October 9, 2019

Do Ex-Entrepreneurs Make Good Employees?

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Ex-entrepreneurs may seem like lustrous unicorns, but hiring one could end up costing your culture.

There are a few characteristics that every hiring manager looks for in a candidate. Tenacity, confidence, and creativity are always high on the list. We want talent that can learn from their mistakes, rise above challenges that lay before them, and communicate effectively to get the job done. We don't ask for much, right?

Needless to say, finding this kind of individual remains a continuous challenge for any organization. However, there is one kind of resume that always seems to tick the boxes. One where you not only find these skills sets, but other valuable assets that rank high on the list. From business planning to sales, marketing to human resources, this kind of individual really does seem to have it all.

So, who is this lustrous unicorn? The ex-entrepreneur. He or she has taken that brave leap into starting their own venture. Whether they've reached success and sold their company or had it fold and are starting again, you can bet they'll have some valuable experience and insights they can bring to the role.

But before you start drafting up that offer letter, there are few things you have to consider. Hiring an ex-entrepreneur can be a risky venture, especially if they're freshly out of their ex-business. While they likely have the chops to make it in a managerial role, hiring them for anything besides leadership could be a decision you regret in the future.

As the founder of a recruitment firm, I've interviewed thousands of talented applicants, including former entrepreneurs. There are many reasons why you would want these kinds of people on your team. They have a higher aptitude for what a business needs to succeed and understand how all departments need to work together in order to make a company perform well. They've likely had to manage people, made mistakes, and learned how to overcome challenges that came their way.

However, they've also never had to answer to anyone before. One of the greatest draws of becoming an entrepreneur is the freedom to make decisions with total autonomy. Now that they've closed that chapter of their life, going in-house could be a shock to the system. And as the person in charge, you could be dealing with more than you bargained for.

When hiring for C-suite or a leadership role, ex-entrepreneurs can be great candidates. For other mid-level roles where they have one or more direct reports, it could be a different story.

Here are three things to consider when hiring former entrepreneurs for roles outside of leadership.

1. Entrepreneurs get bored easily.

When you own your own business, you tend to be a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. Entrepreneurs like overcoming challenges and solving problems. So when they're faced to do the same mundane tasks day after day, they're likely to run for the hills.

If the role you're hiring for is deeply structured, requires that individual to be incredibly detail-oriented, and focuses on one task at a time, entrepreneurs may not be your best choice. Ensure that you're upfront from the very beginning on what the role, expectations, and responsibilities will be every day so there are no surprises. 

2. Entrepreneurs run fast.

Being the founder of a company means you have to make decisions quickly. Entrepreneurs have to pivot and think on their feet. This ties into what makes startups so attractive; when you're in charge, you get to make all of the decisions, otherwise you could be left behind.

One of the greatest weaknesses of any business is the amount of time it takes to make a decision. Older, larger corporations are typically known for requiring managers and lawyers to sign-off before any decisions, no matter how small, can be made.

This system would frustrate anyone, but especially ex-entrepreneurs. In their experience, it's best to ask for forgiveness, not permission.

3. Entrepreneurs expect big rewards. 

When you run your own business, you're used to peaks and valleys. Every business runs into its own set of challenges. From declining revenues to losing key staff, entrepreneurs have learned to persevere and problem solve to stay the course.

With that being said, what drives most founders are the big wins. Landing a high profile client, acquiring a competitor, or exceeding their profit goals are all cause for celebration. Maybe this comes in a big dividend or a new office space, a company trip or a staff party; whatever it is, those who were once in charge thrive at setting goals, achieving them, and rewarding themselves for a job well done.

While there's nothing wrong with this scenario, many don't consider that when they work for a company, they're expected to perform well regardless, especially if their salaries reflect this expectation. A pat on the back or a lunch with the boss may not be a big enough carrot to dangle in front of them.