This recession has been a killer -- in fact, it killed your small business. After years of being your own boss, now you've got to pitch yourself as a "company person" -- someone who can thrive in corporate America.
It wasn't easy, but you got over the emotional hurdle of no longer being the boss. The hard part now is convincing a prospective employer that you can make this transition. How do you go about doing that?
1. Connect the Dots: In an interview you need to show how your experience matches what they are looking for. Since you're not coming from a corporate position, you'll have to work harder to sell your relevant experience. Figure out beforehand the most pertinent responsibilities for this job and describe how your experience meshes. Obviously, as a small business owner you wore a lot of hats. Focus just on the "hats" that are required for this job.
2. Address the Psychological Aspect of Not Being the Chief : One of the main things the interviewer might be wondering is, will you be okay not being the boss? Let them know that this transition is something you feel good about, not a necessary evil. Focus on how your experience as a small business owner can be leveraged into your new long-term career goal. Maybe you got a lot of experience in guerilla marketing, financial management or sales, and realized that the sales part of the job is what you really want to focus on. Or maybe you liked it all and now want to be a general manager -- with more resources than you could possibly have in your own company. You're okay not being the boss because there are other ways to advance your career. And being part of a bigger company allows you to do more of the things you love, rather than all the ancillary things you had to do in your small business.
3. Discuss How You Are a Thinker & Doer : Everyone knows that as a small business owner you had to be "hands-on." Larger companies, many of which are contracting, look for a combination of thinking and doing. Focus on how you were hands-on especially when it came to customers. Too many people in large companies are removed from customer contact, which causes them to make decisions in a vacuum. Because you've had the experience of resolving customer problems and understanding their needs, you can add value. Your expertise of doing was combined with your strong strategic thinking. Describe how you grew the business with minimal resources.
4. Talk About Being Collaborative: Nowadays companies look for people who can be successful as an influencer and as part of a decision making team. One concern the interviewer might have is that there was no need for you to be collaborative -- after all, you were the boss. Give them an example of how you were able to get people who weren't working for you to respond to your needs. This could be influencing a supplier to get something to you more quickly -- with no up charge -- just because they wanted to do something special for you.
5. Don't Oversell: Don't go on about how you ran your own business and so now can do anything. Obviously, you loved your business and there were countless things you did well. But implying that you can do it all is off-putting and unrealistic. Just focus on the experience that applies to this job.
6. Managing a Team: There might be a natural bias on the part of the interviewer that mentoring fell to the bottom of your priority list as a business owner. Discuss how you mentored your team -- even if it was only a receptionist and bookkeeper. Talk about how you trained them and helped them grow professionally. If this was something that you particularly enjoyed, let them know that.
It will definitely be a transition from company owner to employee. Now that you're ready, make sure that you illustrate your desire for this career change to your prospective employer. Let them know that this is something you are embracing rather than enduring, and that this position is an important step along the way to your ultimate career goal.
Fred & Gladys
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success