As an executive career coach, I often encounter entrepreneurs who have left the corporate realm to launch their own business ventures. For a variety of reasons, some want to transition back to a corporate role, but they're unsure of how to go about it.

Driven and innovative business leaders sometimes seek room for experimentation. Entrepreneurship allows them to explore a passion they were unable to focus on working in a demanding role for a corporation. If the venture takes off, they stay, or they eventually sell the business. If it doesn't, they seek employment again.

Successful or not, starting a business takes guts, and there are many lessons learned and skills sharpened from starting a business that can transition back to corporate leadership. The Harvard Business Review even suggests that those who have worked for themselves earn more than others when they do return to the corporate sphere.

Things change. Values shift. Priorities realign over time. Regardless of the reason for transitioning back to corporate after a business venture, here's what I tell my clients:

1. Identify translatable skills.

Ask yourself what the opportunity is in a new leadership role within an organization. What have you gleaned from starting your own business that positions you above the competition as a proven leader ready for the challenge? Chances are you have gained valuable market intelligence as an entrepreneur. What intel have you gained that may be valuable to a new employer? What contacts did you make in starting your own business that may also be relevant to a company? Did you leverage cutting-edge technology in your new venture? What digital or technical expertise did you gain in your own business that would be relevant for a corporation?

Starting a business typically means lean, boot-strappy management. Today’s corporations have taken cues from the best of startup culture. The ability to lead flat, non-hierarchical organizations demonstrates agility, which is a highly in-demand leadership attribute of today’s companies. Be sure also to pinpoint your soft skills that are always in demand for management roles, including communication, charisma, empathy and emotional intelligence. Back them up with concrete examples of how you used those skills as an entrepreneur.


2. Position yourself as an intrapreneur.

Today’s most successful organizations value entrepreneurship. In a recent study by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) on next-generation leadership, entrepreneurial ability was ranked by global business leaders as a top leadership attribute of the next generation of business executives. We’re in a new era of global business. The growth of technology has accelerated the need for business leaders to pivot at any moment, and the demand for innovation is greater than ever.

Entrepreneurs can bring just the kind of fresh thinking that today’s organizations seek for a competitive advantage in their industries. Even if your own venture didn’t ultimately take off, where did you experience success and why? Being able to identify what was successful because of an entrepreneurial approach or mindset will show a future employer what you can offer them as an intrapreneur inside their organization. Be sure to emphasize this across your career branding materials, from your resume or CV and cover letter to your executive bio and LinkedIn profile. Use your entrepreneurial experience to build your new executive brand and carry the narrative thread into the interview process.


3. Leverage your network.

Starting a business takes a village. Even if you largely did it on your own, it undoubtedly required a lot of connections along the way to get there. The importance of networking when seeking an executive-level job cannot be emphasized enough. It’s not just about what you know, but also who you know and how to leverage connections and make new ones to accomplish long-term business objectives. As an entrepreneur, you already know this—you’ve had to establish many new relationships to get your business into the marketplace.

Are any former clients prospective employers? What are the connections you have who are one step away from a valuable new contact for your job search? Like launching your own business, make your job search your business and ask for introductions. What industry influencers do you or your contacts know? Create a plan to meet and speak with those in your network who can offer insights or introductions to help you move your job search toward your end goal. Be sure to remember that networking is a two-way street and reciprocate with information or connections you have to offer others.


Transitioning from your own business back to a corporate role can be challenging, but entirely possible. You haven't been climbing the proverbial ladder in quite the same way for years. Recognize that this is OK and can even differentiate you from the competition. What you’ve learned from starting your own business, regardless of its ultimate success, you can apply to a new role within an organization. Focusing on transferable skills, using your entrepreneurial approach to your advantage and letting it help guide your brand, while using the relationships you’ve gained from going at it on your own, can all empower an effective job search post-venture. If you’re stuck, a good career coach can also help you get back on track.


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