From business owner to employee - the job search

Photo of a lego man that looks like he is offering a hand shake...

It's generally perceived as a positive step forward to leave employee status and start up a new business. Therefore, it might seem quite logical to assume that it would be a backward and negative thing to do the opposite...

Having done just that in recent years, my experience has been completely different. Thus far, I have been much happier being an employee again.

Here are some of the key lessons I learned during the transition, focussing mainly on the job search itself...

Getting interviews is more challenging

When I left my agency of 10 years, I thought that I'd easily be able to get interviews for senior roles at other agencies. I could not have been more wrong!

In subsequent job searches I did eventually get those interviews, but in the first job search I had immediately after the business closed it was certainly a lot tougher...

Eventually, once I had attended some interviews, I discovered that there are many misconceptions prospective employers might have when they glance upon the CV of a former business owner.

It is so important that you highlight the key successes of your business. Show them clearly how long you'd been in business for, and the difference that you made. Then, be certain to prepare a very well-rehearsed answer for the inevitable interview question... "What happened to your business?".

If your business journey was anything like mine, it could be a very long story, but in an interview you need to be concise and get back on track discussing your suitability for the role at hand.

Fake jobs

We've all heard of fake news, but very few people talk about fake jobs. I have no idea why so many companies post so many job advertisements for roles that do not exist, but let's think about how they could benefit...

  • Create an illusion of "growth"
  • Gather CVs for future recruitment needs
  • Gain better page ranking (SEO) for their careers pages
  • Generate engagement and exposure, job seekers are likely to browse the company website and check out social media

I have no idea if any of the above reasons are true, but they are feasible outcomes from posting a large number of fake jobs online.

In my opinion, it is dishonest to do this (and should probably be made illegal!), I wonder how many hours of time has been wasted by potential applicants for all of the fake jobs out there on the Internet?

Eventually, I became far more adept at filtering through the fakes. Although I think it is still incredibly difficult, here are my general observations:

  • Most of the "real" opportunities in tech seem to be push rather than pull. If you are visible on LinkedIn (and have a complete profile) many recruiters will message you about roles and most of the time these appear to be genuine and will yield a response.
  • To this date I haven't received a single response (even a rejection!) from a job listing on LinkedIn (on their jobs board), from my experience, my DMs on LinkedIn were a better job board than their actual job board.
  • In addition to LinkedIn, simply adding your details to other job boards (such as CW Jobs or Indeed) and allowing recruiters to find you seems to be way more effective than browsing the listings.
  • When browsing company career sections on websites, compare the roles to their current workforce on LinkedIn to validate the feasibility of the role... are they sharing the job ad on any of their social media channels? If they don't appear to be making an effort outside of their own website, perhaps it might not be worth completing that lengthy application form!

Avoid being seen as a "Jack of all trades"

I have three base CVs that I used in my job search, one is more technical, one is more creative, and the other is focussed on leadership skills.

If you are a multi-skilled individual (as so many entrepreneurs have to be!), make sure you tailor your application for each role.

I thought it would be genuinely attractive for prospective employers to see a wide variety of skills, but in truth, many of them are not. Once again I can only speculate as to why:

  • They believe that people can only be good at a specific role by being a specialist.
  • They just want someone to do a specific task, and would prefer not to have someone asking questions regarding other aspects of the business.
  • They may worry that you are more skilled than they are!

Now, we don't really want to work for narrow minded people do we? However, our ultimate aim is just to get hired, we might have to accept it for the time being! My first role after Daymedia was less than perfect (so much so, I removed it from my LinkedIn profile!), but after a year back as an employee my second job search was far more fruitful.

So I highly recommend being conscious of the above. When you sit down for the interview, try to read the room and figure out if company politics may play a part in their decision making.

Dealing with entrepreneurial stereotypes

This may take many shapes and forms, but the most common one I found was this:

"Aren't you used to having your own way? Isn't this going to be a step back for you?"

Literally every interviewer you will speak to

My response to this question is the same as always... As long as I can collaborate with good people, and use my skills to make a difference, I am going to be happy!

When I ran my agency, it was not a dictatorship. The whole team played a huge part in our success and I listened to them all very carefully. Not just employees, but advisors, and even clients too!

One thing that is certainly worth doing, is to prepare an example response detailing how you listened to others when running your business, and perhaps an occasion where someone else changed your mind on a key decision.

Interviewing can be more political

Prior to my business I had a 100% success rate at interviews, and, well... now I have one less thing to brag about when bigging up my communication skills! My record is now in tatters, having received many rejections!

In the past, it was just a simple case of showing that I have the skills and right attitude to do the job. I didn't have to think too much about the person sitting on the other side of the table. Now though it is a completeley different ball game.

You could be sitting opposite someone who has taken a very different career path to yourself. They've climbed the ladder that was in front of them, and it could have taken them years (even decades) to do so. Whereas a former entrepreneur has taken a different path, having built their own ladder.

I think a lot of interviewers may be apprehensive about this added experience, and some may even fear being leap-frogged on their ladder by the candidates they are meeting.

As a result of this, I always tried my best to use collective language. Show them that I want to succeed together with them collaboratively, and make a very conscious effort to champion team ambition as oppose to individual.

When pitching to clients it is important to look beyond the initial project, and highlight the opportunities beyond. However, with many interviews I have been involved with I got the impression that they just want me to focus completely on the initial requirements at hand.

Not all will be the same, but it is something you must be aware of and try to assess during the process. There are some businesses that genuinely value the entrepreneurial mindset, and many more that just pretend that they do.

Dealing with rejection

Finally, as an agency owner I though I'd gotten used to rejection, having seen many of my proposals ignored for months if not indefinitely. However, I just wasn't prepared for my first interview rejection. It feels so much more personal, they aren't just rejecting my business proposal, it felt as though they were rejecting me as a person.

I'd never experienced that feeling in such volume before, and it became hugely important for me to build resilience. Dust myself off, and just get stuck into the next interview.

Whilst I go into every single one believing that I am the best person for the job, it is incredibly important to remember there are so many other talented and unique people out there. Repect them. Enter the process with confidence, and bow out gracefully.

Good luck!

If you've made it this far... many thanks for reading this article, and I wish you the very best of luck on your post-entrepreneurial job search!