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SUCCEEDING IN YOUR BUSINESS: How To Find a Job in a Fast-Growing, High-Technology Company

A Commentary By Cliff Ennico

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"I lost my job as a financial executive last year, and have been looking for work in corporate America since then, mostly in the northeastern United States, where I live. I have come to the conclusion that there are few if any corporate jobs available for someone my age (I am in my mid-50s), experience level (I have been working in finance for almost 30 years) and salary range (I was making about $150,000 per year in my last position). Most large corporations want younger people who won't demand the salary and benefits I need to pay my mortgage and keep two kids in college. A number of people have suggested I look for work in a smaller, more entrepreneurial company. The idea is an attractive one, but I'm not at all sure how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions?"

Back in the 1960s, we all used to say "Don't trust anyone over 30." Today, for many large corporations, that has translated into "Don't hire anyone over 30."

This reader should be congratulated for stepping outside of his comfort zone and considering work at an entrepreneurial company. By "entrepreneurial company," I mean a company:

-- less than five years old

-- that has developed either a proprietary technology, a new retail/wholesale distribution channel, or a novel business or consumer service

-- that has worked the "bugs" out of its product(s) and business model

-- that has a proven market for its product(s), with at least $2 million to $3 million in annual sales

-- is looking to grow its management team beyond the initial company founders.

How do you find these companies? First, go to your local library. Look through the last two years' worth of magazines and industry trade journals that target smaller, privately owned companies, such as Inc., Entrepreneur, Wired and Fast Company. Don't look for individual companies as much as emerging technologies (for example, "nanotechnology") with lots of companies in the targeted size range.

Having identified some emerging technologies, you should now look for companies exploiting those technologies that are not on the "radar screen" yet. If they are profiled with a cover story in Entrepreneur magazine, it's probably too late to join their senior management team. Look for smaller companies.

How do you find them if by definition they are off the radar screen? It isn't easy, and may require some "guerrilla marketing" on your part, but it can be done. Here are some suggestions:

-- Look for websites, blogs, e-newsletters and "zines" that target the new technology -- for example, Nanotechnology News (www.nanotech-now.com) -- and read through back issues for names of new companies.

-- Attend trade shows (such as the Digital Life Expo, www.digitallife.com) where nanotechnology companies are likely to exhibit. Don't focus on the companies in the main or central aisle (they're already too big); focus instead on the companies in the smaller booths.

-- Find areas of the country with high concentrations of nanotechnology companies (interestingly, Massachusetts and New York are two of the four top U.S. states for nanotechnology development, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, www.nanotechproject.org, so you won't have to travel far). Find a list of corporate and industrial parks in those areas, and start researching companies that rent space in those parks.

The research can be tedious, but it will pay big dividends. Companies in this size range are not receiving employment inquiries every day, so there won't be much competition. The fact that you have taken the time to scout them out sends a strong signal that you want to be a "player" in this industry going forward.

Once you find some target companies, how do you network your way in? Believe it or not, the best way may be to call or write the CEO directly. Unlike big-company CEOs, these people actually pick up their phones. Mention that you have a strong interest in nanotechnology and are planning to visit their headquarters area in a few weeks, and offer to take them out to lunch or stop by for a visit. They will not come to you (they have limited travel budgets); you will have to go to them.

Another angle of attack is through the company's advisers. Many if not most successful emerging technology companies are backed by venture capital firms, which have a lot of influence over their portfolio companies' hiring decisions. With a little Internet research, you should find a list of VC firms that have invested in the technology you are targeting.

For example, a list of VC firms specializing in nanotechnology can be found at http://www.nanotech-now.com/vc-firms.htm. Call them, make an appointment to speak to their managing partners, demonstrate your knowledge of the nanotechnology industry and let it be known you are looking for a financial executive position in one of their portfolio companies.

Is your age a limiting factor? Believe it or not, the answer may be no. Many companies with youthful founders are looking for some "gray hair" on their management team to give them credibility with financing sources, market analysts and other "influentials."

If you do land a job with an entrepreneurial company, keep in mind:

-- You will work longer, harder hours than you have ever worked before. Most early stage technology companies are "24/7" workplaces with limited resources.

-- You will probably take a cut in salary and benefits. The stock options and other "equity incentives" you receive will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams, but only if the company is successful (i.e., it goes public or is acquired by a bigger company).

-- Many company founders are serial entrepreneurs or scientific types with egos the size of New Jersey. Be prepared to deal with some "interesting" personalities that may test your people skills to the max.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.

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