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Friday, September 27, 2013 - 3:37am

WORKING: Self-Employed Stigma


Don’t count on being able to go back to the workforce if your venture doesn’t work out.

Research presented in August at the Academy of Management’s annual meeting suggests people who are self-employed have a much harder time getting a corporate job again than people already working in such a position.

Researchers submitted fake resumes to job postings in the United Kingdom with virtually identical job histories except that one candidate had been most recently owned their own business. Those candidates received 63 percent fewer positive responses from prospective employers.

“It makes total and complete sense to me,” said Brandon Smith, a career coach and workplace consultant.

“The common knocks against entrepreneurs are: they don’t like to play by other people’s rules; they don’t like a boss; they may not necessarily play well with others; and once you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, it’s a hard bug to shake,” said Smith, who also teaches about leadership, workplace culture and communication at Emory University and Georgia State University.

Smith said most hiring managers don’t see the positives a former entrepreneur can bring to the organization – initiative, creativity, innovation, willingness to jump in and help. Rather, they assume the candidate failed at their endeavors and is just looking for a bridge until the next opportunity.

The same rules don’t necessarily apply to freelancers or contractors, however.

“When I think about entrepreneurs, I’m’ve got a store, you’ve been putting out cupcakes the last five years,” Smith said. “That’s different than saying I’ve been a consultant or a contractor. Often, with those folks, it’s a lot easier to bridge this gap because everyone knows how difficult it is to get a full-time job in this economy, but there are plenty of contract jobs to be had.

“It looks more like it was not something done by choice,” he said.

Smith said to best frame entrepreneurship to a recruiter or hiring manager:

1. Downplay it on your resume. Put just a couple of bullets about that endeavor and give more space to the times you worked for a company.

2. Get someone else – someone who has a relationship with that hiring manager – to vouch for you.

“I can’t stress this enough: jobs in this economy are found by people talking to people, not by sending resumes online,” Smith said.

3. Get your story down.

“They’re going to ask you, ‘Look, you’ve been running your own business for five years. Why here [and why] now?’” Smith said. “You’ve got to have a good, legitimate reason that makes sense to them.”

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.

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