Entrepreneurship is not an "employment gap"

Recruiter: “This is a pretty long employment gap.”

Me: “What employment gap?”

Recruiter: “Well you haven’t been employed since 2002.”

Me: “I have been employed, as you can see on my resume I’ve been running my own business since then.”

So went the conversation between myself and an HR recruiter while he was reading my resume. I’m not sure why this view is held but I’ve had similar conversations with several other HR recruiters. Now I’m not writing this to speak poorly of any HR recruiter but to shed light on the positive aspects of hiring an entrepreneur.

Let me explain how I came to be an entrepreneur. While working at EMC Corporation as the Internal Marketing Communications Coordinator…I loved my job. If the dot com bust and 9/11 hadn’t happened, I might still be working for them. Immediately after I was laid off, EMC started sub-contracting projects to me. Initially I wasn’t inclined to start my own business…I was used to the comfortable umbrella that working for someone else provided. However given the economy in early 2002, my employment options as a creative marketing director were limited.

Running my own business was something I’d never considered. It was a great unknown but I jumped in.

Entrepreneurs are willing to take risks.

I found it a challenge to run my own business; I needed to learn stuff like bookkeeping, come up with a business plan and spend endless hours doing “non-paying” work to lay the foundation for the future of my business. I loved it and spent endless hours working well beyond the traditional 40 hour work week to make my business succeed.

Entrepreneurs are persistent workers who enjoy a challenge.

I also continued to learn, adapt and change as the needs and requirements of my clients evolved. When I originally started out I was doing predominantly graphic design for traditional marketing. After about a year I saw my clients needed more help integrating their offline with their online marketing so I took classes and educated myself about web design and online marketing. Now the focus of my business is more about providing online marketing solutions to clients through educating them about social media and providing creative content like online video production to work seamlessly with their social media efforts.

Entrepreneurs are committed to adapting and improvement.

While I know this is just my experience and every entrepreneur is different, I don’t see how potentially hiring someone with these skills could be a bad thing for any company.

Entrepreneurs bring a prudent sense of risk taking to the job. That doesn’t mean they’re running around like Yosemite Sam firing their guns in the air. They just know how to balance risk with reward. Entrepreneurs are also relentless and aren’t easily disheartened. They are willing to work very hard if the rewards are right.

I understand that some employers may be hesitant because they may feel an entrepreneur could jump ship at the next big opportunity. That’s understandable and each individual with an entrepreneurial background is different. But would you rather hire a mediocre employee who’s just punching the clock or an employee with an entrepreneurial background who given the right working environment could reap results for your company far beyond your expectations? What are your thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship is not an "employment gap"

  1. Eric –

    The most frustrating thing about the interviewing process is when you have to meet with individuals who haven’t experienced a nonlinear career path. Many professionals – especially those who work in a marketing or IT functionality – often move between traditional employment situations and freelance or self-employed situations.

    As a hiring manager, I actually prefer candidates who have taken a more fluid approach to their careers. I find that these individuals bring a great deal of energy, explosive skillsets and insight into their work. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than a “9 to 5er:” someone who is just punching in and punching out. At the same time, I detest clock watchers too, but that’s a whole different subject.

    Twenty or thirty years ago it may have been OK to really dig deep into perceived “gaps” in a resume. But today, I don’t think that is something that hiring managers should be focused on. Instead – look at what a candidate is bringing to the table and understand that, due to either economic or personal situations, not every professional will have paid professional employment from the onset of their career. Additionally, hiring managers should absolutely be able to recognize entrepreneurial or self-employed experiences as an asset, not a distraction. Frankly, it is no different than taking time out of one’s career to matriculate into a degree program.

    Unfortunately, many traditional organizations are comprised of individuals who took a more static career path. If these are the people making the hiring decisions, then they aren’t as opened to untraditional paths for a multitude of reasons: “this candidate could jump the ship and I would have to rehire.” Or, even worse for the job candidate, “this person has an array of talents – they may take over my job.” People don’t like to rock the boat, so they’re not willing to bring on someone that could upset the comfort level.

    Innovative managers and innovate companies recognize that candidates with a nonlinear career path could prove to be a tremendous asset.

    Searches can be both invigorating (meeting new people, discussing new ideas) and frustrating (draining from answering inane questions or being scrutinized). Hang in there and good luck. The right employer will be tickled to find someone with your talents!

    • Thanks for the kind words and I completely agree. Gone are the days of people working their entire careers with one company and I’ve always admired people who are willing to take the leap into entrepreneurship because it takes guts…even before I ventured into the great unknown of business ownership myself. In this day and age with so many people following a nonlinear career path it seems ludicrous to look at self-employment, entrepreneurship or contracting as “a career gap”. That’s what led me to write this. Particularly as more and more people follow this path and after this economic recession…there will be even more of them.

  2. Man, I would love to have someone call my entrepreneurial experience an employment gap. I’m pretty sure I’d be asked to leave the building. 🙂

    “Yeah, I guess investing my own capital, time, blood, sweat and tears in a venture is quite the gap. Foregoing the stability of a steady paycheck in favor of a lifestyle where I ate what I killed or didn’t eat at all…silly me. Doing more than what is outlined in my job description or what will get me the next promotion to build something I believe in with my heart and soul…you’re right I was irresponsible.”

    “I’m just curious, would you still see it as a gap if I had built my business bigger and was considering you for employment?”

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