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How do I find a job after 20 years of self-employment? Add to ...

The question

For the past twenty years, following a career in the public sector, I have been a self-employed trainer and organizational development (OD) consultant. For a variety of reasons, I am now considering seeking an employment position within my field in the corporate world. I have been told, however, that corporations frown upon hiring individuals who have been self-employed for long periods of time because they tend to have difficulty adjusting to corporate culture, where they have less independence, must adhere to corporate policies and work in a more structured environment.

Is this, indeed, the case? And if so, what advice would you give me to overcome these concerns?

The answer

Call me an optimist, but I believe that anything is possible. However, I know that change doesn’t always come easily. You’ve run your own business for the past 20 years, so my guess is that you’re used to handling challenges. There is never a lack of uncharted territory when running your own business, so let’s look at some of the obstacles you may have to contend with in making a transition back into the work force.

The personal challenge: I’m assuming that you’ve thought this decision through for some time now. Have you honestly assessed what it will be like working full-time for an organization? Are you okay with having to report to someone and not being your own boss? Are you fully prepared to walk away from a business that you have grown and fostered for 20 years and start taking direction from others? There is a huge psychological impact to all of this. Close your eyes and visualize yourself going to work every day. See yourself in the rush-hour commute. Picture yourself at the same desk working with the same people day after day. Do you see this move as a new chapter in your life’s novel, or do you see this as a personal failure? Having a positive overall outlook is fundamental to your success in this transition. If there is any uncertainty, hesitation or sadness about this move, it will in come out in a job interview. These emotions will be limit your success.

The résumé challenge: Being a trainer and OD consultant, I’m sure you have a vast expanse of knowledge and experience. I have no doubt that all of this could serve a corporation greatly. However, when looking for a job, it will be necessary for you to refine this ocean of talents into a clear pond of skills. Do you have a clear idea of what type of job you want to get, or are you keeping your options open and trying to make yourself fit the opportunities that are out there? I believe if you develop a concise job description for what you are looking for, you will ultimately be more successful in gaining work. Without a specific focus, your résumé will be a hodge-podge of information about you. Yes, you have many skills, talents and experiences, but as a recruiter or HR specialist, they are looking to fit someone into a defined job. If you want a job as a corporate trainer, focus your résumé on your skills and talents as a trainer.

The networking challenge: It will be vital to use all of your personal and business contracts to help you find a job. Just as with finding new business opportunities, your pool of contacts will be an important resource. Are you ready to admit to the people who respect and value your professional independence that you’re leaving your business and are looking for a job? There will no doubt be an initial underlying assumption about you. Are you okay with the possibility that some people may think that you were unable to keep your business viable under these hard economic conditions – whether it’s true or not? It may be worth while spending some time building your transition story. This story will share your explanation for your decision while leaving a clear impression of your conviction and determination. Make sure the story has a very positive tone. This will resonate with your contacts. They will see that by helping you, they will also be helping the business contact they refer you to. Don’t forget to make sure your contacts have a clear understanding of the job you are looking for to better help connect you to the right people.

The organization challenge: Here I would like you to let go of the wisdom given to you that “corporations frown upon hiring individuals who have been self-employed for long periods,” and embrace the ideology of “I have so much to bring to an organization with the right corporate culture.” It’s important for you to hold the lightness of possibility as opposed to the heaviness of limitation. This is where you sharpen your curiosity and start researching companies where your skill set and knowledge could be of use. Find out about the corporate culture of different organizations and do research into finding out which companies are hiring. Again, use your network of contacts to find out more about different companies. Stay open-minded and curious.

The interview challenge: At this point, the interviewer will have your concise résumé in front of them; they will be representing an organization which has a corporate culture that fits who you are; so all that is left is creating that great face-to-face impression. Theoretically, this should be the easy part. As a self-employed consultant, you’ve been in this type of situation hundreds, if not thousands of times – meeting with someone new and selling your abilities and services. Your self-confidence needs to kick into high gear. Walk into the interview not only confident of your abilities and your contribution to the organization, but confident that you can make a successful transition from being self-employed back into the job market. Share your insight as to why this change is the right step for you at this stage of your life. Shine your internal light. Its warmth will create the relationship and impression that will help to fulfill your wishes.

Cindy Gordon is the president of Culture Shock Coaching in Toronto.

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