
It struck me that companies are missing out on an exceptional talent pool that is not easily found and often misunderstood, even though over 80 percent of us have a bachelor's degree or higher and 23 percent know multiple languages. We at ServingTalent are able to tell employers their incredible stories and sell their unique skills and abilities.
We are constantly asking ourselves, “How can this super-qualified person not have a job?" since we hear recruiters and hiring managers saying over and over again, “We can't find the right people!"
2. How has your business grown since you started it?
Despite having started this company from Chile and Germany, we generated revenue in our first year and each year since. We've placed 34 spouses in brick-and-mortar and remote roles with employers that have $2 million to $5 million in revenue across diverse industries.
ServingTalent is a certified women-owned small business. We've tapped into target networks to grow relationships in the Washington, D.C. area, such as local and national women founder groups, and specific industry events. We have built a database of over 1,200 strong candidates and have access to thousands more in our close-knit military and foreign service communities and professional networks. We now have a team of six, including two recruiters, one business development director and one social media manager.
We plan to scale by developing new relationships with companies in locations where we have a large presence of candidates. In 2019, we aim to hire a new team member to assist with business development efforts and target a new location for growth outside of Washington, D.C. Since we do not have a brick-and-mortar presence and work remotely, we can price our contingency recruiting services lower than the standard market rate of 20 percent.
3. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
We've had to build awareness among potential clients and overcome two major challenges: outdated myths about U.S. military spouses and the fact that most people don't know the U.S. foreign service exists.
—Marcelle Yeager, founder, ServingTalent
The general public and many clients picture military spouses as uneducated housewives with no work experience. Forty-three percent of our talent pool has a master's degree, PhD, or law degree. Our talent pool covers a wide variety of professionals, including but not limited to engineers, nurses, social workers, CPAs, HR professionals, project managers, IT and marketing experts. Most people do not know the U.S. has thousands of foreign service officers who work at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas and bring their families with them. This includes countries like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
When companies realize that incredible diverse talent is sitting in a location where they have a need and they don't need to pay relocation costs, a lightbulb goes off.
4. What would you want other business owners to know about running a business?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. When you start from zero, you try different approaches to see what works. It takes time to recognize what is worthwhile and what is a distraction. You have to be willing to keep going for the long haul.
However, if you believe in something and are the kind of person that will make something work because you feel compelled to solve a problem, despite people telling you it won't, you will succeed by being consistent and not giving up.
If you're working with the military or diplomatic corps communities, be aware that they are small, close-knit groups and word travels fast—in other words, reputation is very important. If one of your candidates or clients causes a stir, others are going to hear about it.
5. What has been your most memorable moment as a business owner?
Something that stands out is when a business owner or hiring manager tells me they have a foreign service or military spouse on their team and it's the best hiring decision they ever made. Once they have one on their team, they say they want to hire more and that's what they do whenever they can.
There are plenty of people out there you can find to fit your positions and check the box on qualifications, but are they going to give you more than what you expect? Are they going to work extra hard because they have a drive to work that's beyond the need for a paycheck? Are they going to stay with you for the long haul?