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Say you've spent a significant amount of time (5 years) serially starting up companies, with enough success to keep going for 5 years, but not enough to retire rich.

And now, with a mortgage and a serious relationship, burned out, you're trying to dust off your resume and get a regular, 9-5 job.

How would you record/report on your work experience at the startups?

Making a list of technologies sounds silly (it'll get out of hand on account of size), and very incomplete (with very small, early stage startups, there is a lot more work to go around than just hacking away at code). A regular programming job also seems like a waste (with all of the mix of experience that comes from working at a startup, giving up on the additional skills learned along the way doesn't feel quite right) so reporting on the experience as one would on a regular programmers' resume might not be the correct thing.

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Even though not a start-up, it might still be be an 8-6 job ;) –  Job Aug 23 '11 at 21:41
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If your potential employer won't like your enterpreneural experience, then shame on him/her. I am considering CV, not just as a part of selection process to find an employee by employer but also as a future employers' selection filter. As for me, I dont want to work for a company which doesnt appreciate my enterpreneural experience! –  funk Jan 26 at 23:00
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5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Things to Downplay

Firstly, a major concern for a lot of employers would be the "serially starting up"? Because one thing that worries employers is a lot of job changes in a short period of time. (For the obvious reason that they're worried about you jumping ship to a new job at an inconvenient point)

The other would be "burned out". Nothing says "hire someone else" like "I've done my best work, now I'd like to settle for you". You need to find a more positive way to describe what you're looking for in a company.

What to Emphasise

At the end of the day, CV's fall into two types. One is the one you put online for recruitment firms. In this case, just dump literally EVERYTHING on it. Every programming language you'd be willing to work in, every soft skill you possess, every place you've worked for. They're basically using a big ol' regex, and you want to catch as many jobs as possible so you get a good range of available jobs.

The other CV is the one you write for the companies you're actually seeking out yourself. These are the ones you tailor, for example emphasising that you've got very strong programming skills in the area the company you want to work for works with, and why you want to work for them.

Note that occasionally, a recruiting firm will contact you based on the former CV, and it's often worth drafting a CV of the latter type, in order to get past the far more stringent hiring department of the companies they send your CV on to.

The other thing that helps with either kind of CV is examples of how you've applied your soft skills.

For example: "Very Customer Focused" vs. "Customer Focus: During one project dealt with the client on a weekly basis, clarifying requirements and demonstrating prototypes over the entire project lifespan. This helped to build trust and contributed to being offered further work from this client."

The first will be picked up by the regex, along with every other CV on the internet. The second will prove that you actually did something they can talk to you about in interview, and will be picked up by the regex.

Basically, write something that hits the requirements so that it's listed when they look for it (programming languages, soft skills), but when you read it back makes you think, "I'd like to talk to this guy and find out if he's actually worth hiring". And for god's sake don't add anything that gives them an excuse to reject you. Any firm worth working for is getting multiple applications for each place. If they see something that makes them go hmmmm, that allows them to trim the stack of the CV's down by one.

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+1, Good answer, but especially "The other thing that helps with either kind of CV is examples of how you've applied your soft skills." Nothing attracts me to a CV more than specifics, when so many are just lists of projects that others are equally responsible for. –  pdr Aug 24 '11 at 2:05
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I report mine just like another job:

1/200X - 12/201Y - SuperCoolStartup - Co-Founder and Technical Lead

  • Brief company description, including funding and other measurable forms of success
  • Brief description of management duties
  • Brief description of technical duties and technologies used

I also try to tailor my resume for each job. Sometimes I emphasize management duties, other time the technical solutions.

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That is a very difficult question to answer without knowing exactly what you are looking for. First, identify the opportunities that really interest you. Then, once you have identified an opportunity that you want to pursue, tailor your resume to best fit that opportunity.

It sounds like you have a plethora of skills and experience that could fit many types of openings not just programming, but also on the project management and director/business side as well.

Therefore, adjust your resume according to the opportunity and highlight the best of the related experience for that job.

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Show your work.

The point of a resume is to convey what you've done in the past and what you will be able to do for your prospective employer.

  • List the startups that you've worked on just like you'd list any other job.
  • Explain the products developed in each case and how you contributed to them.
  • Talk about your responsibilities at each company, especially if they're relevant to the job that you're applying for.
  • Include the experience that you gained and skills that you used in each case.

The cover letter that you include with your resume is a good place to add relevant details about your experiences that don't easily fit into a resume.

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You can't, unless you're going for a managerial role.

But just because you can't explicitly include it in your resume, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Your experience and knowledge gained from creating startups will be prevalent in any interview. The resume is just a necessary (small) step.

It'll feel silly to write a resume that, on paper, will look extremely different to what you've achieved and learnt in the last five years. But, it has to be done. It has to be done in order to show your prospective employers that you are capable of fulfilling the role. While you were creating startups, you've been on that side. You know what it is like to look for someone that will fill the gap and bring the best to the business.

Get an interview by showing you can do the job. Then let yourself shine from there. Oh, and please don't apply for jobs where you'll be performing menial tasks for more than 15% of the time because you'll just be dead bored.

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You can't show experience in a startup on a resume? Why not? It's work, and interesting work at that. –  Caleb Aug 24 '11 at 3:11
    
It's work but many companies will hold it against you because it indicates that you: A) Have run your own business and been your own boss so might have issues following somebody else, and B) Have ambition, which many companies seem to consider a bad thing instead of a good thing. –  Wayne M Aug 24 '11 at 13:34
    
To be fair, it shows SELF ambition. It's understandable why companies can be reticent about someone who sees them as a stepping stone to GLORY. –  deworde Aug 30 '11 at 13:37
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