With all the buzz about the great resignation and the work reform movement- it’s clear that many people are disgruntled with the way that corporate America is treating their employees. People no longer want to simply work for a paycheck and more than ever want to control their own destiny (a meaningful career being a major part of it).
For this reason, many dream of entrepreneurial pursuits that can help them escape the corporate ball-in-chain that keeps them tethered to a paycheck, often without opportunities for growth.
But what if you could use your next job as a way to learn how to be an entrepreneur?
It’s not only possible, but in fact a tactic that many entrepreneurs have used in the past.
Learning on someone else’s dime, and through real business experience, will prepare you faster than any college degree ever can.
While there isn’t a single job title that is a proven predictor of someone’s entrepreneurial success, there are certain types of work opportunities you can look for to learn as much as you can about business in a short period of time.
Here’s what you should look for in your next role:
Finding The Right Work Environment
Rather than simply focusing on your next job title or list of responsibilities, prioritizing the right work environment is a far greater determinant of your ability to learn on the job.
Entrepreneurs need to thrive in ambiguous situations, and use their creativity to solve problems every day. When interviewing for your next job, look for signs of a team that encourages constant experimentation. One way to assess this is by asking current or former employees for an example of what happened when they tried something and it didn’t work. Are people typically penalized for their mistakes, or are they encouraged to keep trying? Another relevant question to ask is, what kind of behavior is rewarded at this company? If the team rewards following rules and obeying a pecking order above all else, it may not be the best place for a future entrepreneur.
Finding The Right Company
Great teams build great products, and as an aspiring entrepreneur, you should strive to surround yourself with the smartest and most driven people, so that you can see how teams operate at the highest level. You will inevitably take all the operational lessons learned with you to your own business, both good habits and bad, so it’s important to learn from those who you actually want to emulate.
While it’s tempting to narrow your search to most recognizable innovative brands (afterall don’t Google, Amazon, Tesla, Netflix etc. only hire the smartest people?) strong teams can be found almost anywhere. Look for other external validators that a team is worth joining.
Does the company have backing from reputable investors? Check Crunchbase or Owler to see what companies the best venture capital investors are backing. In lieu of outside funding, does the founding team have an impressive track record? Working for founders who have been a part of other teams who built innovative products/services prior to starting their own can be an invaluable learning experience. Does the company seem to attract talent from other top companies? Are they working on products in an industry that’s expanding quickly? If people are quitting well paying jobs at brand name firms to join an unknown company, it’s worth considering joining them.
More often than not, accelerated learning happens when you’re part of a small team focused on changing the status quo. So don’t ignore opportunities at startups that are not quite proven yet.
Finding The Right Job Title/Responsibilities
Whether you see yourself as a builder with more of an engineering mind, or a businessperson who is more sales and marketing minded, there are many roles inside innovative companies that will help prepare you for entrepreneurship. If you’re completely new to fast growing industries like technology, there are professional training schools like School16 that can help you understand how businesses build and sell products and what the day to day could be like depending on your job title.
Keeping in mind that the actual responsibilities behind job titles vary significantly from company to company, here are a few you should consider to maximize entrepreneurial learning.
Business Development Representatives and Account Executives are in charge of generating revenue for a business. While it’s tempting to think that you need to become a sales leader like a VP or Director of Sales to learn the leadership qualities of an entrepreneur, the best sales learning comes from the ground level. Learning skills such as how to generate pipeline (a BDR’s role), how to qualify leads, and how to push them down the funnel to a successful close is incredibly empowering. Once you close one deal for someone else’s company, you will feel like you can easily do it for a company of your own.
Product Management is another job title that is common to see on the LinkedIn profiles of entrepreneurs. The reason is because the job is very dynamic and requires many of the same skills that entrepreneurs must master. The job of a PM is to set product direction by deeply understanding the customers’ needs, and translating those needs to the engineering and design teams. It requires strong communication skills and the ability to not only manage deadlines, but to influence several different teams in a company to all be pushing in the same direction. Once you get a chance to see something go from an idea to a real shipped product, you will be empowered to build almost anything.
Rather than limiting yourself to the above roles, when searching for your next opportunity, get creative with the way you search for job titles. For example, searching for specific responsibilities vs. titles may yield results with adjacent job titles that you may not even be aware of. Prioritize a job where your responsibilities are not limited to a particular title, and where you will get to observe how different parts of the business function. That’s another vote for joining a smaller team in a startup. It may be chaotic, but you’ll learn 10x more than in a job where your scope of work is limited.
No single job can ever fully prepare you for the nuances of running a business and the reality of dealing with uncertainty every single day. But if your search process is deliberate enough, you can find a role that will not only build the right skills, but perhaps more importantly, give you the confidence necessary to become an entrepreneur.