The value of transferable skills

BY SAMANTHA NOLEN Modified: January 17, 2013 at 10:54 am •  Published: January 17, 2013
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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.

 Dear Sam: I am returning to the workforce after 6 years as a stay-at-home mom for my two daughters. My résumé is severely outdated, and I am not sure how to grab the attention of employers as they will first see the huge gap in employment. I have listed only the last 10 years of experience on my résumé. Also, I have done some work for my husband’s company including answering phones, janitorial work, and scheduling. Help! – Ruth

 Dear Ruth: Let me “paint a picture” for readers. You open with your objective statement, followed by work experience including three positions held between 2000 and 2004. You close your résumé with an education section, noting your diploma.

 If I were a hiring manager reviewing your résumé, I would ask three questions: (1) What does she want to do? (2) What can she do? (3) What has she been doing since 2004?” Unfortunately, with this number of questions, the hiring manager would likely look no further. There are, however, strategies you can employ to create a much more effective and attractive résumé.

 First, do you know what positions you are interested in? You need to figure this out before you can even begin to craft your résumé. If you are seeking administrative roles, then you would have a perfect background to highlight based on your past experience.

 Second, can you define your key strengths? You need to reflect on your background and determine what you like to do and what you can do well. Are your administrative and computer skills up to date? Can you validate those skills and statements through your work experience? Take some time to uncover your “value,” albeit packaged in a small amount of experience.

 Three, why not explore what you have been doing professional with your family business since 2004? While I know you have been a busy stay-at-home mom you have also been working with your husband’s company. There is no reason you can’t list this within your professional experience to fill the gap. If you worked for him part-time, you can still list the experience, presenting what you did accurately but in a manner which reinforces how you are positioning yourself now.

 Lastly, take some time to revamp your format. You can still maintain a reverse chronological résumé as you have your family business to fill the gap in your employment, but the format of your résumé is going to be vital to its success.

Making something pleasing to look at is a great way to sometimes “hide” a lack of content, and, in your case, recent experience. I know you can have a great résumé that facilitates your reentry into the workforce; just take some time to further develop your strategy before you put pen to paper.

Send your questions to dearsam@ladybug-design.com. Read more Dear Sam on www.jobsok.com. Need résumé, interview, or job search help? Contact Sam and her firm Ladybug Design at 888-9-LADYBUG, 888-952-3928, 614.570.3442, www.ladybug-design.com