How to Find a Job After Running Your Own Business

Tips to Transition from Entrepreneur to Employee

Young professionals in the office
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Getty Images/Vasyl Dolmatov 

Are you looking to return to working 9-to-5 after running your own business? You’re in good company. According to the Small Business Administration, only about half of small businesses with employees survive for five years. Meanwhile, a recent National Academy of Sciences survey reports that, for a crisis lasting four months, only 47% of companies expected to be open in December compared to 72% if the crisis was for a month. 

You’re not the only person who’s anticipating going back to the corporate world. Many business owners are in a similar position and evaluating options for the next phase of their careers.

Further, some of the most successful entrepreneurs have stumbled before they hit upon their winning idea. Do you remember Traf-O-Data, Virgin Cola, or Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? Probably not—which would come as no surprise to Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Walt Disney, respectively.

Transition From Self-Employed to Full-Time Employee

Regardless of why you’re seeking corporate sponsorship, the transition from entrepreneur to employee can be rough. The Balance Careers spoke with Octavia Goredema, award-winning career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Agency, and Dawn Rosenberg McKay, career specialist and resume consultant at DRM CareerHelp, to learn more about how to successfully manage this transition.

Here’s how to find a job, impress the hiring team, and thrive in the workplace, no matter how long you plan to stay there.

Give Yourself Time to Grieve

The first step is the most crucial. Let yourself grieve before you begin your path back to a full-time job. You’ve lost something you worked hard for, and even though you weren't to blame, it’s still painful.

Positivity is important in a job search, especially after a big transition. You will need to be able to show prospective employers that you’re excited about this opportunity and make a case that your experience and skills signify you're the best candidate for the job, zigzagging career path notwithstanding; It’s hard to do that if you are still actively mourning your business.

It may help to put your situation in its proper context.

“If entrepreneurship didn’t work out the way you planned, that doesn’t mean you failed,” said Goredema. “Every experience is valuable and what you learned is what matters most.”

Turn Your Disappointment Into Positive Action

“Your career journey is yours to define, no one else’s,” Goredema noted. “Focus on what comes next. Look forward, don’t look back.”

According to the career coach, refusing to be paralyzed by the past will help you focus on what you can control, as well as explore what excites you and help you decide what you’d like to do in the future. “Keep pushing forward, one step at a time,” Goredema advised. “Turning your disappointment into positive action will propel you, and it’s likely you’ll be amazed at what lies ahead.”

Ultimately, she assured that everyone experiences setbacks but whatever went wrong won’t define you forever. “Instead of comparing yourself directly to others, take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve learned from the tough times,” Goredema said. “These experiences, even the bad ones, are the building blocks you can use to carve out your career as you continue to move forward.”

Think About the Positive Aspects of Going Back to Work for Someone Else

One thing that may help—both while you’re processing your grief and while you’re preparing to interview for jobs—is to think about the upsides of returning to employee status.

“It might feel jarring to let go of control, but remember that transitioning from self-employment to 9-to-5 also means letting go of accountability for every single thing that happens within your company,” said Rosenberg McKay. “As an employee, you will, of course, take your job seriously, but your responsibility will be limited by your role.”

That said, she stressed that entrepreneurs who are returning to work should be prepared to make a big adjustment, including a schedule that is less flexible.

“This doesn't mean you didn't work hard when you were self-employed, but you probably didn't have to adhere to a strict schedule, as an employer will probably expect you to,” Rosenberg McKay noted. “You may have worked early in the morning or late into the night, taking advantage of the times of day when you were most productive or had fewer family responsibilities.”

List the Skills That Are Relevant to Employers

Even before you sit down to update your resume, take time to list your relevant skills, qualifications, and experience. 

To get a sense of what will be most attractive to hiring managers, review job listings in your field, paying close attention to the keywords that crop up most often in the job descriptions.

Remember that your experience has given you valuable skills. Entrepreneurs wear many hats and become adept at juggling priorities and making things happen—all of which are impressive to employers.

Rosenberg McKay said that it's crucial to focus on the skills you attained from running your own business, like problem solving and networking. In resumes or job interviews, she advised discussing what you missed about working for a larger company—for example, the opportunity to be on a team—and warned against talking about the negatives of self-employment.

Emphasize Metrics

Even if your last business venture failed, there may be some part of your operation that was impressive. Perhaps you used an old technology in an innovative new way that saved your business money. Maybe you solved a persistent problem by inventing a solution that would be useful in your target job.

“Make sure to highlight your transferable skills as an entrepreneur and quantify your accomplishments,” Goredema recommended. “Dollar amounts, percentages, timespans, and volume are just some of the ways you can make your achievements stand out on paper.”

Reach Out to Contacts From Your Business

As an entrepreneur, you have a huge advantage in your job search that other candidates do not have: your network. Every client, employee, and colleague is a potential source of recommendations, referrals, or constructive criticism. A contact in a similar role to the one you’re targeting may be able to review your resume and tell you what works; a former client may have glowing reviews of your work to offer prospective employers.

Highlight Your Qualification in a Statement

If you’re looking for a new role for the first time in a while, updating your resume will feel daunting. However, Goredema noted, “Each version will become stronger and stronger as you tailor your resume to the roles you are targeting.”

Because you’re making a pivot, try using a summary statement at the top of your resume.

“A powerful, succinct statement that amplifies your most relevant expertise, skills, and impact aligned to the role you’re targeting will position you as a compelling candidate,” she said.

Use the Scariest Interview Question to Your Advantage

Has it been a while since you've been on the candidate side of the interview table? If so, Goredema advised asking a friend to conduct a mock interview. When you do, she said it pays to “focus on the interview questions that scare you most.”

One of the scariest questions may be the most open-ended.

Because there typically will be an introductory question along the lines of "Tell me about yourself," Goredema said, “You want to start your interview strong and this is your moment. Smile, and then highlight your experience and skills that align with the role. This is an opportunity to briefly explain your transition from entrepreneurship to employment. Don’t apologize or downplay it. Keep it positive and action-oriented, and close your response with an example of one of your achievements.”

When you’re done with your mock interviews, ask your friend for their honest feedback. Goredema also suggested recording your interview via Zoom or another video platform, so that you can see for yourself how you appear.

Key Takeaways

Don’t Rush the Pivot: Take time to grieve and to process the experience before moving on.

Be Positive: Focus on what you’ve learned and how you will use this knowledge to solve an employer’s problems.

Quantify Your Successes: Use dollars, numbers, percentages, etc., to show what you’ve achieved.

Practice Before You Meet With Hiring Managers: Use mock interviews to practice making your case. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed Aug. 21, 2020. 

  2. National Academy of Sciences. “The Impact Of COVID-19 on Small Business Outcomes and Expectations.” Accessed August 21, 2020.