Consultant Transitioning Out of Gypsy Mode, Please Help!
April 8, 2015 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Being project based is awesome! Volunteering is fun! Traveling is exciting! But it's been 3 years since I've had any kind of stability in my life. I want a home base, and a steady job with a good salary. I just don't know how to get there from here. Hope me?

I'm 36 years old, I have a BFA degree, and I've been mostly working for myself since I was 21. I've started an ad specialty company, a record label, two non-profits (one of which I still do work for), an event production company, a boutique in San Francisco, and a tech start-up, which I have been with for the last 2 years. The start-up has paid me in equity only.

I have a fair amount of money saved, and have been living frugally - I can coast for a long while. I've worked other jobs (between 2000 and 2007) in publishing, research, and business development consulting for a tech company. I've taken on a few consulting jobs last year (helping new non-profits develop strategies for growth, writing business plans and contracts, figuring out revenue streams and risks, etc).

I think I would do well in a for-profit or a non-profit company as a project management, or as a business development manager or. . . something else?

The problem is I seem to be over-qualified or under-qualified for most of the jobs I find. And a lot of companies equate 'business development' with being a salesperson, which I don't want to do. I don't have a lot of niche technical skills, though I am very computer literate and have solid Photoshop/graphic design skills. Most places, at least in the SF Bay area, seem to be looking for people with super specific skill sets that I don't have. There isn't a lot of overlap in what these criteria are, so I'm at a loss for what I could do to increase my appeal to prospective companies. I don't have 'gaps' in my resume, but it looks kind of...all over the place.

The tech start-up I have been working with is looking like it's going to be one of the 90% that fail (it happens - it's part of the start-up life) The non-profit I still work with is also not likely to turn into a paid position anytime soon. I'm passionate about the project, but it's a labor of love and I would like a paycheck.

So...what do I do? How do I find companies that are looking for these skill sets? What jobs would be a good fit for me? Is there something that I could do that I haven't thought of? I haven't tried to get a job since 2006, so I'm a bit out of the loop.

Extra details: I don't want to go back to school and fall back into student loan debt, though I'm open to getting certifications. I'm also open to moving pretty much anywhere for the right job. My other option is to keep working as a freelance consultant, but the stress of finding new clients is wearing me down. I'm trying not to let the fear that I have ruined any hope of having a steady job creep into my head too much, so any reassurance from others who have made similar moves is appreciated.
posted by ananci to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a job with a slightly more established but still startup type company? Like, one that pays you a salary? Being Employee #5 or 6 requires some of the same skills as being Employee #2, and if Employee #2 is the one doing the hiring they understand that. But it's entirely possible to get a job at a funded startup that at least pays you a salary.

What's your network like? People with unusual work history probably benefit the most from working their networks, because people you've worked with who know and like your work can get you past the gatekeepers who look at your resume and say WTF.

Also think about how you can put your work history into some kind of narrative form. The way you describe it here it does indeed sound all over the place. And I think it's totally fine if part of that narrative is "I did so many things that I loved but I realized I was allowing myself to be taken advantage of by giving away so much of my work and talent for free."
posted by mskyle at 9:37 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and two things about your narrative:
You need to convey to employers that you're not going to get bored and go off and start another company, and that you can in fact work a job (not just start a company).
Do not give off even a hint of "I'm panicking and desperate for a job."
posted by mskyle at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the word you want in lieu of "business development" (which does, indeed, mean sales now) is strategy.

You might be able to find a salaried position with a consulting company that does management consulting, strategic planning assistance, Rent-A-COO, etc. It's kind of a best of both worlds situation - you rarely work on a project long enough for it to get boring, but you get a salary and benefits. Some of these companies are going to require hardcore travel, but others either focus on a region or do a lot of remote work. It's a great environment for a jack of all trades, and these companies know that's what they're looking for.

You may be at a slight disadvantage without an MBA, but good consultancies know that there are many esoteric soft skills that can't be learned, and as long as they can put you in front of their clients as an "experienced serial entrepreneur" - a street MBA, basically - you can probably get past that problem easily.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:59 AM on April 8, 2015

I want a home base, and a steady job with a good salary.

Most places, at least in the SF Bay area, seem to be looking for people with super specific skill sets that I don't have.

The SF Bay Area is kind of a unique environment. It's also expensive as hell. I used to live in Solano County, which was the cheap seats of the Bay Area. So I have some idea of just how out of step with the rest of the U.S. the prices are there.

I will suggest that one thing you can do to get a home base and some stability is to do some research and move someplace cheaper. There are cities in California that are far cheaper than what you will find in the SFBA. There are also cities in other states that are far cheaper. If you have some money with which to coast in the bay area, you may be in a position to pay cash for a small house outside of the SFBA and you may find that you are much more employable in places where people with a failed startup under their belt are not a dime a dozen.

While divorcing, I could not get a job in the SFBA in spite of a beautiful resume and high call back rate. I moved home to Georgia and ultimately applied to a big company with a good reputation who was thrilled to have me. They had trouble filling positions there because they had trouble finding enough locals with the skills they needed for even entry level jobs. I could write and do math and had computer skills and this was all needed for my job. They really scrambled to find enough qualified candidates to fill openings.

So I will suggest that if you leave the bay area, your savings will last longer, the money you have on hand may be able to buy you a small house outright so you have no mortgage payments, and employers may ooh and aah over your nifty keeno skillset.
posted by Michele in California at 1:37 PM on April 8, 2015

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