Rejoining the Herd: Why Ex-Entrepreneurs Struggle to Find “Regular” Jobs

Since the economy tanked many people who never imagined they’d be looking for jobs have found themselves doing just that.  Among those who thought they’d weather the economic storm with their fortunes in tact are many entrepreneurs.

Forced to shutter their businesses by the tough economy, many entrepreneurs are among the 8.8 million folks surfing the Net for jobs, networking for job leads and waiting for unemployment benefits to kick in.

So why hasn’t she landed a new job?  Why are other entrepreneurs who’ve been forced to close up shop struggling to find new jobs?]

While we are all fighting the economic forces that have conspired to virtually shut down the lending industry, shrink the number of available jobs and drive up the costs of everything, newly unemployed entrepreneurs are fighting something else–the Entrepreneur Effect.

What’s the Entrepreneur Effect?  The Entrepreneur Effect is a two-headed beast.  Let’s call the first head “Nature” and the second, “Perception”.

Nature. Research has proven that entrepreneurs share certain common traits.  Most entrepreneurs are fiercely independent, self-reliant, self-starters who are passionate about their ideas and their businesses.  They’re willing to work 24/7 to see a dream to fruition.  They’re willing to take calculated risks…as long as they can do it their way.

It’s the “Nature” of entrepreneurs that makes it difficult for them to accept that they must now–at least temporarily–accept a position that requires that they report to someone else, work and strive for someone else’s goals.

This is no short order for most entrepreneurs.  Because of this, many hesitate to apply for even high-paying positions at top companies.  Some get deeper into debt trying to start new ventures.  Others fall into depression.

One of my coaching clients is a 20-year entrepreneur with whom I’ve worked on and off for years.  Her business, which she started with a partner, is faring well but her partnership is not.  So, she has found herself looking for an executive position in a troubled market.

My client is a 51 year-old, college educated, poised, articulate and attractive woman (the latter adjective does matter in the job hunt, believe it or not).  Her resume did a decent job of representing her skills, knowledge and experience, and she was impressive during interviews.

While my client has gone on many interviews and been offered two positions that would have afforded her a salary comparable to that she received as a partner in her own business, she has turned them down and has struggled to find a position she would be willing to accept, or even to articulate circumstances under which she might accept any position.

Perception. Perception is also standing between entrepreneurs and new positions with other employers.  There’s the perception that entrepreneurs are “too independent” to work for someone else, that they will not stay in the job for very long.  Many employers believe entrepreneurs seeking jobs are just biding time.

This perception is what motivates recruiters to tell entrepreneur-candidates to put “Manager or Executive” on their resumes instead of “Owner” (A gray hat tactic, if you ask me).

So, what can entrepreneurs do to land new jobs–at least during the downturn?

  • Put in some emotional work. You’ll need to grab hold of your pride and disappointment and mold it into determination.  Set a goal and a strategy for achieving that goal.  Work your new position into that strategy.  This way, you still have control of your destiny.  Nothing’s stopping you from moonlighting, or from vying for the top job at your new company (Who knows, the way things are going, you might be able to buyout your new company).  Just remember that you aren’t the owner just yet, and that you must fully commit to becoming an effective contributor in your new organization first.
  • Live to fight another day (or, start another venture). You don’t necessarily have to give up your independence to take on a new job.  You merely have to take the calculated risk of detouring from your planned path for a much-needed refill on your cash and emotional reserves.
  • Attack perception head on. Use your cover letter, informational and screeing interviews to “sell” and assure your potential employer that s/he will benefit from your entrepreneurial experience, that you are committed to the new position.  The best way to do the latter is to explain how the position benefits you (Leave out “Pays my mortgage”).
  • Get ahead of your resume. Networking is more important than ever in job hunting.  The good news here is that your resume isn’t the first thing people learn about you.  They meet you.  They’re (hopefully) impressed and want you to bring your talents to their organization.  Networking allows you to accomplish two things that counteract both components of the Entrepreneur Effect: (1) You establish a relationship with key members of your potential employers’ team and sell yourself into a position you might actually like and (2) you use your relationship with your new contacts to convince them that you are not a flight risk.

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