Dear Sam: I have been self-employed for 16 years as an independent manufacturers' representative. The business has been successful and financially rewarding over the years, but due to industry consolidation and possible burnout on my end, I feel the need for a change.
I would like to re-enter corporate life, and not necessarily in my current Industry. I feel I have much to offer including experience in sales and marketing, business management, sales management, and exposure to all facets of operating and owning a business. How would I market myself in this situation?
I have been told that being self-employed for a good portion of your career can be an obstacle to reentry. Any thoughts? – Mike
Dear Mike: I work with, and speak to, a lot of clients seeking to return to corporate America, many of whom initiate the process for reasons similar to those you noted. I always explain to those clients that in order to overcome key barriers to reentry, they have to be very careful how they position independent or entrepreneurial engagements.
I first explain that entrepreneurs, or those that are self-employed, typically thrive in very flexible, independent roles, a structure that often doesn’t exist in most traditional corporate environments.
Having said this, a hiring manager could fear that if employed, you would not be in an environment in which you would thrive. Additionally, if you took Entrepreneurial Skills 101, you would learn that entrepreneurs live for challenges, and once a challenge has been conquered they typically like to move on to the next opportunity.
This doesn’t sit well with a hiring manager who either isn’t in a position to offer a challenge-based role, or needs someone to stick around for more than a couple of years.
Given these are some of the barriers you will have to overcome, let’s review how to do just that. I often use a combination format for my entrepreneurial clients, a format that allows for presentation of key achievements before the professional experience section and disclosure of self-employed status.
To start, begin your résumé with a strong qualifications summary specifically geared toward the opportunities you are interested in, being careful not to dilute the picture too much by presenting too many areas of expertise.
Small business owners do possess a variety of skills — as they typically manage operations, accounting, sales, marketing, staffing, etc. — but finding a role in corporate America that will employ all of these talents isn’t likely. So, be careful not to present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades or an expert of everything, as suddenly you will dilute your experience and become an expert of nothing.
Instead, thoroughly evaluate the opportunities that interest you and highlight related experiences, skills, and achievements. This may mean that you have to have a few modified versions of your résumé, although the changes won’t have to be extensive.
In the achievements section, highlight the value you provided in your past role. Answer questions such as:
What were your sales results?
How did you expand market share?
How many products lines did you represent?
How was your performance when benchmarked against other reps?
How did you effectively manage numerous relationships?
Use the answers to these questions to infuse your résumé, and this section, with personality and a strong presence on the page, leaving your day-to-day functions — and the presentation of your self-employed status — to fall to the bottom of page one or even page two.
In the professional experience section, be careful not to present a summary focused on running a business, and instead focus the hiring manager’s attention on the functions you performed that directly relate to your current career goals.
The move back to the corporate world can be done, it just has to be approached carefully so you position yourself as a highly qualified candidate with strong related skills, versus an entrepreneur who thrives in roles requiring autonomy and the ability to manage all business functions.
I certainly wish you all the best with the transition.
Take a look at the example I have presented of a combination format résumé (view online at www.ladybug-design.com/blog). As you can see, the qualifications summary and select highlights sections take up the majority of page one of the résumé.
Based on this approach, the 4-7-second screening process will be spent almost exclusively on these high-value areas of the résumé, leaving any potential disqualifiers hard to hide in the professional experience section, to fall to the end of page one.