Are entrepreneurs employable?
March 4, 2013 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Will the entrepreneurial work I've been dedicating the bulk of my time and energy to make me look hirable if I ever decide to get a "real job"? Or will it look like a potential liability and put me at a disadvantage? What will I be qualified for?

With some friends, I started an educational/cultural organization right out of college (instead of going to grad school like I always thought I would), and have been working on that while paying the bills with low-paid work ever since, for the past few years.

My role in the organization has been mainly managerial and administrative (my colleagues do the programming). I did the paperwork to get us incorporated and recognized as a 501(c)3, I made our Wordpress-based website (it's not an expert product, but it works for now), I make budgets, I run meetings, I've been to a few conferences (and even got to be on a panel at one!), I deal with press and publicity (our programming regularly gets good local coverage, and our weekly events are well attended), I design the program booklets and posters and deal with the printer, I write the thank you notes to donors, I help clear things up when my colleagues aren't getting along (not that I'm all sunshine either), and I generally help shape the path of the organization, internally and externally, toward where I think we need to go to be as effective and useful as possible.

Maybe it's a version of imposter syndrome, but I feel like all this stuff somehow doesn't count because I don't have anyone except my colleagues looking over my shoulder (we operate as much as possible as peers) and because the "organizational culture" that we're working in is for the most part one we made up ourselves. It sometimes feels like we're playing organizational "house".

I'm very happy doing this work right now, and am not currently looking for another job - but I do worry that if it turns out that we can't do this forever - if we can't secure more consistent funding so we can start paying ourselves, if we all burn out, whatever - that I won't be able to find a normal job because I won't be qualified for anything and I'll have to start out several years behind my peers.

Are my worries justified? If so, is there / will there be anything I can do to make my work history look more appealing to future employers? What kind of employers might be the most interested in someone with this kind of background?
posted by bubukaba to Work & Money (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for, say, investment banks, but from my experience working with a lot of nonprofits, I know most small (say, 2-10 employee) organizations would be over the moon to have someone facile and familiar with those sorts of administrative details.
posted by threeants at 2:13 PM on March 4, 2013

It depends on the person doing the employing. Some people look favorably on entrepreneurship and others do not.

Of more concern would be that you're presently working in the non-profit sector. If your long term goal is to work in the for profit sector you may find a lot of questions about why you were running a non profit.
posted by dfriedman at 2:15 PM on March 4, 2013

Well, it's going to depend on the company and the sort of job you want. If you want a very corporate-ladder climbing job where career milestones are important, your time is going to be regarded suspiciously and your resume won't show the expected progression in responsibility (if only because you already have it). On the other hand, if you're looking for the sort of job where you have to manage yourself a lot and show a lot of initiative and have a lot of different skills, people will generally be excited to talk to you.

Speaking as a freelancer with a couple years part-timing it before making the jump to full-time, I've found the above to be true for me. Companies where I would've started as a Junior Whatever and then progressed to a Assistant Whatever and then a Whatever and then maybe a Senior Whatever before finally reaching Whatever Manager look a little askance, but smaller companies looking for someone who can do a little everything and won't freak out about something not in their job description are excited.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2013

It depends on who you're going to be working for.

In smaller information technology shops, it is seen as a sign of someone who will go above and beyond in trying to solve problems, and doesn't say things like "that's not my problem" or "it's his fault, not mine, and he should fix it." These are both things that are sought after in most technical companies.

When looking for employment at a more rote type of employment or larger technical shops, they may look unfavorably on it because they want you to be a specific cog in a specific machine and be entirely focused on the tasks they assign you. Lots of different types of employers will frown on this... it's hard to say ahead of time who will and who won't.
posted by SpecialK at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2013

What kind of employers would be interested in someone with this kind of background? That depends in part on how you position yourself.

Even employers who might look askance at anyone who would found a non-profit should be able to appreciate how your experience and responsibilities map to things they are looking for *if you spell it out for them*. That is usually something you do in a cover letter and interviews, and it is something you can do most effectively if you already know something about the organization you want to work for, and the position you are applying for. That knowledge is generally gained through networking, which is also how you end up learning about positions before they are even advertised.

This seems to be rather low on the list of things you should be worrying about. Work on making your project sustainable (ie secure funding so you can start paying yourselves). Even if that doesn't work out, the process of doing that should broaden your network and enhance your employability.
posted by Good Brain at 7:40 PM on March 4, 2013

You will probably find it easier to get a job with smaller employers who value someone who can wear multiple hats, but larger employers may have a hard time putting you into a peg. Most of the differences I think will center on small versus large org stuff. If you have a lot of experience working with small groups you are used to more open communication and having some influence over the direction of the company. Some large companies regard people who worked in small agencies as a bit of a wild stallion that may not be able to fold into the corporation. None of this is necessarily a bad thing if working for BigCorp isn't your interest. Personally I've been involved as an entrepreneur and love working with small and nimble teams, but I do so knowing that it is a bit of a fork in the road. Small companies love my entrepreneur background but it seems to have made less of an impression when I've interviewed with larger companies.
posted by dgran at 7:06 AM on March 5, 2013

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