Dear Sam: I had my own business for 27 years and grew it slowly and steadily from $300,000 to $3 million in sales. While this sounds good, unfortunately it required my attention with every facet of the business; therefore, I consider myself good at many things, but not good enough in any one specific area to compete as a subject matter expert.
One of the issues I and many other entrepreneurs face, is a stigma in the potential employer’s mind of “Can this person work for anyone, after he/she has been his/her own boss?” What advice can you provide the thousands of former business owners who are now seeking to become employees? – John
Dear John: Fantastic question and, unfortunately, an all-too-common situation as we continue to navigate through economic uncertainties. I consistently work with entrepreneurs who have been forced to close their businesses, all fearing that same situation you mentioned of an employer not understanding the value in their “generalist” background.
As you mentioned, there is a potential stigma surrounding a former business owner/entrepreneur. Typically, entrepreneurs are engaged by challenges and quickly move on when the challenge has been overcome; they like autonomy, they prefer to “make” the rules, and they have thrived in environments they have created. All of these characteristics often cause concern for the hiring manager attempting to recruit and retain talent for a long period of time.
As an entrepreneur, I believe one of the most important things you can do is figure out how to position yourself. As you mentioned, you are a generalist; you have done a little of everything, so find it difficult to compete with the specialists out there.
To compete more effectively, and more successfully, you need to define your target, meaning figure out what you want to do and tailor your résumé and its content in that direction to make you look more like a specialist. Doing this will likely mean you have two and possibly more versions of your résumé.
For instance, a lot of times I position entrepreneurs for business development and relationship management roles as this makes sense based on their proven success developing and retaining a client base; for an alternate target, I often position them as operations managers which is also a target which would make sense.
Knowing that you have a broad skill set is a wonderful “value-add” to reinforce during an interview; but on your résumé, be sure you are presenting a targeted and refined image of who you are as a candidate so that you can compete against those specialists or subject matter experts (SMEs) out there.
Key to your success will also be your ability to leverage your network to open doors. More often than not I see past business owners find opportunities based on who they know, not what they know. Leveraging your network, and seeking referrals for open and closed market opportunities, will provide the third-party credibility hiring managers seek.
Having someone explain your journey to a potential employer — combined with the unique skill set you offer — will alleviate some of the concerns surrounding whether you will return to business ownership at some point in the near future. Through a targeted résumé, an understanding of how you are marketing yourself at this juncture in your career, and the willingness to tap into your valuable business network, should open the doors to a more traditional employer-employee relationship.