Show You Mean Business by Starting Your Own | Ladders

Show You Mean Business by Starting Your Own

Business doesn’t stop, nor should you. These job seekers became entrepreneurs to demonstrate that they were still strong employees.

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Tim Wood is a career software engineer who has ridden the technology-employment roller coaster for years. During the 2001 to 2003 downturn in tech, Wood went through a two-year period of unemployment and considered leaving the Information Technology industry altogether. He eventually landed a new position in IT, but it took more than the traditional job-seeking methods: Wood started his own business.

Wood’s entrepreneurial spirit arose less from a desire to go it on his own and more from a need to keep his skill set fresh in a very competitive job market. Few industries change more rapidly than IT, and Wood knew that he needed to be able to demonstrate that his talent and technique were current.

Wood launched LiveCut, which lets a user go to a concert and use his cell phone and the Web to order, pay for and download recordings from the concert. “I designed something from scratch that I had a strong personal enthusiasm about, and then built it using my computers and network at home, as well as open-source software,” he said. “I could then go out during my job and say, ‘Hey, I’m building something that uses Web services and SOAP [data exchange protocol].'”

Wood also formed an LLC, obtained a trademark on LiveCut for digital music sales and was issued a patent on the underlying system technology. “I made sure to do the business things I was able to, and so develop that way, as well as technically with the system engineering,” he said.

Wood, who was hired as a principal member of technical staff at Oracle, said working on LiveCut kept his tech and business skills updated and thus competitive, but it was also “very important to save my own sanity.”

Business Doesn’t Stop

Diane Hansen would no doubt understand. A little more than a year ago, Hansen was laid off from her position as marketing manager at Konami, a gaming company. Hansen said she had seen the writing on the wall, and she started positioning herself as a marketing and communications consultant.

Like Wood, Hansen decided to go it on her own as a way to maintain a competitive edge while looking for a new full-time position. “[A top executive] told me that freelancing is the best thing you can do because business doesn’t stop just because you are not working,” she said. “Everything is continuously changing, especially in marketing and PR. By freelancing, I was able to keep my skills sharp, and that really helps.”

Working as an independent consultant paid unexpected dividends for Hansen, as well. As a marketing and communications manager she had directed PR agencies, but she had never been a PR person “in the trenches,” she said. “I’d written press releases, but I’d usually pushed it off to an agency to execute. This gave me some execution skills I didn’t have before, and now I find it’s actually my strong suit, which helped me enhance and build my resume.”

Hansen said her business also provided new networking opportunities, which resulted in new business and eventually a full-time position as a marketing and communications manager for Getaway Media. “I certainly wouldn’t have a position now that sustains me if I hadn’t freelanced,” she said. “It’s a nontraditional way to find a job, but it found me the right job — the job that was right for me.”

Balance and Discretion

Deborah A. Bailey, a career expert, speaker and author of ” Think Like an Entrepreneur: Transforming Your Career and Taking Charge of Your Life,” said thinking like an entrepreneur can be a valuable tool in this competitive job market, especially since employers typically want to see that candidates are productive and driven, even during periods of unemployment. [Read the Business Owners Resume Riddle for more on making the move from entrepreneur to employee.]

However, she said, it’s important to show discretion.

For one thing, said Bailey, take care in articulating scope when laying out independent experience on your resume and in your cover letter. Potential employers could get scared off if they think you will spend more time on your own venture than you will on theirs. Also, she said, make sure that your side business can’t be seen as competing with the company you are hoping to work for, and be mindful of intellectual property issues.

A job seeker who can strike the right balance between being an entrepreneur and an employee stands a strong chance of being hired. “A side project,” said Wood, “shows a proactive nature, shows original thought and shows the ability to execute and produce results.”