How do I handle work in a family business on my resume?

Many people ask this question, as though a stint in the family business is shameful or perceived as not being a real job. There is nothing to hide: you’ve probably worked harder than other employees, in many cases more would have been expected of you and I wouldn’t mind betting that you contributed more than most employees.

Apprentices often kick start their careers in a family company, learning all facets of their trade under the guidance of parents or relatives.

Graduates and students often turn to family businesses, earning income by doing casual work on weekends, evenings and during holidays.

Husbands and wives often end up working together in a family business, particularly when launching a new operation.

Whatever the reason or situation, working in a family business is not wrong or anything to feel awkward about. You should be proud of the work you did and promote it to potential employers with confidence.

Where you will get into trouble though is if you lie about it or try and disguise the family connection and it comes out during the recruitment process.

Having said that though, you certainly don’t have to advertise it either in your resume and draw undue attention, going overboard in explanation. It is not a red flag unless you inadvertently make it one.

When you include this role in your resume you simply apply the same rules as other jobs: Position Title, Company Name and Dates of Employment. You don’t need to explain the family connection at all. It makes no difference to your ability to do the job.

For example, a client of mine was a mechanic who completed an apprenticeship in his Dad’s mechanical business. This wasn’t an easy role. Not only was he a young apprentice, straight out of school with no work experience, but his father had high expectations and, probably to counteract people assuming his son was given a ‘free ride’, made him work harder and longer than any other employee.

The mistake he was making though was almost apologising for it being his Dad’s company, as if it were a bad thing. In actual fact, all he had to do if asked was to express the comments above. Simple.

He displayed the role on his resume as follows:

Apprentice Mechanic (20002004)

Smith Automotive Repairs

You will notice my surname is Smith too. This is my Dad’s business. I answered to him but was assessed by the Apprenticeship Board to get my trade certificate. 

There was no need to draw attention to the business being family owned – it made no difference to his application and the comment about answering to his Dad, but being monitored by external assessors could be interpreted as ‘his Dad let him get away with things’ or ‘he only worked to show assessors’. All he needed to say was:

Apprentice Mechanic (20002004)

Smith Automotive Repairs

If he were quizzed about the role and family connection all he had to do was be honest. Explain that rather than being an ‘easy’ job, the expectations were high and that it was a great way to start his career because the exacting work standards and level of commitment expected of him will always stay with him and ultimately benefit his employer. No apology, no long-winded explanation, just an honest account of the role.

Over 70% of graduates and students I work with have worked casually in family businesses, yet few include the roles in their resumes. In this market any experience is good experience and, even if the work wasn’t related to your field of study, it still shows employers that you are reliable, have a work ethic, etc.

I knew of a married couple who both quit their jobs to launch a business. Neither one of them was prepared for the enormous commitment needed, how many hours they poured into the business for little financial gain in the early stages. Despite that they worked together for two years and, once the business was running efficiently, the wife decided to leave and find a role as a salaried employee again. She struggled because she thought employers would assume the business was in financial trouble. She left it out of her resume completely and had a two year gap. That gap would have done more damage in her resume than displaying employment in a family business.

In my experience people who work in family companies have more business acumen, have put in more hours, taken on more responsibilities and work harder to achieve results. They also have exposure to the workings of a business and how every function in every role plays an important part in the overall success of the company.

Remember this: your experience, whether it has been gained in a family business or someone else’s, is still experience.

Don’t sell yourself short, be proud of your contributions and honest about the employment.

Don’t squirm about working in a family company. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good employee. It doesn’t mean you were simply slotted into the business because you couldn’t cut it in the ‘real world’ and it doesn’t mean you were some sort of ‘slacker’.




© Michelle Lopez, Owner/Career Consultant


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