Experience in the family business won’t be a resume killer if you sell it properly

Question: 

For the last 15 years, I’ve dedicated myself to working hard to help a small business succeed. I’ve worn many hats, including those of safety cop, accounts payable/receivable bookkeeper, human resources manager and site manager, and in each of those areas functioned at a senior level.

Although I’ve pushed myself to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion for this employer, I’ve rarely made enough money to live year round because they’re a seasonal business. I’ve grown tired of being “laid off” every November and so put myself on the job market in February.

I would have thought 15 years of hard work and senior-level work for one employer would have proved I had employer loyalty and was a great hire, but I haven’t received any job offers. What appears to turn off prospective employers is the fact that the small business I worked for was owned by my family and the supervisor who can attest to my skills is my dad.

Why does working for a family business make me a less credible candidate than someone who worked for a company without family ties? This is so unfair; I had to rise through the ranks like anyone else and was probably held to a higher standard. A human resources person I talked with even suggested I delete this 15-year job from my resume. Do I really need to do that?

Answer: 

Every applicant has to prove him or herself. When your primary work experience stems from working for a family business with your dad as supervisor, you face an extra burden of proof. For example, you claim senior-level expertise in a variety of areas. Does your safety, human resources or facilities management experience equal that of an individual who has performed at a manager level in a larger, year-round company? If so, how can you prove that?

Workplace and career coach Karen Casanovas urges you to create a cover letter and resume that tells your story so specifically that a prospective employer “gets” that you’re a rock star. “Start,” she suggests, “by embracing your family business. Those who rise to the top in a family business learn how to effectively handle conflict and excel at strategic negotiation.” What if you noted in your cover letter that you know how to successfully navigate conflict with deep tentacles? Or that your 15-year track record demonstrates loyalty, dedication and persistence, which you offer to your next employer.

Casanovas also suggests you pay careful attention to word choice in your cover letter and resume to change them from plain vanilla documents into ones that showcase you “as a three-dimensional person” who stands out from other applicants. “Know who you are and define your brand,” Casanovas says. “Can you turn cranky customers and employees into teddy bears? Are you the ninja warrior that tenaciously works a project to the end no matter what obstacles you face? Did you reduce insurance payments by 20 percent? Were you able to save the company 35 percent in supply costs by switching vendors?

“Describe every accomplishment so precisely that a prospective employer can see exactly who you are, what your skills are, what you’ve accomplished in your work assignments and how you can add value to their company. This is particularly important given that most hiring managers spend only six seconds scanning resumes.”

Finally, you earned your “stripes” working in your family business. Don’t leave it off your resume, unless you’ve had several jobs since then. Just don’t expect your work there to “seal the deal” and sell you — you have to sell what that 15 years means.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

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