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HOW I MADE IT: KATHY DAWSON

Her staffing agency is 'twice as effective,' clients say

Dawson & Dawson connects job hunters with temp and permanent positions in Orange County.

March 29, 2009|Tiffany Hsu

The gig: Founder and president of Dawson & Dawson staffing, which connects job hunters with temporary and permanent positions in Orange County. Dawson's name appears twice because, her clients have joked, she is "twice as effective" as a single person. The company focuses on office jobs paying $80,000 or less, where turnover tends to be higher and the positions are easier to fill than executive posts. Dawson charges companies a one-time fee of 15% to 25% of the open position's annual salary to connect them with candidates. Her services are free to job seekers, who must pass a rigorous application, interview and assessment process. More than 75% come as referrals. There are 10 employees in the main office in Mission Viejo and two in each of the three other Orange County branches. "Helping people find work is the most gratifying thing," she says.

Background: Born in Northern California to a nurse and a Navy man, Dawson and her four siblings were relocated every few years. Dawson lives in Laguna Niguel with her husband, Larry. The 50-year-old enjoys mountain biking and spear fishing and she recently returned to surfing. She has a son, Jonathan, 20, and a daughter, Dorianne, 18.

First job: At 13, Dawson began working in her family's Florida fast-food business, Mr. Buddy's. For Dawson, the most exciting part of the job was helping her father balance the cash drawer each night.

Education: Dawson attended several Catholic grade schools, graduating in 1977. Lacking money for college tuition, she worked for the next few years in a variety of jobs including as a patient representative in an emergency room, a bartender and a police dispatcher. She said those experiences made her "very empathetic to the struggling non-educated person as well as to the highly educated executive and everyone in between."

Turning point: Dawson relocated to Irvine from Georgia in 1983 after her husband was transferred by his company to Southern California. She joined a small staffing firm. Over 24 years, she advanced into upper management but eventually tired of traveling and trudging through the old boys' network. She started her own firm last year. "I just said that life's too short," she says. "Corporate America had no flexibility, but I can change with the times."

Networking: The indefatigable executive is active in a slew of organizations, including the National Assn. of Women Business Owners. She once clicked with a businesswoman looking for a job candidate while both were trying on suits at a department store. In addition to traditional networking, the company also has profiles and ads on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. Dawson is working on a YouTube video about interviewing tips.

Selectivity: Dawson says that repeat business is the key to profitability. So she's picky about whom she works with. She rejects 4 out of 5 applicants who pass through her office each month. As the recession has deepened, the stack of resumes on her desk has grown. So have job seekers' credentials. But Dawson says that sending an overqualified candidate to an employer can be just as harmful to her business as recommending someone who is underqualified. "People are more desperate now," she says. "I don't want someone to leave the job once things get better. Our reputation is on the line."

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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