There are many points at which someone might consider entering their family business: before college in the summer, during their undergraduate or graduate education as an intern or afterward, full-time, or following professional experience in another setting. Planning your first or next career move is challenging for most people, but especially so for NextGens faced with reconciling what is best for themselves, for their immediate and extended family, and for their family’s company, philanthropy, or other parts of their enterprise.
If you are a NextGen facing the next career step, here are a few questions you might ask yourself:
1. What are my goals and how could they align with the business’ strategy?
It will be critical to begin with and be grounded in yourself as an individual—both career-wise and personally. What are your wants, needs, interests, and goals? This level of self-awareness and introspection is not simply done in the shower—it takes work, and many resist it, worried about what they might discover! Try writing down your personal mission, vision, and values, and in particular, how do they show up in your everyday life? How could a role in your family business help you further be the person you are, and act on what matters to you? Don’t forget that while values have deep roots, they also can and probably should evolve as should your vision of the future, with time and life experience.
When you are ready, spend some time exploring your specific, professional goals. What areas (e.g., marketing, operations, eventual leadership) are you drawn to? What challenges do you get excited about addressing? This exploration can take a variety of forms throughout your career: an internship or “shadow” program within your family’s company, graduate school, coaching, informational interviews, travel, research, discussions with other NextGen peers, solo thinking time, behavioral assessments, etc. This work could help you realistically clarify your work aspirations and what it could take to achieve them in your family business or outside it.
Along with this self-exploration, consider how well you connect to the needs and strategic goals of your family’s enterprise. To build an understanding of the company’s aspirations, begin with a conversation with another family member—maybe someone who is a little ahead of you—and then consider reviewing company documents, such as strategic plans, annual reports, or previous board materials under the guidance of your family leader (who might also be your parent, so be clear about your exploration!) Speak to the leading generation to better understand their vision for the business’ future. With both parts in mind, you will have a clearer view of a contributing role you might play in the business.
2. How connected am I to the business?
Ongoing engagement is what fosters connection across the generations of the family and strengthens the glue that precedes everything else. Without this connection, you may not have enough pull to join the business or may not be satisfied if you choose to. Consider:
- Do you feel a pull to the business? What is that pull?
- What about it is exciting to you?
- If you do not feel connected to it, might it be a question of culture, the people, and the physical environment? What could you or others do to address gaps?
Engagement is a necessary, often determining factor as to whether NextGen members come into the business or become effective stakeholders in some capacity.
3. What are the avenues to participating in the family enterprise? (e.g., intern/observer, employee, advisor, philanthropic role, family council member, etc.)
It is important to consider all the options available to you and know that engagement in the enterprise looks different to different people. Being a full-time employee might be a perfect fit for you. Alternatively, if you want to maintain more flexibility and professional independence, you might explore what it takes to serve as an advisor to or member of the board, learning to steward ownership and family roles vis a vis the business, through the family council, or engaging in your community and making an impact through philanthropic activities. Articulating what’s important to you is key.
4. Which valuable outside experiences or skills can I bring to the business? What skills do I want/need to develop?
Consider completing an “individual skills matrix” to determine your unique capabilities and skills. Seek feedback from current professors, employers, or peers to build an understanding of where you excel and where you can improve. With that understanding, investigate how your skills might benefit the business and what you might need to learn more about to be successful.
For instance, if you are passionate about digital advertising and your family’s company has never tested it, you could be an incredible asset to the business. If your professional background is in chemistry and your family sells insurance, you might need to build a deeper understanding of insurance before taking up a role that feels meaningful. Be sure to consider skills and experiences that go beyond traditional business acumen, such as societal experience or familiarity with environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Possessing these skills are becoming increasingly important to a company’s performance and how it interacts with its employees, customers, suppliers, and its community.
As you continue to consider whether joining the family business is for you, these questions will help provide you with an idea of what makes sense for you. These are not easy questions to answer, but putting in the work to answer them will guide you, no matter what decisions you make.