Breaking into the Corporate Space: Advice for Experienced Hires

By Robin Madell (San Francisco)

So you’ve been running your own business for a while, but you’re ready to break into the corporate space. How can you do it? It’s not always easy to show your value to corporations when you’ve been living the life of an entrepreneur.

But whether you’re hoping to land more corporate clients as a consultant, or want to make the leap to a full-time corporate position, there are things you can do as a potential experienced hire to best position yourself for success. In fact, consulting to a corporate client may help you work your way in. Here’s how to parlay a consulting relationship into a full-time gig.

Increase Your Understanding

Business owners and entrepreneurs who want to break into the corporate world as consultants must first try to understand what their prospective new clients are looking for. “Understand where you would provide solutions and value to that particular company/client,” says women’s small business expert Nancy Michaels.

Alan Guinn, managing director and CEO of The Guinn Consultancy Group, Inc., agrees that the best way to break into a corporate environment with your consulting work is to recognize a challenge that a potential corporate client is facing, and propose a resolution.

It’s a simple-sounding solution that’s actually very complex. “You must have a full understanding of how to offer your services as services which are compelling in scope, critical in nature, timely in presentation, and impactful on either top line revenues, expenses, or bottom line profit,” says Guinn.

To break it down into action items, Michaels suggests the following preparation steps:

  • Do your homework: Set up Google Alerts and keep on top of industry trade publications, conferences, and meetings.
  • Identify key players: Familiarize yourself with the CEO, C-Level executives, and board members within the organization.
  • Ask for introductions. Request high-level introductions—or if you can’t get one, start at the top of the organization by writing a letter offering some advice to the CEO based on your research, telling him or her who you typically work with within a corporation. Guinn recommends targeting proposed solutions to the highest-level officer or director that would be impacted by your work product.
  • Use endorsements. Michaels calls endorsements “testimonials on steroids”: have an existing or past client sing your praises to a corporate prospect you’d like to work with. Remember to follow-up and provide details to your prospect in a timely manner. Showcase a track record of getting results for your corporate clients, or on past jobs—support your claims with data when possible.

Customize Your Approach

You’ve got a toe in the door with a prospective corporate client through smooth execution of your prep steps—now what? Landing a client is as important as finding one in the first place.

“Consultants are hired to assess new projects and minimize risk factors to existing corporate officers; they are hired to rationalize spending or results either achieved or not achieved; they are hired to shine a light on activities hidden within corporate darkness; and they are hired to bring a new set of eyes to challenges or problems deadlocked, politically inexpedient for corporate employees to resolve or address, and help negotiate internal resolutions of challenges successfully,” says Guinn. With this in mind, consultants can use their understanding of a particular client’s needs to propose a unique solution to the company’s problems.

“To break into corporate space, consultants have to be strategic about leveraging and developing a skill set that creates a demand for their work,” adds Catherine Delcin, managing director of legal management consulting group Delcin Consulting. Delcin suggests taking a three-step approach to this:

  1. Identify an area or areas of need for the applicable industry.
  2. Carve a niche area within that industry cluster through reputation, dedication, and experience.
  3. Create a customized approach to address the niche area’s needs, geared toward providing new solutions or adding more value to existing solutions.

If You’re Ready to Take the Plunge…

Not every business owner wants to stay independent. If you feel that your entrepreneurial spirit is starting to turn corporate and you’re interested in joining a corporation, consider the following recommendations from Keren Douek, director of recruitment solutions at

Link your self-employment experience to the job opening. As a recruiter, Douek finds that when she reviews resumes from candidates who have been running their own businesses, it’s often unclear how the candidate’s experience directly relates to the job opening. She suggests that consultants make it as easy as possible for a recruiter to scan their resume in five seconds and see that the bullets beneath their most recent roles match up perfectly with the requirements in the job they’re applying for.

“It’s always important to tailor your resume, cover letter, and general approach to each job you apply for, particularly if you’ve been running your own business,” says Douek. “Candidates often highlight high-level achievements, but recruiters tend to skim right past those, and they’re much more interested in hearing how what you were doing relates to the job requirements. Tackle each bullet on the job description—if you were doing that in your last role, say that.”

Name-drop. Corporations may be more interested in who you’ve worked with than what you’ve done. Affiliation with well-known companies as your current or previous clients may open doors for you faster than trying to explain your experience. “Highlight any clients that relate to the employer,” suggests Douek. “If you worked as a consultant for one particular company for an extended period of time, make that clear on your resume. Instead of listing your company name as the company, put the client’s name and note that you were a consultant.”

Be consistent. Every type of communication you have with a prospective corporate client should express the same message: that you’re corporate material, and you have the experience to prove it. “When looking at a corporate job, hone in on the skills and requirements, and address them very specifically in your resume, cover letter, and communications,” says Douek. “When describing your experience with your own business, stay focused on the functions and experience that relate to the job you are applying for.”