entrepreneur

From Entrepreneur to Corporate Life

A number of people recently have sought my advice on their intended transition into the corporate world.  They are entrepreneurs who, for a variety of reasons, have decided that now is the right time to leave that path. Some are in businesses that have slowed down or have become too difficult for other reasons.  Some are in business school, which they entered intentionally to use as a lever for finding a role in corporate America.

Entreprenuers have amazing skills and a lot they can bring to the table within a larger corporate setting.  However, their self-employment history can also be of concern to recruiters and hiring managers.  Why?  Well, here’s a look inside their heads:

Does this gal really want an internal role?

The number one concern is the motivation for applying to a corporate role.  Does the applicant truly want to be a part of, not in charge of, the business?  Or, are they just doing this because times are tough right now, and as soon as the market defrosts, or they simply get the itch, they’ll jump ship?

Can this guy really take orders or will he buck the system?

This is closely related to the question above.  They wonder, Can this person fit within our system?  The larger the organization, typically the more processes and policies in place and the less likely one individual is to influence them.  Ever heard the phrase My way or the highway?  If we’re being brutally honest with each other, we must admit this is often the way it works in large organizations.  In very large companies it’s common to not even have contact with the person who chose the highway.  People who ask too many questions or do things their own way are considered difficult.   Understandably, managers don’t want to hire someone, only to have to fire them later because they don’t “fit”.

Is she really as good as she says she is?

Recruiters and hiring managers may wonder if all the achievements listed on the entrepreneur’s resume are 100% accurate.  They generally don’t have any way to verify the information.  An issue related to this one is salary or overall compensation.

These are just a few issues, but they’re big ones.  If you are moving from entrepreneurship to corporate life, you need to figure out how to counterbalance these concerns. How?

1.   Be ready to talk about why you want a corporate role, not why you don’t want to own your own business anymore.  If you just tried the entrepreneurial thing for a while, it’s okay to say “it wasn’t for me” but if you owned your own business for a long time or are a serial entrepreneur, that won’t cut it.  If you were in a corporate role before and enjoyed it, say so.   Do you enjoy structure?  Being part of a larger team?  Be prepared with a message that will make them comfortable that you understand what you would be getting yourself into and that you truly want it.

2.  Make sure that when you talk about your experience or achievements, you illustrate how you’ve successfully worked with or within larger structures.  That you can follow the rules.  For example, were you a vendor to a large company with strict purchasing guidelines and a rigid RFP process?  Were you a franchise owner who had to work within very closely defined operating standards?

3.  You aren’t obligated to open up all your financial records to any potential employer (unless you’re going into politics, the FBI or something like that), but the more specific details you can share in an interview the better.  Quantify your achievements.  Sometimes non-financial details illustrate this better than dollar figures, i.e. “I won the contract renewal with Large Co., Inc., three times due to our excellent customer service and product quality”.

4.  Of course, always be prepared to highlight what you bring to the table that non-entrepreneur types may not.  For instance, a profitability mindset.  A broader understanding of the business.  A humbleness that comes from knowing how hard it really is to herd cats.

People make this transition successfully all the time, though it is certainly more challenging now due to the competition in the market.  If this is your plan, do your homework now so you can make it easy for a potential employer to say yes.

Liz Dolan’s modern career

A number of years ago, I read an article in Fast Company (one of my very favorite magazines). It was about balance, that elusive devil. Liz Dolan had written an essay, reflecting on the all consuming nature of her job at Nike, as Vice President of Global Marketing, and how she had come to the decision to leave it. “Instead of having one big job, I now divide my work time into thirds: business consulting, public service, and creative projects,” she wrote at the time. One of those creative projects was the development of a talk-radio program. I had never heard of Liz Dolan at the time, but within a few years I had come to know very well who she was. That talk radio program turned out to be the Satellite Sisters, which became an award-winning show and led to exposure through the Oprah Winfrey media empire.

She made a difficult decision, and took a risk, jumping off the traditional career track. But she had a clear idea of why it was worth it to her at the time. And it seems to have paid very good dividends. She got to limit her clients as a consultant to a level she felt allowed her balance, she got to work with her sisters on an exciting creative venture that turned out to be one of the most successful radio talk shows for women and, just one year ago, she was offered an opportunity to go back into a more traditional corporate role – a Chief Marketing Officer position. She took it. Where? OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network. Why? I don’t know and would love to ask her. But there is no doubt that this opportunity showed up on her path because she was willing to take a risk and do something different than what was expected, rather than in spite of that. In seeking balance, I think she found much more.

This path – traditional corporate to entrepreneurial, creative back to traditional – is an illustration of the modern career. Few of us, from Gen X on, will experience the lifetime employment with one company that our parents and grandparents experienced. And that has the potential to be a really good thing. (For me personally, it’s a huge relief – I can hardly imagine anything more dreadful). But how good or how bad it will be for each of us has to do with how actively we are willing to drive and direct our transitions. As long as we are driving that bus ourselves, not sitting in the backseat, just along for the ride, we can create a challenging and rewarding career.

Nurturing the Creative You

When we think of creativity we think of Artists with a capital A. Truth be told, I am guilty of this myself. I am enamoured with artists, which is most likely a sign of the frustrated artist within me.

But creativity is not the realm of the zealous few. I have worked with hundreds of people over the years, mostly in corporate America, and I have come to believe most people harbor an artist within. It’s a truly exciting idea–that as a species we are inherently creative. When I talk with people, it usually takes only a question or two to scratch beneath the surface and find the artist lurking there. (Most people don’t ask, but I do.) And I discover to my great joy that they are writing a screenplay or a novel, or they paint or enjoy photography, or sing or play an instrument or compose or make jewelry or lamps, or they build beautiful furniture. The list is endless because the possibilities are endless. For me this is part of the excitement. I’m a person who absolutely loves possibilities. And I get excited when I see others open to new possibilities.

I believe nurturing the artist within can help us with our careers even if we are not making a living at our art. Exercising our creativity in one area strengthens the muscle and helps us be more creative, more open, more flexible in other areas. And to succeed in any profession today we must be flexible.

Entreprenuers are a unique brand of artist. Even if they do nothing in a so-called creative field, they are literally creating– building businesses. And thank goodness! They create a means of earning a living for so many others. They bring goods and services to market that are necessary for, or enrich our lives. Even outside of entrepreneurism, today we must all create our careers and keep reinventing ourselves to stay relevant in the marketplace. Gone are the days of lifetime employment with a single employer.

So do your art, whatever it may be and do not apologize for it. You are strengthening the muscles you will need to sustain you today and into the future.