Job seeker becomes 'accidental entrepreneur'

Photo, resume on a card offers hope to ex-manager

February 23, 2003|By Patricia Kitchen | Patricia Kitchen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - For about four months early last year, Steve Willett had been looking for a job. The laid-off project manager from Jericho, N.Y., sent resumes, made phone calls and attended networking events. Nary a nibble.

After hearing one fellow job hunter say, "I'm a CEO, and people won't even look at my resume," Willett started thinking last spring about how to make himself stand out from the crowd.

Which is what led him to think of putting his photo and resume on a 2 1/2 -by-3 1/2 -inch card (the size of a baseball trading card). Which led him to research the possibilities for such a resume card business. Which led him to launch in December his Web site, www.cubicle-cards.com.

A self-described "accidental entrepreneur," he has joined the ranks of many in today's jobless recovery who are sick and tired of knocking on doors that don't open. "If it wasn't for unemployment I wouldn't even have come up with the idea," says Willett, 33, who hopes to recoup his investment in six months to a year.

Surely some such entrepreneurs default right back into the corporate world once the job market loosens up again. But others discover a whole new work style and sense of security that come with running their own shops and stick with it.

Either way, you come out ahead, says Talane Miedaner, a career- and life-management coach in Manhattan. Just look at how you can leverage the experience even if you do opt back into another employee situation:

You get legitimate business experience for your resume. In a job interview, you can point to all the skills you have honed, relating them, of course, to the opportunity before you.

Employers like people with an entrepreneurial spirit, she says. It shows you're an idea person who can spot trends and marketplace needs.

Because a business owner plays all roles at first, you see quickly if your strongest talents lie in administration or sales or technology.

So, how to get started? Willett took the self-education route. He read everything from how to write a business plan to how to launch a Web site. He enlisted the help of friends. He joined the Silicon Alley Entrepreneurs Club. "It's a good thing I come from a project management background," says Willett, who has worked for Barnes&Noble.com and Cablevision.

If you're living at home with the folks, as Willett is, all the better, says Ritu Sen, a loan officer with ACCION New York (www.accionnewyork.org), a nonprofit agency that provides micro loans to start-up entrepreneurs.

Keep expenses down: "Don't go signing a lease for a storefront just yet," she says. And if you'll be looking for loans, find out your credit rating right now. If nothing else, she says, you'll develop "financial literacy."

What if Willett were invited to interview for an interesting job? "I would definitely talk to them," he says. "I'm always up for a conversation." But he also says of his new venture, "I'm committed to this first and foremost." He says he won't be accepting a job that would not allow him to keep his own business going.

That's just the advice that Miedaner would give. She encourages people in similar spots to keep the business as a side activity even if it means scaling it down or delegating. This way, you still have something in reserve if the new job doesn't work out. And if you simply can't handle both, don't just walk away from your business. "Sell it to somebody else," she says.

Patricia Kitchen is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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