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The pitfalls of jumping into the family business

Most graduates, having chucked their mortarboards to the sky, ventureforth from university to pursue professions long from those theirparents practiced.

Most graduates, having chucked their mortarboards to the sky, venture forth from university to pursue professions long from those their parents practiced.

But with the unemployment rate hovering in the clouds, more and more graduates are falling closer to the family tree, landing a spot in that parent-run storefront as old and venerated as your great-granddaddy’s daguerreotype on the mantelpiece.

“There is evidence that more young people are doing the unexpected,” says Professor Ernesto Poza, who wrote the Family Business textbook. “They’ve gone to school precisely to open their own trail, and then they realize that doing that in this economy is not as easy as it once was. So they fall back onto a fail safe: The family business."

The problem, Poza warns, is that youngsters who fall back into a company of kin are too likely to recline — and treat the position like some cushy heirloom in an office where results don’t count as much as chromosomes.

Which is why career guides encourage family biz-bound graduates to take a warm up lap in that thankless, brutal job market that lurks beyond the property line.

"Work an outside job for long enough to receive a promotion,” Family Business Magazine editor Barbara Spector encourages. “You’ll earn credibility with non-family employees, and come in with the feeling that you’ve accomplished something on your own.”

You may even find your place in the company dynasty — the talents, passions, and bright ideas you bring to the tribe.

“Otherwise, the risk is never knowing what you’re truly good at,” Poza says.

New hires plucked from the family tree need to feel like their recruitment was merited, not inherited, Poza notes. “If you’re going into the family business because of a sense of cultural or family duty, owning that decision is next to impossible,” he warns. “Your best bet is going to be a heroic act in which you bring the family business back from the brink.” Definitely, there’s enough family businesses nearing that brink: Small businesses in every corner could use a golden child with a prenatal gift for management.

But if your fam’s franchise doesn’t qualify — and if your enticed by the employment, it likely doesn’t — then consider enlisting one cautious contract at a time.

“Join on a project-by-project basis,” suggests Poza. “Most young people come out of school with a real mind for projects.”

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