How do I put my start-up business on my resume?
Running your own business is hard and you have to wear many hats. I’ve been there with a failed venture called “Mr. Good Name” back in my 20s that I started with a buddy of mine. It provided online reputation management services to small businesses in Ohio.
Being an entrepreneur teaches you a lot of skills you wouldn’t normally be exposed to; however, it doesn’t always translate well to a traditional resume and some employers may be reluctant to hire you.
Tips for translating your resume:
What do you call yourself?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is adding the title “CEO” if you were a one-person show. Yes, you were the CEO but a CEO’s resume looks really different than that of most people. Some recruiters might be concerned that you’re either arrogant or that you’re over-qualified for their position. Unless you actually had a significant amount of staff reporting to you and are actively seeking another CEO role, I would avoid lofty titles. I prefer simply “business owner/founder.”
Tailor your skills to the job.
If you’re a one-person show, you likely were the head of marketing, accounting, customer service, and sales. You did it all! Look at the kinds of roles you’re applying for and cherry pick specific experiences and skills to include. You won’t be able to include all of your experience and that’s ok.
If you’re applying for a job after running your own business, it’s probably because your business didn’t work out. In my own case, my business partner and I knocked on over a thousand doors and had a direct mail marketing campaign, but ultimately we launched the business in a recession and there was not enough market demand for online reputation management services. Am I ashamed of this? No. But culturally we tend to look down on failure without context—so provide that context. Use the experience to tell a story during the interview of what you tried and what you learned and then employers will be more understanding.
Tout your success.
If you had any success with your start-up, you probably had to work HARD for it. So include the story of your business as well as growth it achieved.
Signal that you work well with and for others.
Here’s the big one: many people start their own business because they have trouble getting a job in the first place, can’t keep a job, or have trouble working with/for other people. So, they try to do their own thing. HR wants to be assured that you will stick around after they go to all the trouble to hire. During the interview, address these concerns as directly as possible and be ready to demonstrate that you are a team player who can report to others.
What if I’m still doing it?
If you are still working at your start-up, be aware that potential employers might be concerned by this. Employers are concerned that 1) your attention will be divided 2) you’ll jump ship the moment business picks up or 3) you’ll use this job to steal customers or business secrets. It might be worthwhile to consider shuttering your business or keep it up only as a lightweight consulting gig.