Contributing Author: Adrian Weber
According to Forbes.com, approximately 90% of businesses in the U.S. are owned or controlled by families. Working in a family business presents distinct opportunities and challenges. For example, a VC-funded Silicon Valley startup may actively seek an IPO, merger, or acquisition. In contrast, a family business which employs multiple generations of family members may be more interested in remaining independent for many years to come. If you are the type of person who likes to plant roots at a company, a family firm may be an excellent environment in which to do so.
On the other hand, if you are on an accelerated career track and are stimulated by growth and change, your opportunities for leadership may be extremely limited. The sites Monster and MindTools.com provide excellent analyses of advantages and drawbacks of working in family businesses.
What to Ask When Interviewing at a Family Business
Menlo Partners strongly recommends using the interview process as a way to gain deeper insight into the psychology and politics of a family business. Following are some suggestions about what to ask.
- What are the company’s and family’s values? And which is the most important? If possible, ask this question to more than one of the family members and watch for consistency in their responses. Differing answers may point to misalignment within the family, which may result in increased conflict and feeling caught in the middle of a power play.
*Even if the responses are similar, if the family’s values stand in sharp contrast to your own, you are unlikely to be a good fit for their culture and may feel pressured to compromise your integrity to be successful in their eyes.
- Tell me about the most and least successful non-family employees. What are the factors that contribute to an outsider’s success in the firm? And what mistakes have others made? If possible, request to speak to one of the staff directly and ask what it is like working for (and with) this family.
- How much do you value fresh perspectives, and will ideas for change be given serious consideration? Some families are simply not interested in significant changes to their traditional way of doing business. If you are highly observant and have direct knowledge of process or policy improvements that can enhance the business, will you be supported in implementing change?
- If successful, what can I expect my role to look like in one, three, and five years? Perhaps certain family members are planning to leave the business. Perhaps not! At the very least, by asking this question you are opening the door to a discussion of future growth.
- What is your family’s greatest weakness, as it applies to the business? The answer to this question can reveal much about the family’s level of self-awareness, their understanding of their own blind spots, and their ability to admit mistakes. It can also give you advance warning about situations to avoid in the future.
Menlo Partners Staffing is Here to Help
What have you learned working for family businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area? Menlo Partners Staffing welcomes your comments and insights.