Should I join the family business or get a job somewhere else?

Many graduates have asked themselves: Should I get a job or join the family business? In theory, joining a family business seems to solve a number of problems for you and your parents. You don’t have to stress about finding a job while you have the opportunity to develop and grow an already established business.

Sounds like a win-win situation for everyone involved, doesn’t it? Parents are spared the worry of how or where their children will find employment, and they know that their business will fall into the hands of people they trust and who have grown up with unique insights into the company’s operations and potential.

However, as a succession coach, I find that things are often not so simple. The question of whether the next generation will work for the family business is often fraught with assumptions, misunderstandings and complications. Before making commitments that could define your career, it’s important to consider your goals, your relationship with your parents, and the pros and disadvantages of working for a family business. Before saying “yes” to your family, these are some things to consider.

Determine your motivation

The first step is to ask yourself why you want to join the company honestly. Perhaps because you have a strong interest in this type of work. Maybe you feel called to carry on your family’s legacy.

Your parents could have been pushing you to take the reins for a long time. Or you may feel that there are no other options or that this is your best shot at building a successful career. Whatever the case, a thorough look at your motivations is a good start to deciding the best course of action.

Evaluate your potential contribution

It is worthwhile to do some thinking and make a realistic assessment of what value and worth you can bring to the company. Do your skills, interests, and values align with the company? Can you bring new insights, knowledge or ways of working?

If your interests lie outside your specific industry, try to think outside the box because there may still be an opportunity for you to make a meaningful contribution. Perhaps you could bring a new dimension to the company or create a new, forward-looking business unit or service.

I’ve experienced this myself, having worked in and taken over two family businesses. In one, I introduced junior programmes because they interested me, and after a few years, they became a permanent part of the company. With the other, I introduced online training to the company, which didn’t take off as a customer service but provided a wealth of information that we could use internally. I pursued something that interested me and used it to add value in both cases. You could do the same.

Chart your career path

Don’t assume that there will always be a job with your name on it because you’re part of the family. Evaluate the company as you’d any other employer, realising that you may stay much longer than you’d at another company. This point is critical because investing in the company’s future means you may be committing a significant portion – if not your entire career – to it. After you’ve thought about your contribution, consider what roles you might take on as you and the company grow and evolve.

Assess your family relationships

Business is all about relationships, and when it comes to family, they’re inevitably more complicated because there’s more history and baggage that comes with them. Are the bonds between each of the family members involved solid and healthy? This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re affectionate, but they need to be able to make wise decisions together.

You need to consider whether you can be honest and transparent with each other and whether or not you’d mind being criticised by the family or not. Try to think long-term here because, ideally, you want to pass the business on to the next generation, which means working with family members and testing those relationships for years to come.

Be prepared to be judged

There’s no getting around it: while being a family member automatically gives you the edge when it comes to trust, opportunity, and important decisions, it also means that your actions will be closely scrutinised, especially by non-family members. Some people might assume that you got the job because of your last name, which puts pressure on you to prove yourself. 

In addition, your actions will reflect on the family as a whole and, therefore, on the company itself. Some people are happy to receive this kind of attention; others aren’t.

Consider the idea of leaving the business

This may sound a little premature, but as I said, relationships are a complicated thing. Think about how you’d feel if things didn’t work out. Would you feel confident seeking opportunities elsewhere and feel free to do so? People stay in companies because of pressure from colleagues, supervisors, and family members; that pressure might be even greater in a family business. 

This is where open, honest conversations with your family about all possible contingencies can help set some guidelines and lay the groundwork for a healthy working relationship.

Discussing succession plans

If you’re ready to think about joining the family business, then you’re also ready to talk to the current generation of leaders about succession planning. Keeping a business in the family means passing it on to people like you. Therefore, from the moment you step into the business, you should have a clear idea that you could own or run it one day. Who else would be considered, and would non-family members be placed in management positions? 

Remember that there are ownership options like shareholder agreements that can benefit you even if you don’t work at the company, so don’t feel pressured to do something you don’t love just so you can get a piece of the pie.