DEAR J.T. & DALE: I owned my own business for the past 10 years. I’m tired of the stress and struggle of always having to find new clients. I’ve been on several interviews lately, and each time they ask, “Why would you want to work for a company after working for yourself for so long?” They never seem to believe me when I say I’m tired of the grind. What can I say instead? – Rafael
Dale: The problem is not that recruiters don’t believe that you’re tired of the grind; the problem is that they do believe you. And guess what? Their companies have grinds, too, and I bet they believe their grind is worse than yours. So when you give them that line, they hear, “I’m burned out and can’t take the pressure, so I’m looking for a soft job where I don’t have to try so hard.” You can see the problem.
J.T.: Yes, and further, recruiters tend to be concerned that you’ll have a hard time taking instruction from others when you’ve called the shots for so long. Therefore, I would focus your response on how much you miss collaborating with others and how you realize you want to work for someone who can offer you insight and guidance. Help them understand how lonely being the owner has been for you, and how much you don’t want to be the only one making the decisions. Share with them how much respect you’ll offer your new manager because you know how hard the job is!
Dale: Perfect. That should ameliorate concerns about your stepping down from being an owner, and in doing so, it will free you to ease into a discussion of your strengths and how you want to focus on the parts of the job you most love. (Which parts are those? The ones that the job opening most demands.) Do that, and you will have repositioned yourself from having burned out from running your own business to having gained wisdom that includes knowing where you can be most valuable.
Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss at my old job fired me because I couldn’t keep up with the workload. She said she will give me a great reference. She told me to write up a letter of recommendation and she’ll sign it. What should I say, since she fired me? – Liz
J.T.: It’s nice that your boss wants to help you. I think you should identify two or three skills that are your real strengths, and talk about how you used them in the job. It’s clear she wants to talk about what you can do, so writing up a short summary of how you can add value to an organization will give her what she needs to be able to adjust the letter in her own words and sign it. She’s just looking for you to get the letter started.
Dale: No, I’m thinking that she isn’t just looking for you to get the letter started, but also to get it finished. Go ahead and draft the full letter and make it glow. Then, after the letter is signed and sent, take a shot at getting your former boss to do something much more critical to your future – that is, to give you a list of things you should and should not do to succeed in a new job. Her vague explanation, of not keeping up with the work, isn’t enough to make sure you don’t have a repeat. Seek to learn exactly what she meant and how other employees managed their workloads differently. Further, see if you can persuade one or two of the star employees to join you for lunch or coffee, and press them for ways to improve. (I say “press them” because I suspect that you’re a lovely person and they’ll be too “nice” to criticize you; that’s why you need them to get specific about how you could improve.) I believe that you can be a star employee, but it’s up to you to figure out where and how you will thrive.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.