How to Make the Leap from Entrepreneur to Executive on Your
By Laura Smith-Proulx
Skilled executive leaders have often heard the siren call of business ownership, with many walking away from the corporate world to start their own companies. If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, you’ve no doubt been attracted by the freedom to make top-level business decisions or follow your own strategic vision. However, in these uncertain times, many entrepreneurs have found that the economy has affected either their clients or their own businesses. Still others have sold their operations or simply missed the pace of the corporate world.
Whatever the reason, if you’re facing an executive job search in today’s market after a stint as an entrepreneur, you’ll have a hurdle to overcome when writing your executive resume.
How do you make the leap from business owner to employee on paper? Better yet, what’s the best way to show employers that you’re serious about this move—and that you truly deserve that top executive spot? Like any complex change, you’ll find that the outcome of your entrepreneur-to-executive job search will depend upon the strategy that you’ve put in place—as well as the way you present your leadership experience on your resume.
The challenge is to look at the skills that you’ve used as a business owner, and then translate these qualifications in a way that resonates with employers’ needs.
Here are some key points to follow for your transition:
1 – Develop tunnel vision—to a point.
Most business owners have trouble quantifying exactly what it is that they do well, especially since they wear many hats to run their operations. Here’s a case where it’s important to focus intently on what qualifies you for a single role, while using the rest of your competencies as backup. You can always create another version of your executive resume if you decide to focus on a different leadership goal.
For example, if you’ve developed a history of marketing success and plan to pursue a job as Marketing Director, you’ll need to pull out quantifiable data from your career that focuses on campaign development, promotions, and the like.
Then, using the following suggestions as a guide, maintain the emphasis on this same set of skills within your resume.
2 – Give your resume a meaningful title.
If your goal is a position as Executive Director of Sales, for example, the best resume strategy is to spell out your goal, using a resume title or heading that appears at the beginning of the document.
In this case, you could add titles such as Sales Executive, Sales Director, or even Sales Leader (which allows more latitude) to the resume. By adding this heading, you are demonstrating a clear focus on a single job goal, which is essential for hiring authorities to see on your executive resume.
Don’t skip out on this step and expect employers to figure it out for you!
3 – Keep the connection alive.
Continue to add relevant information to your resume in a way that shows you know what you’re doing.
Using the previous example, you could provide a section on the first page of your executive resume entitled “Sales Leadership Highlights” that contains a sampling of the results you’ve achieved in your business.
In this section, I recommend adding quantifiable accomplishments that demonstrate your fitness as a sales leader, including any sales management duties that you assumed, in addition to sales force training or other related data.
These achievements don’t have to be internally focused! You may have developed sales teams for your clients, and can point to this expertise as proof of your proficiency.
4 – Look at your role with fresh eyes.
While many business owners are proud to take the title of Founder and President, these terms can cast your experience in a different light and make it difficult for employers to see the relationship to their needs.
If your goal is a position as Chief Operating Officer, for example, the best way to do this is to show that your position as company principal was a combination of operations leader and business owner.
I recommend carefully examining your role to determine if you can add a descriptive title to the resume for your entrepreneurial “job” that closely resembles the role you seek.
Be careful to add, NOT replace your original title! In these examples, your business ownership role would appear as Principal and Marketing Manager, or President / COO.
If you decide to use this strategy, just be sure that you can back up your title with concrete examples of your contributions.
5 – Don’t forget the keywords.
You’ll need to mine your career for expertise that demonstrates the kind of fit needed for the job you want.
Examine job descriptions for your desired executive role, taking note of the commonalities between different job postings for the skills (which are keywords) that are required for at least several different executive jobs.
Next, insert these skills into a table or list in your executive resume to reinforce the point that you possess adequate qualifications for the role you seek.
In summary, these steps are the crucial ones to make on paper before you can make your case in person.
Use these resume strategies to paint a clear picture of yourself as an executive and potential employee—giving employers a true picture of your value proposition and fit for their company.