Job hunting after small business ownership
April 7, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I recently moved to a new city and am job hunting. I think I'm coming up against something in my resume and in interviews that could be handled better, but I'm not sure how.

The situation: Four years ago I moved to a very remote location with my husband to start a business. He was born and raised in that town and his parents live there; my family and friends lived 1500 miles away.

We launched and grew the business and while it was successful, our marriage eventually failed, though we remain friends. It made no sense for me to stay in that town, so we decided that I would train someone to manage the office and then I would relocate to the city. I still own shares in the company but they will be sold off in the next couple of months. And while I decided myself to leave town and was very happy to be leaving, I was also forced out of the company by his parents (the investors)-- while they were my extended family when I was there, the minute the divorce was decided they immediately made plans for me to be extracted from the entire operations in some weird clannish manner.

Where I'd like to be: In the past I have worked in marketing positions and in advertising agencies. I want to return to one of those fields, and I'm not sure how to spin the last four years of my life in that direction, or if it's even possible. I've had two interviews already (plus one callback) for an agency position and for an in-house marketing position, but I get the distinct sense that because most people don't know what goes into starting and building a small business, it's almost as though their impression is that I've essentially been out of the workforce for the last four years.

My resume: On my resume I list my position as Partner. I was involved in all of the strategic planning, but my daily tasks were basically AP/AR, HR and benefits admin, monthly reconciliations, bank reporting, and safety program management. I also built the company website and handled all marketing initiatives which were primarily targeted corporate gifts because for our particular industry that was the best use of our marketing dollars. The company did over $1.5M in revenues in 2013 so I'm not inclined to just list the position as "Office Manager" because it plays down too much my level of involvement in its success.

The interviews: The first question I'm being asked is "why did you leave your last position". My answer thus far has been "My husband and I moved to (small town) to build a small business, and while the business is doing great, we did decide to divorce (very amicably), and it didn't make sense for me to live in such a remote location so I decided to move back to a city where I could resume my career in marketing". I'm not sure this is going over very well, as there are a couple of things that are problematic. The first, as I see it, is that nobody wants to hear about a potential candidate's personal life in the first three minutes of an interview. Second, I worry that it makes it look like I abandoned my responsibilities, while of course I would never make any mention of being forced out.

My questions:
1. What would be a better title to list on my resume given the job I had and the jobs to which I'm applying?
2. What would be a better way to address in interviews why I left the company?
3. Given that only a small portion of the daily work involved marketing/advertising, is it possible to spin the rest in my favor when discussing it in interviews? I'm getting the sense that my entire experience of starting and building a small business is essentially being dismissed.

posted by mireille to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would definitely find a way to reduce the amount of personal detail. Something like I was running a business in a remote location but some personal factors changed so I decided to sell my share of the business and return to working in the city?
posted by brilliantine at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with brilliantine, you want to decrease the amount of personal information. His script is good, but you can target for jobs you want by emphasizing your marketing duties. You can say Marketing Director or VP Marketing, or whatever aligns with the jobs you're going for. You can highlight the marketing related duties you did.

Another way to phrase it is, "I moved to remote area and helped my family start this business, now that I've moved back to city, and the business is successfully humming along, I'd like to focus on the agency work that I enjoy so much."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wonder if you could leave out the family details altogether, and try something like: "I had a great opportunity in Small Town to launch and build a business. I had the chance to [do/improve some marketing related skill] but also to have the unique experience of building something new from the ground up. I'm really proud of the work I did there and the business is successful - it's doing so well that I'm now able to leave it in the hands of the other partner(s), and move back to [city], which I love, and on to [new exciting challenge that this job represents.]"

Starting and building a small business is huge - but you might have to really work to sell it as such to people who don't get that. Are you getting a lot of those typical "tell me about a challenge you had", "tell me about a decision you made that went well", "tell me about a time you worked with a difficult coworker" questions? If so, prepare three or four stories you can pull out and mold to fit those questions that really highlight how much work you did. Ideally marketing-related stories, but also ones that play up some of the other things you did that would be useful in any job. Did you have to display extraordinary multi-tasking skills because you were the only one in charge and had to do six things at once? Did you work with a really difficult vendor or contractor and come up with some amazing customer-service-oriented solution that made everyone happy and unicorns came out of the sky?
posted by Stacey at 9:07 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

1.) I would say Co-Founder and VP of Marketing and Accounting as a title.

2.) For leaving the company, I would say you launched a successful business in X town, and wanted to relocate to the city for a corporate job. You were thrilled with the success of the company, and would like to use the skills you have from creating something from nothing and help build and improve upon an existing framework within company Y in the city.

3.) I would definitely emphasize the marketing strategy you put together that focused mainly on creating and maintaining high volume sales relationships.

on preview - what Stacey said
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 9:08 AM on April 7, 2014

"My ex-husband and I built the business together, and when our marriage ended it made the most sense for everyone for him to buy out my share of the company."

Then very quickly move into some conversation about what a great experience building that company was and how you were able to build such a broad skillset, etc., and how you were especially able to do X, Y, and Z things that apply to this current position....

I disagree that you should actively avoid talking about the fact he's your ex. If they contact that business for any reason it's going to come out. I say just avoid the word "divorce" and you're fine.
posted by anastasiav at 9:12 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

What would be a better way to address in interviews why I left the company?

You might describe it as a buyout based on your interest in moving to a more urban area and your partner wanting to run the business without an absentee stakeholder, assuming your ex would confirm it if contacted by your potential employers. It's a reasonable description of what happened and leaves out personal details.

Did you keep his name?
posted by Candleman at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2014

Nobody wants to hear about your divorce. You started a small business in a small town, it went well, you sold your shares, and now you want to live in a large city and you're looking for a new opportunity. Keep it simple.
posted by spilon at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, adding anything about "divorce" or "ex" is just going to raise questions that imply personal drama, and that's of course a negative. So chuck any part of your explanation that does that and focus on the parts that "tell your story" or whatever gloss you put on your resume presentation so that YOU are choosing the salient points out of this shaggy-dog story.

And keep in mind that an interview is as much you interviewing them as the other way around, even though it may not seem that way in the current jobs market. Going in with that mindset, though, is probably going to be better for your poise and mental state than going in with this feeling you have this baggage that you have to make excuses for or finesse around.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 AM on April 8, 2014

Thanks, everyone. I've changed my title to "Co-Founder and Marketing Director" and my script during interviews will be drawn from the simple ones you've helped me with here - I had an opportunity to build a company in a small town and having established a successful small business and ensuring it was in good hands, decided to return to an urban center to take on new challenges and further pursue my career goals in marketing.

The funny thing is that I actually already had something very close to this in my LinkedIn profile and erroneously thought that it was too vague and left open too many questions, that it would appear as though I was dodging the truth if I said it in an interview. I haven't had to interview in 8 years and am pretty rusty. So thanks for all the advice!
posted by mireille at 8:19 AM on April 8, 2014

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