We’ve all read articles about entrepreneurs who said “buh-bye” to a dismal job and went on to start a company that made them rich.
But there’s a flip side to the story. Some people leave good jobs and start businesses that fail outright, slowly peter out or just can’t support them. About half of small businesses survive five years or more, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration–which means the others don’t. And when they fade away, the entrepreneurs behind them often need to get a job.
That can be tricky. In entrepreneurial circles, failure is a badge of honor, but to corporate types not used to the risks of entrepreneurship, running a business that fizzled may look like incompetence.
As a journalist specializing in careers and entrepreneurship, I have interviewed many former small business owners who have had to return to a traditional job—at least until they dreamed up their next venture. If you’re facing that situation yourself, here are techniques you can try that have helped many former entrepreneurs get back into traditional employment.
- Tap the network you built around your business.
If you were part of the founding team at a startup that failed, some of your colleagues from that venture may find jobs ahead of you. Keep in close touch. They may be able to introduce you to job openings at their new employer.
Clients and vendors from a past business may also be a good source of leads. Let’s say you ran a franchise restaurant that never took off because a competitor moved in next door. Now you would like to transition to a corporate job. Ask the food and beverage suppliers you relied on if they know of any big-company openings. Contacts at the franchisor’s headquarters may also be a good source of leads, if you ask them.
- Keep the post-mortem brief.
Save the blow-by-blow of what went wrong at your business for your entrepreneurial buddies over a beer. When you’re sending cover letters or interviewing, a concise summary of why you’re moving on should suffice. The more you delve into the gory details with an interviewer, the greater the risk you will mention something that raises doubts about your capabilities.
Let’s say you burned out on running a blog you ran for three years and decided to shut it down. You might say, “I loved blogging and I was able to generate ad revenues in the six figures, but after three years, I missed the camaraderie of working on a team and holding meetings in a conference room—not Starbucks.” Then mention how your experience at the blog would benefit the prospective employer. For instance: “The good thing about running everything on my own was that I learned a lot about technology and became very good at prompting social media shares.”
- Avoid entrepreneurial jargon.
When discussing your business with an interviewer, purge words like “minimum viable product,” “pivot,” and “acqui-hire” from your vocabulary—unless you happen to be looking for a job in venture capital or a private equity firm. Come up with translations that a passerby on the street will understand. Otherwise, an interviewer who is unfamiliar with the lingo may glaze over—or wonder about your communication skills.
- Provide clear metrics of success.
Even if your business closed because it was bleeding cash, there probably were some areas where you demonstrated excellent performance. For instance, perhaps you attracted 1,000 customers who contributed $500,000 in revenue the first year, managed to win business from three Fortune 500 companies, or achieved high customer satisfaction ratings. On your resume and when you’re interviewing, highlight these metrics and details.
- Offer 360-degree references.
If you haven’t had a boss in five or 10 years, you’ll be at a disadvantage when a hiring manager asks for a list of past supervisors to call. Take a proactive approach to overcome it. Come prepared to an interview with the names and contact info for past bosses—but make sure your list also includes some more recent “boss surrogates.” These might include major clients with whom you worked closely, members of your board of advisors and investors in your business who have told you they’re willing to provide a positive reference. If they know your performance well, their input will be very valuable to an interviewer–and may win you the job.