Connecting the Dots: Identifying those skills and assets in your corporate job that translate into real value as an entrepreneur.
This post was originally published on TheSelfEmployed.com.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”― Steve Jobs
Entrepreneurship and the pursuit of success in one’s own business require a number of unique personal traits and skills that many corporate executives consider to be “outside of the box.” My experience over the past two decades on both sides of the table, as an executive at top firms in multiple categories and as an entrepreneur and startup founder, has been that all corporate jobs contain lessons and skill sets that are either transferable or add real value to a founder regardless of industry. By viewing a resume from new perspectives one can create a compelling and logical narrative of how their experience has prepared them for the challenges of entrepreneurship.
It’s all connected. There comes a time in every professional career when one faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles to accomplishing critical tasks. Sometimes those challenges are presented in situations that appear to be far removed from the work relevant to the actual job title and it is in those situations we reflect “What am I doing? Is this really why I worked so hard to be here?” However, every challenge holds a valuable lesson.
During a period between my careers as an entertainment executive and a television producer I was struggling. In desperate need of a job I found myself working for minimum wage in a telemarketing fundraising call center. At the time, it seemed to be a job without a logical path and certainly no relevance to being a producer, or anything else for that matter. In fact working there taught me valuable skills which I was able to hone before applying them in more critical, professional settings. Spending hours calling hundreds of strangers and conveying a brand message in a minute or less turned out to be perfect training for fundraising as a founder later in life. I did not know it at the time, but I was learning the art of the elevator pitch and the delicate tonal balance of conveying passion and information. Most importantly, I learned the art of fundraising, which sounds easy until it is for your own venture and everything is on the line.
Whatever the skill, master it. The connections in your professional life may not always be easily apparent or seem relevant to entrepreneurship but a focus on working hard at your current role will pay dividends when those skills resurface down the road. The most important skill I learned in my time on Wall Street wasn’t working with massive amounts of money, or developing complex strategies. Networking was by far the most important skill that has paid dividends in my professional life. Going out with clients or peers for dinners and drinks seemed entertaining at best. However the ability to meet new people, quickly find common ground for conversation and engage them in discussing their passions would later prove invaluable as a startup founder. Whether it be fundraising, maintaining good relationships with investors, attending trade shows in pursuit of vendors, strategic partners, distributors or retailers, or recruiting employees and talent, it was this skill of communication that laid the foundation for building successful professional relationships. The connections and skills in nurturing those relationships developed over a career are more transferable than most would think.
Follow your passion – at least once. Risk is healthy. For those still in corporate jobs deliberating the entrepreneurial life: take a chance on a new job, project or career move. While it may not seem to make sense given your current career path in the end, the dots will connect in a very logical way. Doing what inspires you is more important than attempting to string together a series of “logical” career moves. Then, as you are faced with difficult decisions as all founders eventually are, you will have an emotional frame of reference for what true passion is when balancing the risks versus the rewards of continuing on the path.
Know your narrative. In order to convey to the world why specific career choices are not only relevant but are strengths in your pursuit of entrepreneurship it is critical to craft and learn your own story. Overcoming personal doubt is a stage every founder goes through, regardless of how successful they become. Understanding the narrative within your resume and the value of the lessons throughout a variety of seemingly unrelated experiences is an important first step in forging the character of a founder. In addition to being absolutely confidant when relating your story, true entrepreneurs and investors always see the forest for the trees and that commonality will present itself as validating criteria when you find the right partners and investors down the line.
Crafting a narrative of your professional career to support a life of entrepreneurship and formulating a plan for success takes time and effort but is a valuable process for every founder. After two decades of jobs in corporate America and Hollywood, I connected the dots to present a story that was a logical progression of skills honed and relationships nurtured from Wall Street to film production, game development, high-level marketing and integration campaigns, consulting for the Department of Homeland Security and producing reality television. When the time came to take the leap as an entrepreneur, the partners and investors who saw the logical progressions were also the right people to work and grow with. Everyone has a great story to tell – find yours and let it guide your path to success.