Moving back home and working with your family or a family friend might feel like throwing in the towel. But it’s actually the best way possible to start your career.
Not so long ago, charting your own career course was a routine part of life. Sure, your parents did well for themselves minding the neighborhood store, but you were moving on to bigger, better things.
In fact, as soon as you identified your “dream industry,” you excitedly shared your plans with the world. Your ambitions were a status symbol to let people know you were headed somewhere.
Then graduation came. There were and even fewer offers for you. Panic-stricken, you networked as much as you could and made use of all the career resources you could find.
Then there was that night when you returned from a little too much “networking” at the Pour House. You plopped yourself in front of the computer and proceeded to spend the next several hours staring bleary-eyed at online job boards swearing you had at least seven out of 10 qualifications to be a temporary administrative research assistant on the mid-morning shift.
Surely you had amounted to enough on your own not to have to limp back into mom and pop’s shop, right?
Listen guys: if you are contemplating moving back home to work alongside a parent, relative, or family friend at their small business, you actually have an opportunity to start your career out the best way possible. It might feel like you’re throwing in the towel, but in reality, you’ve been handed an amazing opportunity. And this is doubly true for those of you whose career ambitions are entirely different from the family business you have an opportunity to work with.
Here’s what I mean. Suppose you have always wanted to work for the environment. You send away applications for the , , etc. No dice. Your aunt offers you a job at her fashion merchandising store specializing in elaborate gowns. You need the money and experience; she could use your youthful energy and fresh perspective. You decide to focus your efforts toward purchasing clothing lines made of recycled, biodegradable fabric, engage your co-workers on philanthropic activities that support your cause, and buy your textiles locally to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
Had you have gotten an offer from major employers, you would have a specific role and probably wouldn’t be able to innovate that much. But given the circumstances, you improvised. You now have an accomplishment, perhaps even a niche enterprise. You were able to do this not only because of your closeness to the boss, but because small businesses require generalists who see the big picture; these firms have less capital to fill their payroll with functionaries who do not see outside of their areas of specialization.
I graduated with a degree in political science two years ago from a school in Washington, D.C. A consummate news junkie, I had hoped to start a career in public affairs. After a part-time service job ended and zero callbacks from the organizations I had hoped to join, I decided to pack it in and move back to join the family business in Brooklyn, New York. Our company, which my late grandfather founded with his wife and three sons in his garage 30 years ago, distributes bolts, nuts, and other building materials to contractors who work on jobs ranging from home improvement to building the .
My tenure at has lasted a little over a year so far, and I am gaining a holistic education about how a business works, from buying and selling to resolving conflicts between departments. I also took the opportunity to showcase our company at in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s largest renewable energy trade shows. There’s no way I’d be doing stuff like this at this point in my career if things had gone differently.
Was I sitting in class dreaming about power tools and metal framings while my professors talked about peak oil or their experience at the State Department? Not quite. But I have learned that if you are willing to switch up your career goals and try things out with the family business, you can open yourself to a greater breadth of experience and look at the world and your plans to impact it in a very different light.
Adam Tannenbaum studied politics at The George Washington University. He is in sales in his family’s building materials business and is focusing on developing business in the clean energy industry. His career transition was recently chronicled on . You can connect with him on .