A recent New York Times article entitled “Economy to Entrepreneurs: Turn Back” (September 13, 2008) written by Julie Bick stated that “Amid the current economic turmoil, many entrepreneurs… and small-business are debating whether it makes sense to seek safety in the corporate life — and deciding that it does.” In the first two quarters of 2008, there were roughly 18,500 business bankruptcies, according to Dr. Chad Moutray, chief economist of the federal Small Business Administration. As an entrepreneur that statistic was a little concerning, but as a recruiter it was enticing to think about finding latent talent within that population.

Over the years I have obviously seen many independent entrepreneurial consultant types come and go with the tides of the economy. One might think that an “unsuccessful” entrepreneur would make a bad candidate for a company. Usually this belief stems from the perceived failure to succeed as an entrepreneur, but also ties to culture fit. Almost as a “badge of courage”, entrepreneurs often claim to be “unemployable” and can be rightfully seen as not willing or able to work within the constructs of a corporate environment. While this may be true of some, this is certainly not true of all people.

Many of our client companies ask us to look for leaders and managers who have demonstrated entrepreneurial thinking to drive business growth. Here are some tips for exploring this pool of candidates.

1. Does the entrepreneurial experience have any relevancy or tie at all to your industry or business?
Many entrepreneurial ideas are born from previous experience. People see an opportunity to improve upon a product or to create a better model for service and they take action. Take a close look at what they did before they were an entrepreneur, were they successful corporate citizens in the past?

2. Did the entrepreneur build relationships?
The best entrepreneurs build strong relationships and often have had the unique opportunity to learn about the industry landscape from working with a variety of people within an industry segment or cluster.

3. What was the reason for failure and what did they learn from it?
The best candidates will “keep it real” by explaining the conditions leading up to the decision to jump ship. Be concerned if the person is not aware of their weaknesses or if they do not own their failures. If they are not able to tell you what they learned from the experience then they may have a strong ego or perhaps they are lacking learning agility.

4. Do they really want to come back and for how long?
We will never be able to know for sure how long a person will stay in a job, but if the person is sincere and if your company truly embraces an entrepreneurial environment then you just might have someone who really values being in a place where they have resources and support without all of the personal risk.

In summary, I would encourage you to take a close look at this unique and potentially powerful pool of talent. Do not immediately judge them as unsuccessful or unemployable. People in companies often make mistakes and fail, but the larger companies can endure while smaller ones often cannot. On the flip side, evaluate these candidates just as you would any other, do not give them more credit than they deserve. Staying consistent during the selection process will enable you to compare all of your potential candidates so that you can select the best.

Here is a link to the NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/business/smallbusiness/14owners.html

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